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CTO Wisdom with Bohdan Zabawskij | Beyond the Program
16th January 2024 • The Pair Program • hatch I.T.
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CTO Wisdom with Bohdan Zabawskij | Beyond the Program

Welcome to CTO Wisdom. In this series, we interview technical leaders who have stepped into executive positions.

Today’s guest host, Eric Brooke, speaks with Bohdan Zabawskyj, an experienced CTO and founder of TrueNorthCTO.

In today’s episode, they discuss:

  • Bohdans’ career journey through many roles and sectors
  • Why Values, Beliefs, and Behaviors are better Indicators than personality for success as a leader or Individual Contributor
  • Measuring success as the growth of others
  • A three-step approach to joining a company
  • How to be successful as a C-Suite member both with the rest of the Executive and the Board

About today’s guest: Bohdan Zabawskyj has had over 20 years of experience as a CTO/CPO in leading engineering, product, and strategic planning initiatives in both start-ups and large enterprises across diverse domains such as Health Tech, Fintech, E-Commerce, Telecom, Media, Marketplaces, and HR Tech. Bohdan is also a named inventor in over 20 patents worldwide, a founder of Fortay.ai (a DEIB-centric People Experience platform), and a founder of TrueNorthCTO, a pan-Canadian, not-for-profit, and volunteer-driven initiative where over 2,100 senior technology leaders exchange insights in a supportive and collaborative environment.

About today’s host: Eric Brooke has a rich and varied leadership career - leading up to 21,000 people and Billions in revenue, throughout 14 countries. In their career, they have been an Executive six times (e.g. President, CEO, CMO, and CTO) and a Board member of multiple organisations. Eric has been a CTO of scaling startups from 0 to 120 engineers. As an adviser and mentor, they have helped multiple other startups scale both in Canada and the US. As well as supporting multiple startup incubators such as 1871 in Chicago and TechStars.

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Transcripts

Tim Winkler:

Hey, listeners, Tim Winkler here, your host of The Pair Program.

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We've got exciting news introducing our

latest partner series Beyond the Program.

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In these special episodes, we're

passing the mic to some of our savvy

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former guests who are returning as

guest hosts, get ready for unfiltered

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conversations, exclusive insights,

and unexpected twist as our alumni

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pair up with their chosen guest.

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Each guest host is a trailblazing

expert in a unique technical field.

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Think data, product management,

and engineering, all with a keen

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focus on startups and career growth.

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Look out for these bonus episodes

dropping every other week,

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bridging the gaps between our

traditional Pair Program episodes.

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So buckle up and get ready to

venture Beyond the Program.

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Enjoy.

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Eric Brooke: Welcome to CTO Wisdom.

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My name is Eric Brooke.

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This series will talk with people

who've led technology at organizations.

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We'll seek to understand some of the

journeys of a person, explore what's

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successful, a current problem they're

discovering or digging into, And what

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are they seeing in the wider tech market?

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Finally, we'll talk about

some recommendations where

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they collect intelligence for

them and their organization.

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Welcome to Bohdan, who we'll

be chatting with today.

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Hey Bohdan.

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Good afternoon, could you give

us your elevator pitch, please?

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Bohdan Zabawskij: Sure.

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Uh, I'm a serial chief technology

officer, chief product officer.

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I have had 35 years of operational

experience about 23 years as a C

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level executive across a variety of

domains, everything from telecom,

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HR tech, fintech, e commerce, SAS.

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Um, and it's been quite a journey,

so I'm happy to share my experiences.

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That's

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Eric Brooke: awesome.

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Thank you.

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So, let's get started from the beginning.

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Like, could you tell us a bit about

your journey before you became an

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Bohdan Zabawskij: executive?

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Okay, um, I graduated in the late 80s out

of engineering school, specifically of T.

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E.

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engineering.

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Um, and I was lucky enough, uh, to

Enter the workforce almost immediately.

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We were entering a downturn at the

time, uh, particularly in Canada.

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So I guess a bit of reflections on

the current environment right now

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in the tech industry generally.

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But I was lucky enough to

have a great coach and mentor.

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Within the bell, Canada

group of companies, and I

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basically had a number of.

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Fairly strategic projects that I was

put in charge of within the 1st project

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that I did actually had to do with

the deployment of payphone terminals.

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You probably still see them

in airports within Canada.

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The ones that are 2 fluorescent display.

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Uh, specifically, I was in charge of

designing, architecting and deploying.

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The data authentication network for those.

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Current base terminals, which was.

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Science fiction at the

time in the late 80s.

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So effectively, um, the protocol

that was used specifically was X25.

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So this is all pre internet.

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So again, uh, learned a lot about

stakeholder management, critical

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path management, project management.

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Uh, that was our first project.

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Um, I was then put in charge of

even larger scale projects, like

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the modernization of the signaling

network within Dell Canada,

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specifically Ontario and Quebec.

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Although my I think guidelines were

used ubiquitously within the other

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telecom networks within Canada.

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And finally, the deployment

of equal access, um, was due

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to deregulation in Canada.

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Um, I did also, during that time, I

was lucky enough to do a master's of

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engineering degree at McGill and do

some research at Bell Norwood Research,

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which is An adjunct company or sister

company about Canada, which was the

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advanced research arm of Nortel telecom

at that one time, it's probably the

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closest thing to Google before Google,

which is kind of cool for me as a young

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engineering manager slash researcher.

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From there, um, I was, um, approached

by the chairman of the board at a

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regulatory proceeding, uh, ironically

enough, because I was one of those odd

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engineers that could write and talk.

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Uh, so I got involved in regulatory

proceedings at the CRDC, uh, and

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it basically approached and said

I could use you, my fledgling

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telecom company, which was Clarinet.

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It was microscopic at the time, it

was by comparative standards, it was

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about 100 people in total, but I took

a leap of faith, I really just enjoyed

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everyone I met at ClearNet, and there

were a lot of people that thought I

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was a bit crazy to have this guaranteed

sure thing with Bell Canada to jump

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from basically a 55, 000 person entity

to a 100 person entity, but I joined

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that ClearNet and I never looked back.

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So.

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They're in a nutshell grew from about

people to:

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I was given more of a leadership role.

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And engineering and the deployment

of various engineering, um, projects,

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like the deployment and selection of

the signaling network, uh, selection

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of switching systems, infrastructure,

um, the selection of the OSS system.

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And it was a great ride.

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Uh, so clear net was

acquired by tell us for 6.

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7 billion.

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In 1999, if I recall correctly, and

it was again, it was a great ride.

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1 of the things that I found, um,

on, I would say, the frustrating side

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within the Bell Canada prize, which

is the ability to apply what we would

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describe as agile lead methodology.

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I got to deploy that within Internet, and

I never looked back and I also enjoyed.

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Frankly, the pace at which things

could be done, you know, identify

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symptom, identify root cause, determine

a course of action, then execute.

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I just really enjoy that.

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And interestingly enough, um, at the tail

end of that, I was approached by a co

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op who had been hired 2 years earlier,

uh, named Lucas Kokoski, which started

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a little startup called Ready, um, about

10 people in size at that point in time.

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But we spoke and realized that we had a

consistent vision on a real time OSS BSS

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layer operating support system, business

support system for telecom networks, and

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I joined on as it's effectively 1st CTO.

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Uh, again, people thought it was

crazy going from a guaranteed career

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within TELUS, um, uh, incumbent.

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But I wanted to take my shot at both

telecom and this time, um, being in

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charge of actually software delivery.

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And that was an exciting ride.

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That tenure lasted 10 years.

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Um, I think I inherited a team size

of about five that grew to about 170

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people, uh, between Toronto and India.

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And again, I got to exercise additional

muscles with regards to hiring, training,

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coaching, mentoring organization.

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I was in charge of both

technology and product.

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Um, and I guess 1 of the unique aspects

bout that tenure is we IPO in:

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But one of the, I think, more unknown

aspects about RENI was we basically did

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that without BC or private equity funding.

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So very unique.

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So we're doing, we're definitely

doing things that we now describe

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as lean and agile before they

became contemporary terms.

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And, you know, we had to

do all of that on our own.

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Um, in 2010, um, I just.

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Realized or came to a realization

that I'd spent at that point in

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time, over 20 years in telecom, uh,

telecom had been very, very good to

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me, but I wanted to do something else.

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So, um, I met, um, a, someone

named Sanjay Singhal, who was, uh,

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an entrepreneur in the GTA area.

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Who had a collection of media

properties and signed on as its CTO.

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Um, one of the flagship

properties was called Audiobook.

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com.

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Uh, that was acquired by RB Media.

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So it's kind of mission accomplished in

terms of the end objective of using that.

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Uh, from there I went to Ripple as its

CTO, was a short and exciting tenure.

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Ripple was acquired by Salesforce.

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com within a year.

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Uh, from there, I did a transformation

into, or change into Mercatus, which was,

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um, eventually an e commerce SaaS play.

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Um, although when I went there, They had

a lot of IP, um, focused around a hardware

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device, which is bolted on a grocery cart.

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So my mission was basically to

transform that IP into an enterprise

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grade SAS product, which I did.

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That took five and a half years,

uh, at that point in time,

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uh, towards the end of that.

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I and my partner were dabbling with a

thesis around organizational culture.

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So we basically left our day

jobs because we had early stage

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success with an alpha based product

around our company called 4k.

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Um, that, uh, with that we were

accepted with, into, um, an accelerator

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called creative destruction lab.

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Um, we basically.

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Graduated with, um, with that, with

a child, which was an interesting

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adventure, uh, doing 2 startups

at the same time effectively.

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So, at that point in time, we

did separate trip to state.

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My partner continued on forte on

the thesis of diversity, quality,

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inclusion and belonging on the 40

product, which continues to stay.

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To this day as an ongoing concern

and growing venture, and I continued

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having a day job, very frankly.

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So I became a CTO at Kwandle, uh, which

was a fintech play focusing on, uh,

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obtaining, structuring, sanitizing, and

delivering, uh, both open source and

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proprietary data sets to large financial

institutions, including hedge funds.

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Uh, that was acquired.

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By, uh, so there's a bit of a thesis

at this point in time, uh, took some

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time off after my role was transferred

to New York, um, and was approached

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by Arlo data, which is a health tech

concern based in Chicago, backed by

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European private equity, uh, that was.

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Um, what I would characterize as

a plate spinner, it was a great

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growth adventure, a top line group

by approximately 4 to 5 times.

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The employee base that I was responsible

for responsible for grew by about 3 times.

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We acquired 10 companies, so had.

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Uh, both for inorganic and

organic growth over that period.

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And again.

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Uh, it allowed me to, I guess, demonstrate

or leverage a lot of the skills I

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learned in the previous 2 decades.

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And a very different environment,

PE, uh, inorganic growth oriented

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company, which did have a

significant organic growth component.

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Organic growth was in order

of north of 10%, depending on

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the feature and product base.

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And here we are.

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I left RO Datix when my role

is transferred to Europe.

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And I've been just been, obviously been

catching up on topics that fascinate me.

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Eric Brooke: Thank you for that.

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Um, did you tell me if you, um,

what do you remember about your

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time from like going from non

people management to actually having

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kind of like engineers under you?

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Were there any bits, um, that you

now remember that's now something

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that you teach your managers

as they travel that journey?

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Bohdan Zabawskij: Yeah, there's,

uh, there are a few things.

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Um, I guess, interestingly enough, it's

probably resonates with one of the first.

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Near deaf experiences I've

had as an engineering leader.

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If I jump ahead where I was

actually hiring, for example,

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engineering or software developers.

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Um, at Randy, um, like many, uh, who

are freshly minted engineering leaders,

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I thought all I had to do was hire

the very best people, the smartest

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people, put them in the same room

and magic would happen and magic that

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happened, except it was a dark magic.

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People just didn't get along.

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So I quickly realized that, yes, skills,

acumen, the ability to learn and evolve

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are very important, but there's this

ephemeral other side, which was equally

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as important, particularly if you're

dealing with, uh, for lack of a better

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term, organizational culture or team

alignment, and that other thing is

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frankly, a consistent value system.

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So I learned to quickly determine

what the values I wanted to see

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expressed within the organization.

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And I made sure that those people were

part of the selection process, the people

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that I believe demonstrating that value.

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It did take time, you know, it definitely

added additional time and energy to

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the talent acquisition process, but

was invaluable with regards to team

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alignment and overall productivity,

which I think helped really enabled

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us to grow, uh, ready and, uh, you

know, very tight financial constraints.

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Eric Brooke: Cool.

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Could you give me an example

of like, um, one or two values

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that you've seen consistently

that you're always looking for?

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Bohdan Zabawskij: Um, I guess what I

find, so interesting enough, and this

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is what's gone into Forte, um, you know,

this is our thesis that, uh, what we

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saw, uh, and people, I think, do try

and mistake personality with values.

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And here's the thing.

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I like, like yourself, I've

probably taken every personality,

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uh, or psychometric test.

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I could lay my hands off because

I did not want to create Forte.

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Honestly, I want, I want to see if

there's already off the shelf tool.

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I could use it.

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So I use Myers Briggs, variance of

death, variance of five factors.

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Uh, they're even strengths finder.

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And here's the thing.

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If I point towards myself, if

I use myself, an example of my

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Myers Briggs persona is INTJ.

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And when you think about

that, uh, yes, it provides.

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Signal on, I guess, my personality traits,

but does it mean anything with regards to

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team alignment and organizational culture?

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And the answer is no, it does

provide me valuable information for

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coaching and self reflection for me

to know my strengths and weaknesses.

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But our thesis was an interesting

enough, um, Google did a 2.

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5 year study on this very subject.

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What forms successful, effective

teams, and that what they found was.

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Effectively, what we typically look

for in the interview process, skills,

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acumen, tenure, personality have

nothing to do with team success.

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What they found was what formed team

success was this topic of our construct of

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what they coined as psychological safety.

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And our thesis was, my

partner and I's was.

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If it's not personality, what is it?

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And our philosophy was, well, it's an

underlying value system and those values

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are demonstrated by beliefs or sorry, uh,

values and beliefs and those values and

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beliefs are demonstrated by behaviors.

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So we done that.

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We basically developed a, um, both a

structured questionnaire and a algorithm

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that would train itself on, uh, basically

Employee pool, and that determined what

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we called the cultural fingerprint.

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But here's the thing.

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I was doing that manually.

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It just took a person week, you know,

and, uh, in the early days of 40.

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So all that the machine learning, all

the room, the intent was to compress

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one week of interviews into five

minutes, which was kind of cool.

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But to get your question, I guess

when I guess the value or behavior.

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Um, and then I personally look for is

transparency, candor and authenticity.

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Uh, quite frankly, I like to think that I.

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Walk the talk, uh, so to speak.

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Um, and if anything, here's the thing.

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Um, particularly people that I

support, I want them to feel a

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sense of security and safety.

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Uh, that 1, whatever I say, I will do,

I will, in fact, do and I want them to,

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but I also want to see that behavior.

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Manifested in them, if I don't

demonstrate that behavior, how.

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What I expect that I would expect them

to demonstrate that behavior back to me

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and there is a self serving, um, I guess,

behind that, quite frankly, I need signal.

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You know, if I don't get signal as

to what are the positive and negative

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signals emanating are coming into me from

the organization, how can I possibly.

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Act on it.

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Um, if I don't get, you know, to me,

the people I support are the best early

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warning system I have, and if I can't

get a signal from my own organization,

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like, how can I possibly determine

a path of resolution, address the

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symptoms, identify root causes, and

work towards increasing both employee

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engagement, stakeholder engagement, and

meeting the requirements of the company.

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Eric Brooke: Awesome.

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So, um, what I'm hearing is lead by

example as a manager, and then you'll

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start to see some of those behaviors.

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But what you've also said is that the

deeper research that you and your partner

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did helped you understand that actually

a lot of this is about values rather

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than necessarily just personality.

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Bohdan Zabawskij: Right.

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I described, here's the thing.

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I guess the one interesting thing that

I, because we tried that, you know, we

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had, so back in the day when I was an

engineering leader, I would, I would

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say, okay, let's try this person.

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Let's try this thing.

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Let's just see what happens.

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And honestly, I did not see a correlation.

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Between anything to do with personality,

with team alignment, team product

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of the individual performance,

interestingly enough, and honestly, it

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was just as valuable as a horoscope.

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So, if I went out to my HR manager

and said, I need 50 INTJs tomorrow,

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it would be just as ludicrous as

saying, I need 50 Scorpios tomorrow.

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Yeah, no difference.

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Eric Brooke: Awesome.

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Thank you.

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So, you've had a very successful career.

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Can you talk about what success looks

like for you and what has helped you be

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Bohdan Zabawskij: successful?

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Okay.

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Um, I guess, you know, I, I guess

from the, um, quantitative aspect,

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obviously the ability to grow the

company in terms of obviously top

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line metrics and bottom line metrics,

like keep a dog, you know, all that.

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But to me, that's kind of in a weird way.

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I consider the success of the company

as a symptom of something else.

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So, yes, I can point to

literally every company.

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Yeah.

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Has been acquired, uh, where I've touched

it as a C level executive, which is

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nice to hear, but I think the me as a

person, what I enjoy the most, what I

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reflect on the most is the people I've

hired, grown, coached, uh, to be leaders

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and executives in their own right.

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Which is kind of cool to see, you know,

I can point to, uh, for example, as one,

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you know, I, when I entered Fusenet,

there was a team lead, uh, that, you know,

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literally started his own company after

I left and he had left, uh, that company

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was actually acquired by another company

in Montreal and he's become an executive

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coach and mentor in his own right.

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Um, that frankly, if anything causes an

endorphin left, if I reflect back on.

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What I consider, uh, successful, it's

the number of people, uh, that have hired

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and, you know, I say, oh, you know, he,

they're, you know, good for him or her.

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Uh, you know, they, and a lot of them

do stay in contact and honestly, a lot

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of them have become friends, which is

kind of cool as well to form those.

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Relationships that last, then a lot

of them have followed me or continue

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to ask for my coaching and mentorship,

which is kind of cool to see.

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Awesome.

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Eric Brooke: What else, so you talked a

bit, obviously delivery as you consider,

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um, you talked about the symptoms, what

else would you, apart from leadership

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development and growing others, would

you say was key to your success?

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Bohdan Zabawskij: Um, I think the

ability to adapt and learn, um, you

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know, when I reflect back across the

companies I've been involved with.

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Um, and this, this really maybe

speaks to my philosophy as a leader.

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I, I'm not a big fan of playbooks per

se, you know, which is basically I did

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this, these, you know, these specific

sequence of steps and I'm just going to

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apply them here because I was successful

in this context and I, unfortunately I

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do see a lot of that, particularly with.

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Unfortunately, management

consulting agencies where

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they say, here's a playbook.

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If you do this, you will be successful.

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And what I find was every company

has been a snowflake, uh, in terms of

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context, in terms of people, in terms of

technology, in terms of organizational

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structure, in terms of the main.

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And, uh, step one, uh, I think,

you know, part of my philosophy is

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just learn, you know, don't try and

do anything, just learn, uh, the

344

:

state and context of the company.

345

:

That means, you know, learning about the

people, learning as to why they got to

346

:

this point, which was important, you know,

what were the decisions made in the past.

347

:

And if we see step 2.

348

:

Two is to determine a hypothesis

as how to improve things.

349

:

And step three is implement and

do that kind of rinse and repeat

350

:

cycle with regards to, um, yes,

making decision, communicating,

351

:

obtaining alignment of that decision,

executing, and seeing the results.

352

:

Um, so I think that

literally that kind of.

353

:

Humility to when you're going into an

organization or environment to, you know,

354

:

not admit that I don't know everything.

355

:

I'm here to step 1 learn.

356

:

And yes, I will obviously have a

growing repository of experiences and

357

:

knowledge to back me up, but, uh, to

have the humility to understand that,

358

:

you know, I don't know everything.

359

:

Please tell me how we got to this

point so I could help the company

360

:

grow from this point onwards.

361

:

Awesome.

362

:

Thank

363

:

Eric Brooke: you.

364

:

So let's dig into, is there

a, um, something you're trying

365

:

to figure out at the moment?

366

:

Is there a problem that you are

kind of particularly interested

367

:

in or an area of research that

you're digging into at this moment?

368

:

Well,

369

:

Bohdan Zabawskij: um, I guess

when I was in oral data, I was.

370

:

Kind of supporting hundreds of people

across 10 time zones and literally we

371

:

did 10 acquisitions in under 3 years.

372

:

So that was like, that's kind

of the plate spinning aspect.

373

:

So, ironically, I did

not have a real chance.

374

:

Uh, to really keep abreast of

compelling developments in technology.

375

:

The one thing that I found super

compelling, literally t minus a year ago

376

:

was all, uh, and this is where we started

hearing the buzz, uh, around generative,

377

:

uh, generative artificial intelligence.

378

:

Uh, large language models.

379

:

And so basically, once I left in

February, I've been honestly just catching

380

:

up, um, on the different models, how

they can be used, um, and interesting

381

:

enough, there's a new model every day.

382

:

It seems so it seems like it's.

383

:

Uh, been a perpetual cycle of me

learning something new about generative

384

:

AI and LLMs and the potential

applications of generative AI.

385

:

Cool.

386

:

Um,

387

:

Eric Brooke: you've been an

executive a couple of times.

388

:

Can you, um, share for the

listeners, what's that like?

389

:

How is it different from

being a director or a manager?

390

:

Um,

391

:

Bohdan Zabawskij: and

there's, I guess, two aspects.

392

:

One is a greater emphasis on a

correlation to understanding.

393

:

The strategic intent of the company,

um, and which emanates from the

394

:

board and typically the CEO.

395

:

As well as stakeholders, like the

senior leadership team, but, you

396

:

know, a strategy if I don't understand

the strategy, I can't execute well.

397

:

And again, every company.

398

:

Has been different if I focus on the

last T fondle was focused on organic

399

:

growth and a lot of my energy was focused

on how do I optimize and improve the

400

:

productivity to achieve the objectives

of the company in that context.

401

:

And yes, we did things like,

um, automating a lot of manual

402

:

customer success items to improve

the efficiency of the company.

403

:

We.

404

:

Focus on updating the back

end infrastructure, decoupling

405

:

the front end from the back.

406

:

And there are a lot of things that were

undertaken in that context in the case of.

407

:

Our data, you know, the instruction

distribution comparative was both growth,

408

:

but also high margins and excess of 40%.

409

:

So that puts a very different

spin on my operating parameters.

410

:

So, in the case of our

data, it's a lot of that.

411

:

Had to do with, you know, selecting

and executing in the context of

412

:

the prov of obtaining a low cost,

uh, center, which happened to be,

413

:

in this case, north Macedonia.

414

:

So, again, different, different

circumstances, different strategic

415

:

imperatives, uh, that you really

need to understand in order to

416

:

successfully execute as an executive.

417

:

The error item.

418

:

Um, other than strategy and understanding,

you know, the strategy, strategic

419

:

end goals is stakeholder management

that includes the board members

420

:

of the leadership team, marketing,

uh, sales, obviously, um, and, uh,

421

:

obviously the other large stakeholder

group is the people I support and

422

:

balancing all of those, um, really.

423

:

Understanding, um, or actually it's

not un understanding what their

424

:

requirements are, what their needs

are, but also providing consistent,

425

:

uh, form of communication to the board.

426

:

Why we did this, what are we operating on?

427

:

And also the, uh, senior leadership team.

428

:

'cause if they don't know what I'm trying

to achieve or, or if there's no alignment,

429

:

um, on what I'm trying to achieve,

there's gonna be a point of friction.

430

:

So it's, a lot of it is.

431

:

Uh, communicating and alignment

across that level of leadership.

432

:

Cool.

433

:

Thanks.

434

:

Eric Brooke: Um, is there, um, any

particular kind of relationships with one

435

:

particular kind of role like CFO or Chief

Product Officer or Chief Sales Officer?

436

:

Is there a particular role that you've

had that took a little bit longer to

437

:

figure out, or are there things you

can share with us that helped you

438

:

set up a good relationship with them?

439

:

Bohdan Zabawskij: Well, um, one

every company has been unique.

440

:

So in some cases, I've actually

been in charge of product.

441

:

Uh, for example, in the

case of renting now optima.

442

:

So I had both hats.

443

:

Um, I think that helped me

understand the product role.

444

:

Uh, for example, I was going into an

entirely new domain in this case, Celtic.

445

:

So I at that point partner

with my CPO counterpart.

446

:

Hello.

447

:

which I'm going to be based in the

UK to really understand what their

448

:

requirements are, their objectives are.

449

:

So I think part of that is a function

of the operating context and company.

450

:

Uh, but you know, in a, in a way, the same

philosophy that I apply to the people I

451

:

support, I apply to stakeholders, which

is transparency, candor, authenticity,

452

:

because they need to trust me.

453

:

And I need to trust them.

454

:

So I, I'm very much on the page of if

there's a point of friction, I prefer to

455

:

identify and communicate what that is.

456

:

So we can ideally come to some

sort of resolution compromise,

457

:

what have you to further achieve

the goals of the organization.

458

:

So,

459

:

Eric Brooke: in the conversation

you mentioned earlier about working

460

:

for the board, what does that mean?

461

:

What does it look like from your

perspective as either chief product

462

:

officer or chief technology officer?

463

:

Yeah.

464

:

Bohdan Zabawskij: Well, from my

perspective, um, most boards aren't

465

:

particularly tuned to the tech.

466

:

What they want to understand

is, are things working?

467

:

And are they working within

the operating parameters?

468

:

So it's not time where it needs to

be relative to industry standard.

469

:

Are your operating efficiencies

operating within what they

470

:

understand within their cohort group?

471

:

For example, in the case of

large private equity firms, they

472

:

probably have access to tens.

473

:

Or dozens or even 100, uh, corporations

within their portfolio, so they

474

:

get to see snippets and they will

say, Hey, my understanding is,

475

:

you know, you're operating, you

know, they'll say you're a doll.

476

:

For example, they may focus

on, um, top line revenue versus

477

:

engineer for whatever reason.

478

:

And my job is to rationalize.

479

:

Why it needs to get this little, why

I need more development resources,

480

:

but they're very obviously strict.

481

:

They're very strategic there.

482

:

You want high level operating metrics.

483

:

And my job is to communicate why, you

know, certain things need to happen.

484

:

And why, uh, as in the case of

oral data, because we needed

485

:

to prove even our margins.

486

:

And 1 means of doing that was to,

uh, initialize or double down on.

487

:

Relatively low cost center

of region in Eastern Europe.

488

:

Eric Brooke: Okay, cool.

489

:

So I like the fact that you explained

about the cohort that you're often, um,

490

:

depending who the board member is, has

a cohort of companies that they will

491

:

understand the costs and revenues based

from them, and that they will sometimes

492

:

use that as a base of questions for you.

493

:

Um, to figure out, are you within

their operating parameters?

494

:

Bohdan Zabawskij: Correct.

495

:

And again, every board has been

somewhat unique because they've

496

:

had different strategic objectives.

497

:

In the case of.

498

:

Uh, for example, obviously, we're

already been margins for probably

499

:

closer to 0, as opposed to private

equity back that, you know, have very

500

:

high expectations on profitable growth.

501

:

Eric Brooke: Okay.

502

:

Thank you.

503

:

Um, what are you seeing

in the wider tech market

504

:

Bohdan Zabawskij: today?

505

:

Well, uh, the last year

has been interesting with

506

:

regards to, um, retraction.

507

:

Um, I guess, you know, having been an

operating manager leader and executive

508

:

across three and a half decades, the

closest analogy, uh, I've encountered

509

:

to what we are now experiencing.

510

:

Uh, kind of, it kind of reminds me

of the dot com era from 99 to roughly

511

:

2001, where there was implosion and

investment, uh, in the dot com sector

512

:

was characterized as a dot com center.

513

:

In an odd way, I see some of the

symptoms which preceded the current

514

:

decline in tech, which was a focus

on vanity metrics, like I remember

515

:

literally the term eyeballs was used as

a key as a key investment metric, which

516

:

obviously didn't make a lot of sense.

517

:

And I saw hints of that again, leading

up to:

518

:

think 1 thing, which was unique.

519

:

Okay.

520

:

And, uh, particularly the last

half decade was cheap cost of

521

:

capital, which is effectively zero.

522

:

So I think people were

making a lot of loose bets.

523

:

Um, and valuations were, were not

correlated with, uh, I guess, sound

524

:

operational and financial metrics.

525

:

And now we're kind of

seeing that retraction.

526

:

An unfortunate outcome, but

having said that, you know, are

527

:

all things become in cycles.

528

:

I think, you know, I guess looking

positive, positively increased cost

529

:

of capital is focusing time, energy

and capital on organizations that have

530

:

sound business models, sound strategic

objectives, and finally, you know, sound

531

:

leadership in organizations, frankly.

532

:

Um,

533

:

Eric Brooke: what's helped you

grow and helped you scale because

534

:

you've had a, a, quite a journey.

535

:

So what has helped you in those moments,

kind of, um, grow to your next level?

536

:

Bohdan Zabawskij: Well, interestingly

enough, um, I guess one of the

537

:

lessons learned a bit, frankly,

late in my career, um, was.

538

:

The realization that I did not

need to be the smartest person

539

:

in the room, uh, and the power of

networking, the power of community.

540

:

And that has really started my, I

guess, um, extracurricular activities.

541

:

I'm starting with the Toronto CTO

meetup, which began towards my tenure.

542

:

At Rennie, uh, so it really just

began as a dinner group around roughly

543

:

a rough cadence of roughly once

every 2 months that became a fairly.

544

:

We're a regular recording meet

up, uh, which had a community

545

:

membership of hundreds of people

within the greater Toronto area.

546

:

Obviously, um, over coven, those

activities were suspended, but,

547

:

uh, I reinstated the, uh, meet

up in a postcode environment.

548

:

Then that's meeting in a, uh,

roughly by monthly cadence, last

549

:

1 being, uh, roughly 2 months ago.

550

:

Um, and I, I, I, again, I

enjoy that aspect of it.

551

:

Because I learned from it, you know,

I want, I enjoy the prospect of seeing

552

:

people network, seeing those networks

for him because it's what those, I

553

:

think that that networking aspect, the

fact I could bounce on it, your office,

554

:

someone get a response back, help me

grow as a leader because, uh, they've

555

:

experienced things they've had access

to, uh, items I've not seen or heard.

556

:

And, um, so it's that power of community.

557

:

Uh, that is, I think, helped

me and it's partially what, um,

558

:

encourages me to continue that.

559

:

And about eight years ago, I started

TrueNorth CTO, which is the Canadian,

560

:

pan Canadian analog that's grown to

over 2, 000 people across Canada.

561

:

And the one thing.

562

:

Uh, I think I enjoy, uh, literally you're

seeing the most arcane question being

563

:

posted in a virtual community and people

hopping on within minutes and saying,

564

:

well, this is what I've experienced.

565

:

So it's a combination, uh, well, I locally

call a combination of professional and

566

:

chill where people can leave their hubris

at the door and just help each other

567

:

in a collaborative and social manner.

568

:

So lastly, but

569

:

Eric Brooke: not leastly, what

do you do for fun, Bohdan?

570

:

Bohdan Zabawskij: Well,

um, interesting enough.

571

:

Um, the communities are my hobby.

572

:

Like, you know, like

people say golf race cars.

573

:

I actually enjoy the power of community.

574

:

And, you know, frankly, you know,

uh, you know, I, I do invest time

575

:

and energy into both the Toronto

CTO meet up and turn our CTO.

576

:

Um.

577

:

I have deliberately, and this is fairly

unique, both communities are unsponsored,

578

:

volunteer led, um, and not for profit.

579

:

And I did that deliberately

because I experimented with a

580

:

lot of things in early days.

581

:

Uh, and what I found was, uh, the

prospect of sponsorship, it started

582

:

to distort, um, the communication

channels are being formed, uh, and

583

:

started to create a point of friction.

584

:

So I made a very early experiment,

decided to canon and keep it as a

585

:

purely unsponsored in community.

586

:

Organic driven event.

587

:

And like I said, I honestly get an

endorphin lift when I see people

588

:

communicate with each other, help

each other, uh, both directly

589

:

and and semi publicly within

the confines of the community.

590

:

Other than that, um, I do, you know, have

a 5 and a half year old, uh, by virtue.

591

:

Of the other startup was formed

in creative destruction lab.

592

:

So are we experiencing, um, a

parenthood all over again, uh,

593

:

with regards to a young daughter.

594

:

So, uh, spending time with her, um, seeing

her grow, um, is then, you know, it.

595

:

Extremely well, it's been

encouraging to see her grow as a

596

:

young, young human being again.

597

:

Eric Brooke: Thank you very much for

your transparency and your time today.

598

:

Um, it's been a fairly insightful talk.

599

:

Thank you.

600

:

You're welcome.

601

:

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