60 Seconds With: Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, Co-CEO mallowstreet

In our very first "60 Seconds With" interview, we asked our Co-CEO Dawid Konotey-Ahulu about his early career highlights, his favourite coffee haunt in London and the one piece of advice he would give to somebody entering the industry today ...

Q:What was your very first job?

My very first job, ever, was as a video cameraman at weddings. I hired myself out to film weddings and I didn’t do an amazing job but I thought it was better than stacking shelves!

My first professional job was as a junior barrister where I defended people who had been charged with various ‘unpleasant’ things and so I had to go to court and tell the court why they were innocent.

Q:Who has influenced your career most (and why?)

The guy who has influenced my career most is probably Osman Semerci, who was an inspirational guy I worked for at Merrill Lynch. He was incredibly forceful, by way of character and just an inspirational guy who got the job done. Super organised and made me understand that I could go further. He pushed me to go further than I thought I could and maybe some of the best work that I did, I did so under his leadership.

Q: Which business leader do you most admire and why?

Steve Jobs. I know a lot of people say he didn’t have the best people skills perhaps but he was an incredible guy. He managed to get people to go further than they thought they could, he had incredible vision, and he was just an extraordinary leader. I mean he founded and built one of the biggest companies ever; Apple is an extraordinary story, so for me it is Steve Jobs, but perhaps with some of the edges rounded off (or maybe that was his secret?)

Q:What one quality makes a great leader?

The ability to inspire people because I think if you can’t inspire people you cannot lead and so if I had to choose one quality it would be the ability to motivate and inspire and to get people to see that they can be so much more than perhaps they believe they can be.

Q:What’s the best business book you’ve ever read?

The best business book I’ve ever read is probably “Tipping Point”. This was the book I read back in 2005, written by Malcolm Gladwell, and is just something I picked off the shelf at the airport and it’s all about change and about doing things differently . . . so I quit my job at Merrill Lynch and I went out with Robert Gardner and founded Redington, which is maybe the biggest thing I have ever done – so I would say “Tipping Point”.

Q: What is on your desk?

Right now I have a copy of “Lean In” which is a book by Sheryl Sandberg who is COO at Facebook which is a great book. It is really a book written for women but it’s a great book and everyone should read it. It gives you a real insight into the world of women at work and all about getting stuck in and is really powerful …

Also on my desk is a book I am writing called “Orange muffins and chicken pie”. These are the 2 items I will confess to having on my desk.

Q:What is your favourite coffee shop in London?

Has to be “Fix” which is in White Cross Street, just behind mallowstreet near Old Street. I love that place – the coffee is amazing, the people are amazing, it’s very cool – lots of entrepreneurs in there (everyone has an iMac) and everyone is trying to change the world in their own way.

Q:What does a typical day at the office look like for you?

Someone once said that when you’re in a position of management or when you’re the CEO (or Co-CEO) the hallmark of your day is fragmentation, diversity and brevity – so its lots of little bite-size pieces and so for me it could be anything from a Board meeting, to advising clients on what they need to do, to sorting out personnel issues, strategy, finance and operations … Just trying to change the world, you know, it’s all in there.

Q:What is the best piece of advice you would give somebody entering this industry?

If you’re joining the industry today, you need to figure out where the ‘puck’ is going to land. The world is changing so fast that assuming your job is always going to be there and that you’re always going to be paid what you are paid and that you are always going to have this responsibility is a big mistake . . .

Change comes and it does so when you least expect it, so you have to be awake and you have to be alert and figure out that things are changing and you have to keep ahead of the curve. This is the biggest skill that you need to hone and refine.

Q:Is there an Industry problem/issue that keeps you awake at night?

The thing that keeps me awake at night is change; how do you bring about change to the industry? How do you make sure people have enough to live on in retirement is something that I am always thinking about. It is a really big question!

In Silicon Valley they always talk about BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) and my BHAG is to try to find a way to get people to save enough in retirement, because if you save enough you can then afford to look after yourself in retirement and fund some sort of social care – which is something you are going to need to pay for, and that day is coming pretty soon.

I’m constantly thinking about bringing about culture shifts and change; how do you do it? It’s about collaborating – but how do you actually collaborate effectively and successfully and bring about change?

Q:In what ways are you a nerd?

Oh, let me count the ways … The biggest way I am a nerd is that I am obsessive about typo’s and if you put a piece of paper in front of me, I see them immediately - they jump out the page at me and say ‘change me, fix me now’. I cannot let a piece of work go out unless I am certain that it’s typo-free.

Q:Have you ever won a trophy?

Yes! I won the Ghanaian Cycling Open Championship when I was 17 (maybe 16) and I got a trophy and a t-shirt (actually, maybe it was just a t-shirt) …. But that is my proudest trophy.

*To watch the full video, visit: *https://secure.mallowstreet.com/Videos/1929