Charbel Khneisser, Regional Presales Director, METNA at Riverbed, tells us about his life in and outside of the office.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
My 14 years working in the technology industry have been extremely fruitful and this is true of all the roles I’ve played. I have two career achievements of which I’m particularly proud. First, back in 2007/2008, I managed the complete implementation and solution architecture for the Public Key Infrastructure of Saudi Arabia that was inaugurated by the MCIT minister, and it was the first national transformation project across the GCC.
And early this year, I was selected to take part in Riverbed SteelMasters, a leadership development programme for high-potential executives in collaboration with Organization Insight, as a reward for all the strategic initiatives I have been driving over several years to transform the METNA presales team at Riverbed.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
Back in school, at the age of 12, I attended my first ‘data processing’ or ‘computer’ class. At that time, we were still running DOS 6.x, along with those beautiful unreliable floppy drives.
At that time, my passion was astrophysics and I always wanted to learn more about space and seeing a machine so powerful in terms of processing intelligence became for me the new ‘space’ to discover. So I started learning more by buying books, taking advantage of the Internet’s early days and here I owe a lot to my father who bought me my first PC.
At 17, with the rise of mobile phones I saw technology as a new way of living, so I aspired to become a person who would contribute to the advancement of society through IT. Today, working at Riverbed and enabling organisations to achieve their digital ambitions with our Digital Performance Platform, has made my dream come true.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
The power of a leader comes from within his own team – surround yourself with people smarter than yourself and keep challenging them to bring the best out of themselves. Success isn’t individual but a practice that comes from great teamwork. A leader should extend smart trust to his team, empower them to achieve a common goal and lead by objectives. I am a fan of macro-management but this works only when a proper trust-based relationship is built within your network. ‘If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted’ so a leader should coach a team member to be his successor and reflect highly their achievements across the corporate organisation. In the end, a leader is measured by productivity which comes from the efficiency of his own team. Today, I am extremely proud of the team I lead at Riverbed.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
I don’t think it’s one of the many new trends we are witnessing in the new digital age; I can name IoT, artificial intelligence, big data, and smart cities, but all of them are meant to make human life better. Stating that, I personally see end-user experience management a hot technology of choice since all these new trends are around the end-user themselves. And today, I am lucky to be working for Riverbed which provides a platform for me to articulate this.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
I am a highly active person and throughout my life sport has been a passion. I start my day at 6.30am with a morning run or swim and wind up in the evening by hitting the gym for some weightlifting. And my work entails covering a big region, it requires me to travel constantly – once per week at least – and I leverage the flight time to train my brain via various management books.
If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?
Honestly, nothing! As humans we always tend to say ‘I wish’ or ‘I hope’ but actually everything happens for a reason and it’s up to us to take whatever has happened in life as a learning opportunity that makes us stronger. Today, I am who I am because of what I experienced.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
End-User Experience management: all industries today are shifting gears to become more digital in every aspect of their business. Edwards Deming, a data scientist, said: “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.” So, if you are incapable of measuring the effectiveness of your digital infrastructure and the productivity of your end-users, how can you as a c-level executive, make key decisions on how to shape your business offerings, portfolio, go-to-market and processes?
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in the Middle East?
Taking the technology adoption life cycle model into consideration, a sociological model that describes the adoption or acceptance of a new product or innovation in a certain market, very few of the Middle East customers are ‘innovators’. The majority fall under the ‘early majority’ while the remaining are quite divided equally between ‘early adopters’ or the ‘late majority’. Having said that, gaining the first reference in the Middle East for a given new technology trend is the biggest challenge.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
As part of the regional leadership team, being business centric and focused on the regional growth, success is a must. I was always leading the Presales Team at Riverbed but with my promotion to director in early 2017, I was required to change gears and become more strategic than tactical. My role is to bridge the sales and presales teams, by guiding them through the right go-to-market strategy to gain higher share of the total addressable market.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?
Henry Kissinger said: “The task of the leader is to get their people from where they are to where they have not been.” And as such, a c-level executive’s strength and success comes from his own people. In technology, we have witnessed great and innovative companies failing because of the workforce behind them. Hire smarter people, surround yourself by them and stay always credible to them and to your customers. A leader’s strength is given, not taken. And I highly recommend every C-level executive to have a mentor even outside his field of work to go back to for advice.