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7 Questions on Leadership with Asif Aftab

Updated: Dec 9, 2023


Name: Asif Aftab


Title: Sales Director & Technology Advisor


Organisation: Oracle Canada


Asif Aftab is a versatile professional with a distinguished career spanning technology, sales leadership, and a start-up investor. With an impressive track record of over 15 years in the technology industry, he has earned a prominent reputation.


Presently, Asif Aftab holds the positions of Sales Director and Technology Advisor at Oracle Canada, where he has solidified his standing as a technology advisor and digital transformation strategist. His responsibilities encompass not only spearheading sales initiatives but also providing invaluable insights and guidance on technological advancements for the top telecommunication companies in Canada.


Prior to his tenure at Oracle, Asif served as the Regional Sales Manager at Canon Canada, where he adeptly built and led an enterprise sales team, showcasing his exceptional leadership and team motivation skills.

Several sales professionals who have benefited from Asif's mentorship now occupy pivotal sales leadership roles in some of the world's leading technology companies.


Preceding his role at Canon, Asif Aftab assumed the position of Global Sales Director at Xerox USA, focusing on the Southeast Asian market. This international experience broadened his perspective and honed his expertise in global sales strategy and leadership.


One of Asif's standout attributes is his ability to cultivate trust-based relationships with key stakeholders in major enterprise accounts. He is widely acknowledged as a trusted advisor in digital transformation strategy, a testament to his profound understanding of the ever-evolving technology landscape.


Beyond his corporate endeavors, Asif extends his influence to the realms of investment and real estate. He serves on the board of ZAR Capital, a lending and real estate investment firm, as well as IOE Canada, a technology outsourcing company. His investments in telemedicine and AI-focused start-ups underscore his commitment to innovation and entrepreneurial support.


Notably, Asif dedicates his time to serving as a board director for the non-profit organization SOLO Ontario Inc., one of Canada's largest property owner associations and advocacy groups. This underscores Asif's unwavering dedication to the community and social causes.


Asif has earned his MBA from Saint Joseph’s University and Bachelor's from Temple University Philadephia, USA


Asif resides in Toronto with his wife, Zareen Khan, who also continues to excel in the technology sector along with their son Zarrar Aftab.


Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!


I hope Asif's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Cheers,

Jonno White



1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?


During my time at Canon Canada, I've encountered several challenges as a sales leader, but a few stand out as particularly demanding:


Leading a Large Sales Team: Managing a large sales team can be challenging due to the diverse skill sets, personalities, and working styles within the group. Ensuring that everyone is aligned with the company's goals and strategies while fostering collaboration can be a complex task.


Hiring and Developing Sales Talent: Bringing in individuals with little to no prior sales experience and transforming them into top-performing sales professionals can be a significant challenge. This requires a robust training and mentorship program to develop their skills, product knowledge, and sales acumen.


Constant Technological Change: In the tech industry, staying up-to-date with the ever-evolving technology landscape is vital. Adapting to these changes and ensuring that the sales team is well-versed in the latest product offerings can be demanding but essential for success.


Motivating the Sales Team: Sales can be a high-pressure field, and keeping the team motivated is crucial. This involves setting clear goals, providing recognition and incentives, and fostering a positive and collaborative team culture.


Balancing Revenue and Customer Focus: Teaching sales professionals to drive revenue is essential, but it should always be done while keeping the customer's best interests in mind. Striking the right balance between achieving sales targets and maintaining a customer-centric approach can be a delicate yet vital challenge.

To address these challenges effectively, I have implemented a comprehensive training and development program for new hires, focused on both product knowledge and sales techniques. Regular communication and feedback sessions help keep the team aligned and motivated. Additionally, staying ahead of technological advancements and continuously educating the team about new products and services ensures that we remain competitive in the market. Lastly, instilling a strong customer-centric culture within the sales team has always been my top priority, emphasizing the importance of building long-term relationships with clients based on trust and value.


2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?


My journey to becoming a sales leader involved not only achieving my own sales goals but also mentoring and coaching my colleagues. My passion for helping others succeed and my ability to lead by example made me a natural fit for a leadership role.


My journey to sales leadership was guided by my commitment to a customer-centric approach.


In the bustling world of sales at Canon Canada., I started as a Sales Specialist with a passion for helping customers and a relentless focus on their needs. My journey to becoming a Sales Leader was marked by a pivotal moment that showcased the power of a customer-centric approach.

One fateful day right during the holiday season, our team encountered a major challenge. A valued client, HAS Marketing, was facing a critical issue with a Digital Press they had purchased. Their entire production line was at risk of grinding to a halt. The client was understandably frustrated, and the stakes were high.


Rather than passing the issue along the usual channels, I decided to take a hands-on approach. I visited HAS Marketing personally, spending hours on-site to understand the intricacies of their operations and the specific problems they were encountering. This allowed me to see the bigger picture and tailor a solution that would address not only their immediate concerns but also their long-term needs.

Recognizing that this issue extended beyond my own expertise, I collaborated with multiple teams within our organization. I brought in our product specialists, engineers, and customer support teams to work together seamlessly. We formed a united front to tackle the problem comprehensively.

Our collective effort bore fruit, and we devised an innovative solution that not only resolved the immediate crisis but also improved the efficiency and reliability of HAS Marketing operations. The client was not only satisfied but also impressed by our commitment to their success.

Word of this collaborative success story quickly spread throughout the organization, catching the attention of our management team. They saw in me the qualities of leadership, teamwork, and customer-centricity that they valued.

Shortly after this incident, I was promoted to a Sales Leadership role. In my new position, I continued to champion the customer-centric approach that had served me well throughout my career. I encouraged my team to prioritize the needs of our clients, just as I had done with Johnson Electronics.

As a Sales Leader, I strived to foster a culture of collaboration, where every team member recognized the importance of working together to solve problems and exceed customer expectations. Our approach not only resulted in increased customer satisfaction but also boosted our sales figures.

My journey to sales leadership was a testament to the power of prioritizing customer needs, collaborating across departments, and demonstrating a commitment to solving complex challenges. It reinforced my belief that, in the world of sales, success is not just about making a sale; it's about making a difference in the lives of our customers and the growth of our organization.


3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?


As a Sales Professional, especially in my role as an Account Director, structuring my workdays is crucial for maintaining productivity, effectiveness, and overall well-being.

My morning routine begins at 6:30 a.m., starting with reading emails, prioritizing my most important tasks for the day, and checking the news and social media. I skip breakfast as part of my intermittent fasting routine, opting instead to savor a morning coffee. This approach has been effective, providing me with increased energy and vitality throughout the day.


Since COVID, most days I have been working from home. Once I arrive at my home office I immediately focus on the most important task for the day. I find satisfaction in getting things done early, and having one significant task completed before meetings start sets a positive tone for the day.


Balancing Meetings and Strategic Work:

Much of my day is spent in meetings, both virtual and physical, and I also travel frequently. Therefore, I have to carefully prioritize time for strategic work. This includes long-term planning, business innovations, and ensuring customer satisfaction.


Lunchtime Engagement:

I utilize lunchtime to meet with my, customers, or partners. I avoid eating alone and value this time for socializing, networking, and engaging with people. The same applies to evening hours and dinner time, especially when I am on the road.


Since I'm engaged with multiple organizations spanning different time zones, adhering to an early bedtime isn't typically feasible for me. Currently, I typically rest for 3 to 4 hours each night, although I'm actively working on improving my sleep patterns.


4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?


A recent leadership lesson I learned was adapting to working in a virtual Zoom-based environment which required improved digital communication skills. Embracing change and fostering open dialogue proved crucial for personal and team growth.


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?


The book 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' has had a profound impact on my leadership journey. It was my father who introduced me to this timeless classic at an early age. The lessons within its pages have shaped not only how I interact with people but also how I lead and inspire others. Dale Carnegie's principles of genuine interest in others, active listening, and the power of positive communication have become fundamental pillars of my leadership style. This book has not only helped me build meaningful relationships but has also made me a more effective and empathetic leader. I'm grateful to my father for imparting this invaluable wisdom that continues to guide my leadership path.


6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?


"If I could offer one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be this: Never stop learning. Embrace every opportunity to expand your knowledge, refine your skills, and gain new perspectives. The world is constantly evolving, and as a leader, your ability to adapt and grow is your greatest asset. Seek out mentors, read widely, take risks, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Every experience is a chance to learn and improve. Continuous learning will not only make you a better leader but also enable you to inspire and lead your team to success."


7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?


One meaningful story from my leadership journey revolves around a pivotal moment when I had to embrace the concept of "Learn, Unlearn & Relearn.


In my role as a sales leader at Oracle, I had been primarily focused on selling on-premise infrastructure solutions for years. It was a proven and successful approach that had served us well. However, the landscape of the tech industry was rapidly evolving, with the emergence of cloud computing and a growing demand for cloud-based services.

It became increasingly clear that sticking solely to our traditional on-premise infrastructure offerings was no longer a sustainable strategy. The market was shifting, and our customers were looking for more flexible, scalable, and cost-effective solutions provided by cloud-based platforms.

Recognizing the need to adapt, our leadership team decided to make a strategic shift towards offering cloud solutions. This decision posed a significant challenge for me and my team. We needed to quickly become proficient in a new domain, unlearn some of our old approaches, and relearn the intricacies of cloud technologies.

I embraced this change with a growth mindset. I initiated a comprehensive training program, ensuring that I had the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate the cloud landscape effectively. I attended workshops, obtained certifications, and engaged in hands-on learning experiences.

Unlearning the old ways was perhaps the most challenging part. I had to let go of some deeply ingrained habits and methodologies that had brought me success in the past. It required a willingness to challenge my own assumptions and be open to new perspectives.

The relearning phase involved immersing ourselves in the cloud world. I collaborated with experts, attended industry conferences, and sought guidance from partners who had already made the transition. I also encouraged a culture of continuous improvement within our team, where learning and adaptation were ongoing processes.

Over time, our efforts began to pay off. We successfully made the transition to offering cloud solutions, and our team's expertise in this new domain became a valuable asset for our organization.

This experience taught me that as a leader, it's essential to be adaptable and willing to learn, unlearn, and relearn in response to changing circumstances. It reinforced the idea that what had brought us success in the past might not necessarily lead to future success. Embracing change and encouraging a culture of continuous learning and adaptation is vital for staying relevant and competitive in today's dynamic business environment.

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