‘Being a leader especially as CEO is ultimately an incredibly lonely place’
Starting your own company is a brave decision, and the road to success is fraught with difficulty. So, why do business leaders start their own companies and what are they aiming to achieve when all is said and done? We spoke to Mark Sait, CEO of SaveMoneyCutCarbon, about their journey in business.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
People, people, people, and managing the complexity of their resulting organisational dynamics, is I believe the biggest challenges I have had to face in my career. I have always worked in fast-growing entrepreneurial businesses that are developing new products, solutions, and ways of working, so getting staff to understand this vision is the key role of the leader especially where there is no existing playbook to copy. For a business to be successful a CEO needs to master and align Strategy, People, Execution and Cash.
People are in my opinion, the most complex element of this, as we all work in different ways, have different interpretations and level of understanding, skills, and attitude, plus it’s ever-changing, and has unexpected external influences, the biggest in recent time being the Covid-19 lockdowns and pressure this put everyone under. So, assuming everyone will understand fully understand your vision of your business, be able to take that vision and implement to the standards you expect is a challenge.
Have I mastered this? No, but I h1ave learnt to accept it for what it is; that this is one element of leadership that is never done, it has infinite purpose. To support this approach, I try to continue to learn, seeing what works within other successful business, and tailoring good ideas for the organisation I lead.
I continually engage at all levels across my business, repeating over and over our vision, purpose, and expectations. I use something called EBI – “even better if” as a way to question and challenge in a positive way, how we can continually improve. I have learnt that often the best indication of a problem can come from speaking to those at the lower levels or coal face of your businesses, if there is an issue with attitude or skills, I then always look to the manager of that person or team, as that is where the problem usually lies. You must find ways to drive value from values.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you first started out?
Building a business takes three times as long and needs twice as much money as you plan. Building out your idea, getting customers to engage, hitting financial growth targets, raising money, hiring the right team, developing processes always take longer that you put into your business and investor expect so understanding this and building this into your runway would have taken away so many of the really difficult challenging times and decisions I have had to deal with.
Did you always want to be a business leader or did the desire develop over time?
Absolutely not I started by career as an Engineer in the Royal Navy. When I left, I drifted into business leadership, I guess using the people leadership skills I learnt in the Royal Navy and in parallel retraining and focusing on marketing.
However, I see a link between my engineering background and running a business. Engineers fix problems and business leaders are fixing customer problems. A business is just like a big, complex machine with lots of moving parts, that you need to continually fix and optimise to get it to run more efficiently
What is your top tip for other business leaders?
Ask for help. Being a leader especially as CEO is ultimately an incredibly lonely place. When things are going not well, or even if are thing are going really well, SaveMoneyCutCarbon is on track to treble in size this year, which is exciting but brings its own challenges. From my experience if you are struggling, feel overloaded, you can’t speak openly to investors, to your management team as you have to always be seen to be in control and
have the answers. Finding someone you can talk to is important – a mentor, coach, group of other leaders, a safe space where you can talk through your issues is not always easy to find, but essential for your own well-being.
What are your plans for the future?
The SaveMoneyCutCarbon vision is to drive the retrofit revolution to help businesses achieve their NetZero goals, this in turn is driving the UK’s NetZero goals and have a positive impact on the planet. SaveMoneyCutCarbon combines carefully selected and tested products & solutions, that can help our customers reduce their energy, water, carbon and plastic, combining this with a team of experts and a unique education, engagement, tracking and measurement technology platform. With over a 1000 savings projects delivered, are now raising a material investment scale-up investment round to create much wider awareness and reach more customers.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I like to build things and, in this case as CEO of SaveMoneyCutCarbon, we have real purpose and planet positive impact.
What makes a great business leader?
I don’t believe there is one simple answer or profile of a good leader. It is a collection of skills and attitude. For me it is to create, animate and convene, great people to new ideas and concepts to solve a business problem, to make something better. On that journey to have real staying power especially when it gets tough, and it always does.
Doing the harder right thing than the easier wrong thing, to make decisions and just get less wrong than you get right. If you measure leadership in financial success only, and that is sadly in the main how we measure successful leadership then a good leader has to drive efficient and profitable conversion at scale.