16. Mohamad Ali, the CEO of IDG, Inc., on learning to be a good board member and the importance of giving back
Mohamad Ali is the CEO of International Data Group (IDG, Inc.), a private technology media, events and research company. He has also served as CEO of a publicly traded company and has served on many public, private, and nonprofit boards. In this episode, Mohamad shares what he has learned about being a good board member as well as the intricacies of boards through his wide range of experience on both the board and company leadership sides. He also integrates the importance of giving back and the support he received after moving to the United States as a child. Thanks for listening! We love our listeners! Drop us a line or give us guest suggestions here. Links https://www.idg.com/ https://twitter.com/mhsali https://www.linkedin.com/in/alimohamad/ Biography His bio is available here: https://www.idg.com/about-idg-inc/ Mohamad Ali was appointed Chief Executive Officer at International Data Group, Inc., the world’s leading technology media, events and research company, in July 2019. Prior to this role, Mohamad was CEO of Carbonite, a publicly traded data-protection and security firm, where he grew the company’s revenue four-fold, to more than a half-billion dollars in four years. Before that, Mohamad served as Chief Strategy Officer at Hewlett-Packard where he played a pivotal role in the company’s turnaround and led the decision process to split HP into two companies. At IBM, Mohamad acquired and integrated various companies to create the firm’s $8 billion analytics software unit. At Avaya, he oversaw the $2 billion services group and served as head of the company’s research labs. Mohamad holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering, a B.A. in History and a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, all from Stanford University. He serves on the board of iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) and was previously on the board of Carbonite (NASDAQ: CARB) and City National Bank (NYSE: CYN). Mohamad was honored as 2018 CEO of the Year by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, was a member of the 2018 Public Board of the Year by The National Association of Corporate Directors New England, was named a 2011 All-Star by Massachusetts High Tech magazine, was named a 2008 40 Under 40 honoree by Boston Business Journal, and was a finalist in America’s prestigious 1988 National Science Talent Search. Article: “I am Living proof of the American Dream” – link to article https://medium.com/authority-magazine/i-am-living-proof-of-the-american-dream-with-mohamad-ali-ceo-of-carbonite-851f0bd33c90 Quotes Onboarding I think one of the most important aspects of onboarding isn't actually the content that you learn, but the personal dynamics of the board and the board. It could be 8 people, it could be 18 people but it's a small number of people of often very high caliber people with very strong opinions…how you onboard someone culturally onto the board is a very important thing. That's something I've seen done poorly and it's something I've seen done well. We spend so much time and money with recruiters getting the right skills, doing the skills matrix and so forth and then, once the person's here, that's kind of when the hard work starts. What's the best thing a board can do when a CEO has a major challenge, or the company is in a crisis? Great question, because in some ways we've all been there in the last six or nine months. I would say that if you have a good CEO and the CEO has a good management team, probably one of the most important things is be supportive of that team, be available, be engaged, but be supportive… if you have a good CEO and there's a crisis, you hunker down together. Big Ideas/Thoughts What was impactful in the path leading to your success as you were growing up I'm one of the lucky ones to have gotten all the opportunities that I have gotten and to where I am today. It wasn't just my mom and my dad that encouraged me because they were new to this country. they didn't know how to navigate it. There were people who went out of their way to help me for really no gain to them. There were two school teachers in particular, in the public school system that showed me the way and guided me and eventually I ended up at one of these elite public schools where you have to take a test to get in and that launched me on my way to Stanford and my career. Without these two people, who out of the goodness of their heart just decided to help me, I don't think I would be here today. I always try to keep that in mind when I look at where I am and I think all of us are wherever we are, whatever success we've had, it's because other people have helped. I think it's really critical for us to all give back. First Board Experience My first board experience, I would have to say that I really didn't know anything about boards, so it was very much a learning process for me. One of the things that I did was just first assume that I didn't know anything about how boards work and that they had brought me on board for a specific reason. That's where I focused my time, helping them determine how to sell the company. Then the other thing that I did was I observed, I watched what the other board members did. I asked and I learned - there were several really great people on the board who were willing to teach me. Learning what works for Boards by observing what doesn’t work I've seen a lot of things work. I've also seen a lot of things, not work and that's really important. We all talk about how failure is a really important component of education and learning and it really is. How serving as a CEO has helped him as a board member It's tremendously helpful actually. In some ways, it allows you to relate with a lot more credibility to the CEO. It's not that other board members who haven't been a CEO aren't credible, but in the eyes of the CEO of the company, I think knowing that a board member has been CEO and has been through the pains of being CEO, been in the trenches, has had to navigate the landmines that CEO deals with, it goes again beyond the technical aspects of the role and more to the emotional connection, and understanding that is shared with CEO Board Composition and offboarding One of the things that I've seen done at multiple companies where I've been on the board is the use of a skills matrix and the skills needed to the company changes periodically, the use of the skills matrix has been very helpful. For example, at iRobot, we do a skills matrix every year and we publish it as part of our SEC filings and it gives the board an opportunity to discuss what we might want to change, in short term, medium term, long term and all the board members are part of that discussion. It's not just transparent to our board members, but to all of our investors. Diversity on boards I see progress, but not enough. One example is that a few years ago there was a target of getting 20% women on boards. We've met that target, but if you think about it, it's only 20%, it's not 50%. M&A Most M&As, or a significant number of M&A transactions, ultimately don't meet the goals or produce the value expected. So where is the disconnect in this if two parties are really trying to do the right thing? There is a three-letter answer to that and it’s ego, right? So, 75% of all transactions fail to meet their business cases. The good companies, the companies that know how to do M&A well obviously perform much better than that, because they do it for the right reasons.