This week’s How to CEO podcast gave me the opportunity to talk to a sought-after entrepreneur, business leader, and CEO, Rana Gujral.
Rana started his career in a corporate environment, where he built hardware, software, “and everything in the middle.” He soon had an opportunity to lead the successful turnaround of a tech company verging on bankruptcy. During this time, he learned what truly makes a company successful.
Currently, Rana is the CEO of Behavioral Signals, “the fastest-evolving robust emotion AI engine.” Behavioral Signals is a deep tech company that deduces emotions from voice conversations and speech. I was fortunate enough to capture a great deal of insight from Rana, including the following:
Manage the Now, but Don’t Lose Sight of the Goal
When I asked Rana what kind of personality is needed to be a good CEO, he told me that you should be able to process vast amounts of data while staying focused. It’s also crucial for CEOs to be able to deal with people effectively and understand several different viewpoints and perspectives.
Further, he told me about the importance of seeing the forest through the trees. You always need to look beyond what you’re currently working on. What often holds brilliant leaders back is their tendency to become so focused on what’s currently surrounding them that they lose their grasp of what’s ahead. A good CEO keeps her/his eye on the ball.
Resisting Pressure and Understanding What to Change
Not only has Rana founded companies, but he’s also joined existing companies to help them achieve successful turnarounds. So I asked him how coming into an already-existing executive team has been different from founding a company. What are the challenges?
He told me that as an outsider, you have to build trust. You also have to understand that not everything that’s been done in that company up until now is “useless.” You’ve been brought in to be an agent of change, but you have to resist the pressure to change everything. Be smart and know what to keep and what to change.
He also advised that when you’re helping a company turn around, it’s often several little things that need to be changed. Watch for small mistakes that are consistently overlooked. Companies often need an outside perspective to come in and see those things.
A Passion for Innovation
I was curious to know what specific superpowers Rana brought to companies he’s helped. He told me he’s brought perspective around how to take incredibly innovative technology, monetize it, bring it to market, and refine the commercialization model.
“That’s the part I’m most passionate about,” he said. “I’m most passionate about working on revolutionary, innovative technology opportunities that we could build a successful business outcome around.”
Know Who’s Rowing With You and Who’s Rowing Against You
Change is hard, especially when helping a company turn around. I asked Rana how he gets everyone’s buy-in.
He told me that you first have to be an excellent communicator. In any turnaround, you’re essentially changing the direction of the boat. You’re pivoting, and you first need to communicate the direction change, and why the change is needed. It also helps to be able to communicate through storytelling, which is a complicated skill.
The second aspect to earning people’s buy-in is understanding who is rowing with you, who’s not rowing at all, and who’s rowing against you. You’ll have to know who to nudge and how to help people execute on your vision for change.
Hire Fast, Fire Fast
I asked Rana for some tips on hiring and firing. “I believe in hiring fast and firing fast,” he said. It’s imperative as a startup to move quickly and take decisive action because you don’t always have the luxury of finding the absolute best fit right away.
“You have to bet on people,” he told me. “You have to bet on their instincts, you have to bet on their passion, and you have to bet on certain strategic value they’ll bring to the team.”
Once you realize someone isn’t right for your team, you have to take decisive action. The longer you wait, the worse the outcome will be for the individual and for the company. At the end of the day, the fairest thing to do for an under-performer is to let them go so they can flourish elsewhere, where they’re a better fit. Don’t lead them on.
Playing it safe is not worth the risk
I asked Rana what advice he’d give to his younger self. His advice would be, “Don’t play too safe. It’s not worth the risk!” He told me that our entire mindset around risk-taking is entirely skewed by society. “What we hear about taking risks, and about what risk actually is, and what it means to not take a risk, is so out of date.”
Listen to the Podcast for More Insight from Rana Gujral!
Rana gave more insight on the topic of risk-taking and told me about other CEOs he admires. Be sure to listen to the podcast in its entirety for more of his advice.