C-suite career advice: Rob Sewell, SmartFrame Technologies Limited
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C-suite career advice: Rob Sewell, SmartFrame Technologies Limited

Name: Rob Sewell

Company: SmartFrame Technologies Limited

Job Title: CEO

Location: London, UK

Robert Sewell is CEO of SmartFrame. Sewell has been a serial entrepreneur for over 20 years, having set up businesses within the music and entertainment, health and fitness, mobile phones and office supplies industries. His most recent venture is SmartFrame Technologies, which under his leadership has grown to 22 FTE's with offices in London, Berlin and Krakow. SmartFrame is a patent-pending, secure, embeddable, trackable and interactive digital image format that seeks to redefine the digital image standard.


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? A good friend of mine, Neil Davidson, who is a very successful entrepreneur, once said to me "if you think you can, you can; if you think you can't, you can't." People need to remember that they are only limited by their own imagination, so think big and believe in yourself. I think this is sound advice in all areas of life.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I was once advised to take on a convertible loan as opposed to a traditional equity investment. This was possibly the worst business decision I ever made. The supposedly supportive high net worth individual who provided the loan assured me he would convert it—but then changed his tune and wanted repayments on demand at the end of the term. He then started applying interest on top of interest, as he had a charge over the trading assets. I ended up paying a large deal of money back to him and even though he was £60k up on his original loan, he proceeded to close the business.

Although this was a bad business decision, the best lessons we learn are often through the decisions we wish we hadn't made.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? My advice would be to always follow your passion, do something you believe in and make sure you love and enjoy it. Also have a very clear, defined end goal - where do you want to be in five to ten years' time? What do you need to do in the meantime to achieve your end goal? To get to where you want to go, you've got to know where you want to be. So, having a clear vision and committing to it is vital.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, my career path has gone in many different directions over the years. But, I have always known that I wanted to achieve a large exit. So, I followed my passion for entrepreneurialism and business development, which led me to start several IT focused businesses. Although IT is not my core strength, I surround myself with exceptionally talented people with extensive technical skills and expertise—I then set the strategic and commercial direction for my companies.

What was your first job in IT? My first position in IT was as CEO of My Phone Club, which I founded in 2009. The company proposition turned the mobile market on its head by offering free handsets with unlimited usage (subject to fair use) in exchange for a fixed cost monthly membership fee.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? The biggest misconception that surrounds the IT sector is that you must be super technical to run an IT business; but you don't. I don't have an IT background, nor am I particularly "techie" when it comes to coding or building the product infrastructure. It is important to have a general understanding of course, and it is super important to surround yourself with a talented IT team that you trust. What I bring to the team is an understanding of how our technology impacts our market place and the commercial applications, I provide the vision!

Having a view outside of the technical and understanding the commercial aspects has helped us evolve as a company and set our sights on bringing the very best technology experience to the market that provides meaningful value for all that adopt it.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Always go above and beyond, demonstrate your passion and commitment to the business you are working for. It is always good to become that person that the business knows it can count on. Learn the skills you need and learn from others. Also, ensure you add value in all that you do and in turn, you will be recognised and rise to the top.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? Having been self-employed from the age of 17, I have always created my own career path from my ambitions. I've set up several businesses and achieved many great things, and I feel very privileged to be where I am today. Nevertheless, I never want to stop learning and challenging myself - there is always an opportunity to grow as an individual. I also take great pleasure in challenging and watching other people grow, both personally and professionally. I would say SmartFrame Technologies is my "title fight" and the pinnacle of my career so far.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I think it's important to try and create a good work life balance, although when you are driven and ambitious and in a c-level position, this isn't always easy to achieve. Spending time with friends, family and investing time in myself in terms of rest, relaxation, and health and fitness, is also paramount to being successful in my role. If you always give and don't take time for yourself, you run the risk of burning out, and that isn't positive for you, or the business. You have to nourish yourself to thrive.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? In hindsight, it's easy to look back and say you would change this or that. But, in reality, you only have that knowledge and insight from the experience gained by taking that particular path. Whilst you should always know what your end destination is, you also need to enjoy the journey, and the learning you do on the way.

So, with that said, I don't think I would change anything, as it has all led me to where I am today and for that, I am extremely proud.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Having taken neither I am not sure I am best placed to make a recommendation, but what I would say is that it is down to the individual and their chosen career path. For me, I always taken a helicopter view and employ others that have the best skills, qualifications, experience, and most importantly, the right attitude for the roles I need within the business—I then take the lead on the strategy and commercial part of the business.

How important are specific certifications? As an entrepreneur, I am self-taught and self-certified. However, I would strongly recommend those seeking to pursue a more traditional career path to seek out the correct qualifications and certifications, as they will go a long way in securing the best position and remuneration.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates?  Passion, commitment and a can-do attitude. You can't teach people this, but you can train people with these three attributes to do anything. Personally, I rate those abilities over any other skills or certifications. Attitude is everything.

What would put you off a candidate? A problem-focused, rather than a solution-driven attitude.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? A lack of background research on the company, the role, and the person interviewing them. Demonstrating that you have done your homework and you know the business shows your commitment as well as the level of interest you have in the role. It's important to show that you aren't just there for a job that pays the bills.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? It really depends on the role you play within the business, but I would say a mixture of the two is always a good thing.

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