On the lighter side of things, we ask Dion Williams, CEO, Servicely, what makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
Building and exiting my first business by the age of 30. I never attended university and wouldn’t have been anyone’s idea of a successful businessperson in my younger years.
My parents both worked for their respective employers for many years. My mother was a legal secretary and my father an electrician. I was going to follow in his footsteps until my mother convinced me to study computer programming, in my early twenties.
That set me on the path to an ICT career and an entrepreneurial future. Listening to authority was never my strong point, so I thought if I was going to do something for a boss, I might as well have a go at doing it for myself.
You doubt yourself until you do it, so pulling that off – proving I could create a successful enterprise from scratch – was memorable.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
It wasn’t part of a grand plan. I completed my compulsory national service in South Africa in 1992, took advantage of the opportunity to do a free course in programming at the end of it, and picked up a job working on the AS400 platform.
Thirty years and three businesses later, I’m still in the game, rolling with it and looking forward to tackling whatever challenge comes next.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I’m no fan of authoritarian environments so I intentionally try not to create one. Two years in the military taught me that screaming at someone because their boots are dirty isn’t a great way to build team spirit and rapport!
In my businesses, I’ve always been a firm believer in getting staff to buy in to the mission and purpose of the organization. If you achieve that, great things happen and you don’t need to micro-manage people – they’re capable adults, they know what they need to do and they get on with it.
Give your employees the space, support and autonomy they require to do their work, and you and they will find it a rewarding experience.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
Digital Transformation is the obvious one. We’ve come through the pandemic and organizations have realized the agility of their operations and their ability to adapt to fast changing environments is critical.
We’re also seeing decision makers come to a collective realization that business is now moving way too fast for people to be doing repetitive ‘grunt’ work.
There’s a growing focus on automating as many of those mundane routine tasks as possible, so employees can be freed up to focus on the complex and challenging activities that enable them to feel more fulfilled at work.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
Living in Manly, Sydney, we’re not too far from the beach or the bush which is fortunate because I really enjoy the outdoors. I’m learning to surf – it’s proving way more difficult than I anticipated! – and most weekends I’m out on the mountain bike.
A group of friends and I get together of an afternoon to do a lap of Manly Dam, followed by an ice-cold beer – it’s the perfect antidote to stress. Family also keeps me busy: I have a 17-year-old daughter who’s hard at it completing her HSC and a 27-year-old son living just down the road.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
That’s hard to answer because I’m a big believer in not having regrets. In common with every other human being, I’ve made my share of career mistakes but I’ve tried to view them as opportunities to improve.
You can’t change the past but you can certainly use the lessons it’s taught you to create a better future. For me, the most important of those lessons has been that family will always be more important than work.
I missed my daughter’s first day of school because I had a business meeting relating to a deal we were chasing at the time. When you’re an entrepreneur running a start-up business, there will always be a lot of demands on your time but you can never get that day back again.
So now, if my daughter tells me there’s an awards dinner or some such coming up, I arrange my commitments around being there for her.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Artificial Intelligence is one. We’ve been through the hype cycle and now we’re seeing organizations taking a hard look at how they can apply AI to real business problems and harness it to deliver real business value.
The other is cloud computing. It’s not new but the pace of adoption is accelerating and, as more organizations move into the cloud, we’ll see cybersecurity investment increasing in this space.
The Australian government has just created a dedicated cybersecurity portfolio. That’s an indication, if ever there was one, that the challenge of protecting data and systems in a hyper-connected world is here to stay.
What are the region specific challenges when implementing new technologies in APAC?
Skills shortage is a big one at the moment. Coming out of the pandemic, we’re still waiting for the flow of skilled resources to start to move around the globe and it can be really difficult to find people who are proficient around new technologies.
Pre-Covid, ICT was one of the most mobile of industries and getting back to that status quo will make it easier for companies like ours to connect with and service customers.
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?
In start-up land, you’re very hands on; involved in everything from code level questions to business strategy and chasing customers up to pay their bills. That’s where I was in the early years of Servicely but, over the past 12 months, I began moving away from the hands-on operational stuff.
Looking ahead, I’ll continue to build a strong management team so I can lift myself into a more traditional CEO position. In a year’s time, I want to be concentrating on strategy and partners, not spending so much time down in the weeds.
What advice would you offer to someone aspiring to obtain a C level position in your industry?
Two ears, one mouth is a piece of advice that will serve you well at all stages of your career and especially so if you have C-suite aspirations. Just because you’re moving up the ranks or in a senior position, it doesn’t mean you know everything.
View every day as a learning opportunity and value the chances you have to connect with people at all levels, and to encourage and learn from them. Remember that good people stay at good companies and leave bad companies, so strive to make your team and your company a great one to work for.Click below to share this article