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7 Questions with Rob Brown
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7 Questions with Rob Brown
Name: Rob Brown
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: KERB
Rob is the Co-Founder and CEO of KERB, a global peer-to-peer and B2B parking app. One of Australia's most prominent marketers and a globally-recognised pioneer in the world of marketing automation, Rob is a regular international keynote speaker and has appeared on BBC World, Huffington Post, Channel 9, 7 & 10 news, plus dozens of other mainstream news networks.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Rolling out across the world. To do it successfully, you need such a head-start in terms of understanding how a Korean vs a Russian vs an Aussie thinks, or is likely to react.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was the 'Global Head of Digital' for an international education company out of Australia. I was always fascinated by the intersection between technology and legacy industries which were ripe for disruption. What Airbnb did to the hotel industry, and how Uber completely side-swiped the taxi industry, were two examples I studied meticulously. And then one day, sitting on a bus in gridlocked traffic, on my way home from work, I suddenly noticed all the empty driveways by the side of the road and I thought to myself: "There's an idea for a billion-dollar business." And that's how KERB was born. But it was never about building a parking app for Australia. My background was international business and marketing, and I really saw the opportunity for a global-from-Day-One business. And that's what we set out to build.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Under normal circumstances, I travel internationally a lot. So I'm often waking up or going to sleep in a different time-zone. I always start my day with a swim and about 30 minutes of floor exercises - at home or in my hotel room - wherever I am in the world. I typically skip breakfast, but always have a couple of black coffees, while I'm going through my emails. After that, I'll be in meetings and on Zoom calls with colleagues, partners and prospective investors. I'm very involved with proposals that are going out, and in new country launches. I'll often skip lunch, unless I have a business lunch scheduled, but always have a proper dinner and a couple of glasses of wine in the evening. I'm often replying to emails, and on calls with future partners and, with senior staff, till late into the night, before the next day begins :)
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
COVID has certainly reminded me of the need to be more present as a leader, among all of my team - many of whom were initially wondering how KERB would cope with the pandemic. I started doing more regular all-hands meetings with all of our staff around the world. I recorded a weekly CEO update, which I posted in a new 'CEO' channel in Slack. But I also stayed closer to our investors during the pandemic, many of whom would have also been worried about the impact COVID might have on KERB. Legendary Intel CEO Andy Grove, once said: "Bad companies are destroyed by crises; good companies survive them; great companies are improved by them.” Those words have reinforced to me, as the company's leader, that a crisis really is a terrible thing to waste, and that the opportunities for KERB - because of COVID - have arguably been accelerated by a decade.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Clayton Christensen's 'Innovator's Dilemma' was a seminal book for me. Before starting KERB, I was working for a big listed corporate, which - like most big organisations saddled with decades of bureaucracy and traditions - was engaged in what Christen referred to as "sustaining innovation", which essentially means just trying to eke out an extra percentage point of profit here, or two points of cost-savings there. These big companies have such a vested interest in protecting their legacy, and in shielding their core business from the winds of competition, that they are unable to innovate. Their boards of directors have a mandate to protect them from innovation, to protect the shareholders. They take their eye off the low end of the market, where "disruption innovation" is likely to emerge from. And then a small company emerges - that none of the incumbents pay much attention to, because that little company is only selling books online, or is only mailing DVDs in cute packages to people's homes, or is only a social network for Ivy League universities. Everyone ignores them because they are tiny. And these small disruptors start nipping at your ankle - like a puppy. And people start to realise that the eCommerce site selling books is actually such an incredible value proposition. They have so few legacy assets that inhibit or hold them back from making bold decisions. And then one day you wake up and you no longer have a cute little poodle nipping at your ankles; you have Rottweiler with half your torso in its mouth. And that is the Innovator's Dilemma: big companies struggle to innovate. They don't see the threat from the puppy nipping at their heels, until it's too late. And I see that everywhere in the USD500b global parking sector. They're unable to change, unable to innovate. But KERB has no such legacy assets or modus operandi. We can invent a completely new way of booking, accessing and paying for parking, and then extend our platform, network and technology into other aspects of mobility such as solving the "last-mile" parcel delivery conundrum, or providing a distributed network of EV-charging locations . We can engage in that "disruptive innovation" that Christen talked about, every day of the year. And that is what we're doing, driveway by driveway, car park by car park, city by city, country by country.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
You have to first build a solid core of leaders, to inspire a culture of leadership - and risk-taking - right across the organization. You have to trust those leaders to make their own decisions, as long as they are aligned to the company's stated strategic goals. Most of our staff around the world work remotely - even pre-COVID, everyone worked from home. So giving people flexibility to balance work and family, while expecting only the highest standards, is key to nurturing leaders. Lieutenant-General David Morrison, who was the Australian Chief of Army, once said: "The standard you walk past is the standard you set." When building leadership capacity in a large enterprise, those words become so poignant. Because, to expect the best from your leaders, you have to set the best standards yourself.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Early in KERB's journey, when we were still a very small team, and were hustling like crazy (we still are hustling like crazy!), we were dropping flyers in mailboxes in any city in the world that we visited. Even I, as CEO, must have personally delivered over a quarter of a million flyers - from Auckland to Sydney, to Singapore, Milan and even Venice! Obviously, most flyers get thrown in the bin, and very few result in someone listing their private parking space or car park on KERB. But they raise awareness, and they get your brand out there. And every single marketing flyer or leaflet in every single mailbox is an opportunity: you just don't know who might read it. A few years ago, we'd done a mailbox drop in Glasgow, Scotland. A couple of weeks later, we received an email from a lady who ran a small media agency which focused on "Sharing Economy" companies. We had a couple of conversations with her, then decided to risk a couple of thousand dollars on an experimental media campaign, to tie in with my visit to the UK. That led to a couple of radio interviews, then to a feature on BBC One London news, and then to a feature on BBC World's 'Talking Business' segment, hosted by Aaron Heselhurst. That show is viewed by 100m people around the world every day. And while KERB's appearance on BBC World didn't generate many business leads, it gave us serious credibility among future investors. And it all came from a single flyer in a Glasgow mailbox. Tenacity and persistence so often win the day.