Mark C. Thompson

Leadership and innovation: in conversation with Mark C. Thompson

09 November 2017

On Tuesday 7th we had the pleasure to host Mark C. Thompson, a world-renowned venture capitalist and top speaker on Leadership, Driving Change and Innovation, Sales Growth, and Customer and Employee Engagement.

As an expert on executive leadership, business strategy, and innovation, Mark has spent over two decades leading teams and building companies from the ground up and has worked side by side with some of the world’s most legendary disruptive innovators.

In his speech, he talked about how world-class companies faced change, explaining that one of the major game-changing factors for those who succeeded where others failed were disruptive dreams and mission statements, a “fanatic discipline”, a “productive paranoia”, simplicity in business, concepts and products and a definition of success as “built to last” and based on the interaction between purpose, passion and performance.

Mark and his wife and co-author Bonita Thompson also shared with us some insights based on their experience with great leaders and research on the culture of companies and brands that achieve the highest levels of employee engagement, customer loyalty and continuous sales growth.

After the speech, we had an opportunity to ask a few further questions to Mark and Bonita in an interview with our Partner and Board Member Roberto Magnifico.

RM: “Mark, you have conducted extensive research on leadership in business and worked side by side with disruptive innovators such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Charles Schwab. What would you think are the must-have qualities for a leader’s long-term success?”

MT: “I’d say that the most fundamental are three. There’s a need to have a very clear sense of “why are you doing this” and “who are doing it for”, so a sense of purpose: a sense of being able to be focused in an area where you feel you can have long-term impact and make change in the way a product or service is provided or might have larger impact on the community. That sense of driving purpose gives a bolder vision and sense of “urgency”. It’s something that ends up being particularly true for a lot of people who go through horrible shifts and struggles as they’re building the business: you can fall down and you need to stand up and what’s going to bring you forward is that sense of purpose. And then there’s the willingness to also have sense of sheer competitive standing, that persistence is usually driven by a willingness to do what it takes to perform and deliver on your promises and make something happen for your customers. Then, finally, if there were no external factors at all, an interesting thing is having participation in something you just love to do, for its own sake, a sense of passion. These are the three pieces that came out the research that Bonita and I conducted globally.”

RM: “As a venture capitalist, you’ve been scouting the best early-stage companies for over two decades. Is there something you regard as the single most important thing revealing that a company has a high growth potential?”

MT: “Well, for me… I have decided by now that there are many metrics you can use that have predictive qualities and you need look at what those are for and what are the right things to measure and how to measure these things. So not just “measure the measurable” but the things that matter to customers and employees. I’d say that for sure: the single most powerful attribute that matters of a startup is the quality of the leadership team or the founding team and their willingness to scale themselves, learn as fast as they want to scale the business and develop the business promise. Because I guarantee that in 9 out of 10 cases the original product promise is not good to be the one that finally monetizes and exits the company and that in the long term you’re going to have to pivot, adjust, find a chase of markets… and that’s going to come down to the person having this paradoxical combination of ambition and belief that they can do great things on the one end, and humility on the other. So it’s humility and uberness, ambition and willingness to realize that you only get great things done by learning and doing things with other people.”

BT: “I’m going to build on that and add that a lot of the founders that we meet fall in love with their product and they think that product is just the best product that could exist. And it probably is, but they’re not in love with their customers and you have to be in love with your customers. You have to be willing to do anything including “killing your baby”, your baby product, to serve that customer so I think the most important thing is that you’re in love with your customer and not the product.”

RM: “Bonita, can you tell us a bit about your book ADMIRED?”

“We were interested in who we admired and why we admired them mostly because there isn’t any research done in this arena and also because I feel like admiration is a skill. Once you’ve learned how to admire somebody than you can really motivate them and call the best of them out. By recognizing what’s really strong in a person, you can get rid of a lot of the weaknesses of that person. So there’s a skill in admiration: I think is a great skill.”

Thank you Mark and Bonita, we hope to have you back here very soon!