Charles Towers-Clark of international IoT provider Pod Group joins us and tells us what inspires him in business and what defines his way of working.
What do you currently do?
I am the Founder and Group CEO of Pod Group, an international data connectivity, IoT/M2M platform and billing software provider. I am also the author of The WEIRD CEO: How to lead in a world dominated by Artificial Intelligence. Pod Group specialises in delivering IoT solutions for global businesses at the forefront of the technology sector and has offices in Cambridge, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Seville, Managua and León.
Not only in my day-to-day role, but on a personal level too, I am fascinated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the future of work. My passion led to me creating a set of guidelines outlining how organisations can maximise the potential of AI, automation and, most importantly, humans. These guidelines promote the attributes of Wisdom, Emotional Intelligence, Initiative, Responsibility and (Self) Development, otherwise known as WEIRD.
I believe that within the next 10-15 years, organisations globally will be forced to adapt to AI. When the time comes, my hope is that the WEIRD philosophy will provide a framework for any organisation to thrive on its own terms, with its own culture.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
In line with the advent of online purchasing, it was clear that consumers would need a way to receive packages when away from the home. So, to facilitate this, I created and patented a proof of delivery box capable of notifying owners when a delivery had been made. Unfortunately, the concept was way before its time, but I took the technology and moved into other areas of M2M and what is now known as IoT.
I also started thinking about how businesses could be run differently. As I had previously run a company with 150 employees across 8 offices in Central Asia, I knew that there had to be a better approach to management than pushing decisions up to the CEO; this was when I discovered a number of thought leaders whom I came to greatly admire.
Who do you admire?
One of these leaders is Ricardo Semler. He was a Brazilian visionary in the 1980s who handed complete control of his business – Semco Partners – to his employees, increasing revenue by over 5,000% over the course of 20 years. His understanding that you need to trust those you employ and get out of their way is something that I strive to emulate each day, both at work and at home (although I probably have more success at work).
Since Pod Group’s beginnings in 1999, I have been committed to ensuring that I have people around me who are more talented than myself and understand that teams work better than individuals. There are a number of companies like Semco and Pod Group in vastly different sectors that have taken this approach to management.
In our case we provide global connectivity services and IoT billing and management platforms – others make industrial machinery or tomato paste – but we share the desire to empower employees to make any decision necessary. Over the last two years at Pod Group, I have been proud to see employees develop themselves far beyond what they expected when they joined the company.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
In 1999, the concept of building the minimum viable product (MVP) was not as well known as today. I would have saved myself a lot of time if I had been more rigorous about building an MVP and finding out what the market wanted.
With the benefit of hindsight, I would have also focused on building an M2M ecosystem early on. With the large number of customers that we now have across many different sectors, Pod Group covers the IoT market – but we could have reached that stage in our growth much quicker.
We could have also achieved our goals faster had I given the reins to my employees much sooner. They’re the people on the ground who are uniquely qualified to take decisions on the direction of the business – I should have removed myself from this process way earlier.
What defines your way of doing business?
Though the WEIRD framework has only just officially launched, my employees will attest that I have embodied The WEIRD CEO long before I even thought about a book.
I am especially proud of this because normal businesses don’t survive for twenty years and counting, and definitely won’t last once AI replaces the majority of the workforce. Promoting our WEIRDest, most human attributes is the only way that we can continue to work and take real pride in our work.
Yes, initially it was a difficult transition period, but now we’re reaching a point where every Pod employee makes the decisions they are best qualified to make, takes the right kind of personal responsibility, owns their professional development, and takes initiative each day.
Looking ahead, I hope the WEIRD way of working will become an example of how much a company can achieve when our most human attributes are nurtured, leaving the thankless tasks to the robots.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
If you want something done right, find the right people (by concentrating on attitude) and then trust them to do their job.
When only two or three people are responsible for handling everything in the early days of any business, communication is easy. As a company grows, companies seem to think that bureaucracy and authoritarianism are required – rather than concentrating on making sure that the right people are communicating with each other without blockers in the middle. CEOs are often the cause of poor communication by ensuring that too many decisions require their approval. This creates a satisfying sense of self-worth for the CEO, whilst also causing high levels of stress and unnecessary inefficiencies within the company.
As you build talent and grow your resources, maintain a philosophy of both collaboration and individual responsibility and your company will continue to prosper in any circumstance.