Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Lee-Martin Seymour, Xref

Lee-Martin Seymour

Company: Xref

Job Title: CEO/Co-founder

Location: Sydney, London, Toronto


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?

Although I’ve not necessarily been told directly, the most important thing I’ve learnt by observing successful businesses and running my own is that an organisation’s culture must take priority. A positive and hard-working culture, with people that genuinely enjoy coming into work each day, generates the kind of environment where the sales almost seem to make themselves. When you have the right cultural balance, KPIs become the by-product not the purpose, and loyalty outweighs attrition.  Employees that fit with and contribute to the ethos of an organisation are the most valuable asset for enabling this success.


What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?

I was once told that I should put ‘focus’ on hold for short term gain. Presumably the thinking was that any growth is good in the early stages, regardless of the relevance of the results. Needless to say, I didn’t take the advice but I am now very aware of convincing arguments that are provided with bias and distraction. My advice would always be to stay true to your strategy, your business rules and your overall focus. The business might not feel like an instant success but determination, persistence and – as per my previous comment – a good team and working culture will pay off eventually.


What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?

To have a successful career in technology today, you must be more than just “technically minded”. Technology solutions are disrupting almost every industry, and there are therefore more tech-based positions available than ever before. Often learnings from an organisation, industry or market can also be transferred from one to another – opening a much broader potential career path for future technology professionals.

You have to be willing to truly understand the business you are working for. How does it make money? Where does it fit in the market? And what are your possible career opportunities and personal growth goals within the organisation? No longer does a career in technology mean you’ll be the person hidden away in the back office fixing technical glitches for the rest of the team. Soft skills are essential and the ability to communicate well with non-technical peers, clients and managers will pay dividends as these people will ultimately be key to your future success and career direction.


What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?

Firstly, recognise the breadth and complexity of the role – you don’t just get to a c-level position and put your feet up. I lead a product, a culture and a strategy, and I am required to lead these individual elements to success, concurrently. At Xref, we believe in adding ‘Extreme Value’ to the business, regardless of your role or seniority. We all lead and work as one team and take accountability as both individuals, and as a collective. C- level, for me, is not about power, it’s about privilege and having the opportunity to share experiences, carve out the direction of the business, nurture the culture and celebrate every achievement with the whole team. It’s a regularly cited adage that the people who crave power are in most cases those that shouldn’t have it.


Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?

For me, it’s about always saying yes to an opportunity and worrying about the finer details later on. Years ago one of my ex-staff members called me to bounce an opportunity off me. I reiterated to him that he should never say no to anything and instead find a way to retain control of his existing role and leverage the new opportunity at the same time. He now runs a successful business through three countries and has interests in previous companies he has helped to build. As we all know, ‘gold watch jobs’ do not exist today, instead, people are building up portfolios of their shared responsibilities. The multiple board role life is pushing down to the executive and professional levels- were people are also building portfolio careers. If this is you, then never say no.


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