Marcus D’Souza, Managing Director SEA, MiQ, recounts that any success he can fondly look back on with pride, has all been down to the team he works with, rather than any individual contribution. In this exclusive, the MD tells Jerene Ang about his leadership style, his ideal CHRO, and how he kept the team motivated and productive during COVID-19 restrictions.

Q How did you get to where you are with MiQ?

I have been fortunate enough to have an enjoyable eight years at MiQ, from joining during our humble beginnings at our headquarters in London (our HQ), to helping to lead our rapid growth globally. I was always given the opportunity and autonomy to build – whether it’s creating new teams, nurturing talent, creating the foundations for the right culture to manifest and growing our commercial footprint in Europe. Two years ago I was presented with the opportunity for myself and the family to move to Singapore and build the SEA business and it’s been an incredibly rewarding and challenging journey so far! 

Q What are some meaningful lessons you've taken over the course of your career?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve taken is to focus on your people first, and the rest will follow. It is too easy to buckle up and jump straight into growth mode, filling your diary with prospects to meet and deals to make. I have learned to be more patient. Instead, spend that extra bit of time to understand and support your team, get to know them well, both professionally, and personally and focus on building your relationship with them, as you would with a client. What you then win is trust, which is the most crucial success metric for any team. Over the years, any success I can fondly look back on with pride, has all been down to the team I work with, rather than any individual contribution. 

Q How does working in Southeast Asia compare to Europe?

The most obvious thing that I noticed was the pace here, from the speed in which I was able to connect with people, to the way in which we have been able to build meaningful partnerships that have grown, as well as turnaround times to getting things done! Another key difference is the diverse cultures that I have been exposed to. This has been a huge learning curve in my career so far. Across our growing team, we have five nationalities, 10+ languages and four religions. This has certainly made me more aware (and appreciative) of adaptability of leadership style. 

Q How would you describe your leadership style? And have you had to adapt it to suit the different regions?

My leadership style has certainly adapted since moving to Asia, and my natural openness seems to have resonated well here, particularly with the team. I have been described as a supportive and empathetic leader, that is comfortable being firm, but fair. My openness means that there is always two-way communication between myself and the team, and I hope they are learning as much from me, as I am from them. I genuinely care about everyone I work with, which makes me fully invested in their development and success.

Q What do you think needs to be done to drive more diversity in leadership teams?

To answer this, I can share what we’re focused on at MiQ to become a more diverse business. This will always be a journey, rather than a destination, however, I'm proud that our Singapore team is one of the most diverse within MiQ. We still have work to do as our leadership team is predominantly male, but we have a host of different ethnicities, languages, religions, parental status and genders across the team all collaborating together.

When driving diversity, there are two key areas that I look at immediately - firstly at our recruitment; are we making sure we've got a diverse candidate pool? If a set of candidates are too homogenous, we'll go back and extend our search. Secondly, I'll look at promotions. Right now we're a small team, but as we grow and are able to promote from within, we'll need to make sure that our promotion criteria are objective, and that if two people go for the same opportunity, we examine our own biases and use competency tests to make a fair decision.

Long term, the global business is looking at what we can do to educate our current leaders on unconscious biases through training and coaching from D&I specialists to make sure that change is a core part of our system and not just a box-ticking exercise. Ultimately what we really want is diversity of thinking and sourcing talent from the same places simply won't give us that.

Q How closely do you work with your HR head, and on what issues?

Heads of Talent or HR and a business lead should always be close, with regular contact to maintain trust. My relationship with HR teams has become so much more collaborative, on an ongoing basis, as opposed to leveraging them when a specific reason arises.

Q Describe your ideal CHRO.

I know that our CPO and Head of Talent will always make time to debate or discuss an idea or initiative I want to run and I know that they (and their team) will work to support me, or ‘call me out ‘ if they feel that something doesn't have legs. Fundamentally I can trust them to be honest with me and that's key.

It's important that they care about the people in my team, and when visiting will take time to chat or have lunch with them, as well as being able to see the bigger picture as a business.

Q How did you keep your team motivated and productive during COVID-19 restrictions? And what are some best practices you will be putting in place as we emerge into a ‘new normal’?

When COVID-19 first started, like everyone, we learnt to adapt to a virtual world. As a close-knit team, I was originally concerned on how we’d maintain our productivity, but I’m pleased to say that our operational efficiency has still remained high. Resilience and continuity was a key focus for us and kept a lot of our initiatives in place - We have our ‘start the week’ on Mondays, ‘virtual Friday lunches’ and ‘end of week highlights’, which has kept our team spirit and motivation high. We also have a monthly ‘All-Hands’ meeting, where we reflect on what we have achieved and people awards for outstanding work that month.

Two key things that I have observed, is that it’s more important than ever, to spend time celebrating the wins, no matter how big or small, especially as we can’t be together. Also, I have noticed how much more effective on time, that we can be on an internal call versus a meeting. Small changes, such as reducing times of every call by 25% means that we can be much more disciplined with our intentions and outputs. Over a day or week, that adds up to a significant amount of time.

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