The latest instalment of our Ask Me Anything (AMA) series features our Chief Operating Officer (COO), Yousaf Khalid. The team really enjoyed this one and found out how he had scaled the career ladder to manage a high growth technology team and what advice Yousaf would give to others aspiring to get a role in senior management and make sure you keep reading to the end to find out how he keeps his hair looking so great!
Yousaf, can you tell us how you got to where you are now in your career?
I started off in the creative world, specifically in advertising & marketing. In the late 80s I did a degree in media, design and communications and one of the live projects I did was for Channel four and how to position them as an alternative TV channel to the already well established BBC, ITV etc. I really enjoyed this, did well grade wise and fell in love with devising strategy, positioning & communication for the creative industries so decided to pursue a career in this area.
After my degree I moved into sales advertising at the Chronicle newspaper and used my time there to build up experience but also to expand my network in the agency world. I knew I wanted to work in a more creative space so I moved to an ad agency and progressed as an account manager and then into an account director role. From all the skills I had built up over the years I secured the role of Managing Director, this was different from a client facing role and included a lot of internal responsibilities from business strategy, to HR compliance, recruitment, financial planning etc. I took on this role just as the credit crunch hit (great timing!) so had to pivot into crisis management mode very quickly, which was a helpful experience to have for when Covid-19 hit last year. The agency I was working for at the time came out the other side and we started to grow and went onto our best ever performing years. Fast forward a few years and through my contacts with Maven Capital, our investors, they suggested a move over to hedgehog lab even though it would be a pivot in industry from marketing & advertising to tech they thought I had the right skills for the role because essentially the job is all about selling people’s skills, be it advertising or software development.
What does an average day or week look like for a COO?
I think the role varies depending on the individual and your skill set, the things you have a particular interest in and the current business needs. A big part of my role is investor relationship management. I also work a lot with Martin Porton, our CFO and the wider board members on financial management so that we’re managing cash, recovering costs and achieving our KPI’s set for the year. I also do a lot of work around legal compliance, like coordinating the ISO 27001 & ISO 9001 recommendation hedgehog lab just achieved and oversee our people & culture initiatives. And finally, I work with the Heads of delivery to ensure we meet the needs of our clients and overall business strategy.
If you hadn’t taken this career route is there anything else that you could see yourself doing?
I remember as a kid that at one point I wanted to design cars and at another point my sister was an air stewardess so I wanted to fly planes or even a rocket - so technology but more the mechanical kind.
Is there any advice that you would give to any of the team who are aspiring to have a C suite position or climb to exec level in the future?
Being your most authentic self will stand you in good stead
Trust that you can carry the weight of the responsibility
Be honest, open and kind
Speak your mind and create a culture where everyone else feels safe to speak their mind, even if the people on the other side of the table/screen don't necessarily agree with that particular point
Have a vision of the future that people can buy into
Which group, band or genre of music from your youth, do you still listen to regularly now?
A bit of soul to disco to electronica. Specific artists include Duran Duran & George Michael.
The imaginary company yacht - what would you name it?
A new feature we have added is show and tell. Can you show us a favourite item of clothing from your wardrobe?
Last Christmas I treated myself to some new sliders - Alexander McQueen. Unfortunately they haven’t been anywhere near a beach yet but they are perfect for wearing around the house.
The question everyone has been dying to know is how do you keep your hair looking so great - even during lockdown when the barbers were shut.
Don’t wash your hair every single day
I use a dab of olive oil to give it its sheeniness and softness (and this is also good for your scalp)
Then I use American Crew Heavy Hold product to keep it in shape. I have thick hair so this is the routine that works for me - it might not work for everyone.
If you could go back in time what advice would you give to your younger self.
It's a marathon not a sprint and all experiences are good. One thing I always say to anybody that cares to listen, is that you learn lessons and grow from setbacks, rather than when things are good. Sometimes the toughest situations can actually result in some of the greatest opportunities. If I look back to last year and the impact Covid-19 and lockdown had on the business, I dug deep along with everybody that's on this call and everybody in the team to grow the business in 2020 and get to the great position we are in today.
Huge thanks to Yousaf for taking the time to answer the teams questions. If you would like to learn more about what hedgehog lab do then visit our Services page.