The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was (and still is) a wake-up call to businesses around the world. Survival was the headlining topic, with very little room left to focus on growth. When looking to navigate the volatile period, Kevin Ou, who is known for his work in helping Fortune 500 Companies, Celebrities and Startups drive growth, credits “Failure and Speed” as the key deciding factors in growth during this period.
His career took off very quickly and unexpectedly, and he found himself working with rockstars at night and in boardrooms pitching to CEO’s during the day. “It was an enormous responsibility in my mid-20’s and I felt in over my head at every level, but thankfully managed to achieve success every step of the way”, mentions Kevin.
Kevin admits that his transition from a creative role into a leadership role twelve years ago was something of a gamble for his growing production company in Hollywood. “Pulling together all the disparate elements of huge, scattered, and sometimes unruly organization often feels like herding cats. But someone has to do it”, cites Kevin in our recent interview.
Ou, who’s currently based out of Singapore, takes some time to chat with us.
You’ve had a very winding Career. Tell us more about it.
I began my career as a Commercial Director (and Photographer) in Los Angeles, specializing in Advertising and Entertainment projects. That quickly expanded into consulting roles for technology, music/movie studios and co-founded several business endeavors.
I unexpectedly experienced success early in my career, which I attributed to a lot of luck and also the willingness to fail, learn and adapt quickly. That pace set the momentum and drive for the rest of my life. That was the catalyst to study more techniques and formulas to help grow my own companies and other organizations as well.
I spend a lot of time on side-projects, industries, and subject matters outside of my comfort zone which accelerates my pace of learning. Some projects succeed, while some efforts fail miserably. At the end of the day, learning from these mistakes become the biggest driver, not solely the outcome.
Share with us how Covid has affected you?
For someone that’s used to moving fast, the pandemic was a very frustrating period. Like many, I spent a lot of time indoors due to government social restrictions. With reduced social interactions and more time on my hands, I made a decision at the start to emerge from this pandemic as a better person.
Since travel came to a standstill, I started to learn from global universities through their online programs. My appetite was voracious and I ended up with certifications for Leadership Management at Harvard University, Fintech Payment Processing through Wharton University, and Data Analytics through my local National University of Singapore. This additional knowledge helped to shape the way I think and I’ve already started to implement new tools into my current initiatives.
What have you been focusing on lately?
More recently I was given the opportunity to help grow Sky Premium, a private community of high net worth members that started in Japan and expanding globally.
After meeting the CEO, I was excited about the long-term view of growing the company with the management team. I saw an opportunity to put a strategy in place to grow the business’s top line, expand the business, and also enhance the culture of the company.
I’ve also been expanding my focus of investments to sectors like cyber-security and rapidly emerging markets. The struggle for me is finding a work-life balance and a higher priority on family, after being accustomed to working 15 – 18 hour days for most of my career.
You’re known for your work with Samsung, Proctor & Gamble and Google, amongst others. How can you tell if an organization is ready for growth?
You can tell quickly if an organization has the right infrastructure for growth. While there are many signs, my key factors revolve around 2 things: Culture and (Leadership) Mindset.
In order for teams to take risks and push the envelope, they need to be comfortable with failure. Leaders must embrace a culture that normalizes stumbling once in a while, but only when the failure is structured and there is a system to test, track and learn from these failures. The speed at which this process can be repeated correlates directly to the scalable and sustainable growth of the business. The knowledge of these past innovations allows a look at where the company has failed on the way to successful innovations.
Another tension of growth revolves around the traditional mindset that leaders should take the time to deliver a perfectly polished product. However, the hyper-growth of tech companies shows that doing something quickly, failing fast, and adapting is very often the key difference in success. However, I caution that this needs to be properly balanced as moving forward recklessly without ample consideration can often lead to disastrous results.
You’ve been privileged to work with many management teams. What are some key hurdles that most teams face?
Traditional leaders value decision-making conviction and consistency; the belief that good leaders are supposed to stick to their guns. In reality, growth is recognized in fast-changing environments. Progress is dynamic and decisions often need to be reversed or adapted. Leaders of fast-growing companies recognize that changing course in response to new information is a key strength, not a weakness.
One of the biggest hurdles (and hardest to solve) is the ego of leaders and/or their teams. Good leaders are able to align the goals of the individuals and organization. This takes a deep understanding and communication with their people to avoid putting individual egos over organizational goals.
Another trap traditional leaders fall into is trying to fulfill certain molds, a strategic visionary, with answers to all questions and the ability to make perfect decisions under pressure. I personally feel that these widely held beliefs are misguided. Leaders who are expected to know-it-all, are often too conservative and often shut down ideas before understanding them fully. A very dangerous mindset that presents big friction to growth.
There is also often a lapse in the speed of technology development and experience. Many senior leaders who are tasked with leading growth in digital transformation are not digital natives themselves. I have personally seen this approach run the risk of making bad or inappropriate decisions. Traditional leaders’ ego exacerbates the ability and openness to learning from younger employees, which leads to many issues.