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7 Questions with Zitah McMillan
7 Questions with Zitah McMillan
Name: Zitah McMillan
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: Predictive Black
Having spent a long career working in advertising & communications for large ad agencies, then the UK Government and financial regulator, I moved into leading a European lending business which reignited my dormant passion for SMEs. This led to me starting my own Company with my co-founders in 2019, and Predictive Black was born.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
You're it! Quite literally, if there's something that needs to happen then you're the one who has most likely had the idea, determined the need and then has to execute it as well. It makes you more mindful of what can be achieved by any single person.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
After successfully selling and exiting a European lending business owned by a US VC firm, I was looking at what I still wanted to achieve with my career. I know a lot of SME business owners and their passion for what they do is inspirational, so with time and opportunity in front of me I decided it was a now or never moment. It's not an easy decision to take when you're used to the comfort blanket of large organisations but it was something I had long wanted to do.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
In normal times it's always an early start, get the kids up, fed and out for school then either walk the dogs or squeeze in a yoga practice before getting to my desk by around 8.30/9am.
Then I quickly recap on what was on my to do list from the day before, my day book keeps me on the straight and narrow. I keep a roll-forward note so hopefully things don't get lost in the midst of a million other tasks. We have a team stand up mid-morning and then it's usually Team meetings with clients, other interesting companies throughout the day. I try and carve out some thinking time each day and some 'doing' time as well which often gets sacrificed! Currently I get to have lunch with the kids and they still have a lot of evening activities (all on zoom!) so they need to be organised. Family dinner in the kitchen where we chat about the day, who had the craziest day is often our favorite subject. Then it's either a quick game of Uno or there's house stuff to be done before hitting the sofa in time for the 10pm news, then bed...ideally!
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
It's a lesson and a skill but managing my own psychology has been the toughest. Tasks are all straightforward, ideas come readily, running a business is fine as are the 1001 other elements of making a company run smoothly. What people don't really talk about as a CEO is the toll it can take on you as an individual. Ben Horowitz says in his book "The hard thing about hard things" that if you don't like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don't become a CEO. I work on getting things out of my head, so that's why my day book is important and I also try and keep a 'view from the balcony' mindset about what's happening and why so everything stays in perspective.
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?
I mentioned it earlier, Ben Horowitz's The Hard Thing about Hard Things really helped me understand what I was experiencing building Predictive Black. The sub-head is Building a business when there are no easy answers. It's full of honesty and direct examples of a lot of things I've experienced and it's reassuring on that level. In terms of how that translates into my leadership, there's a chapter called Lead Bullets and it's about the hard lessons you have to learn about whether your company has a right to win and in fact a right to live at all. That's a great lesson to hold onto, I'd recommend anyone building a business right now reads the book, I'm definitely not doing it justice!
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
I think that the approach changes over time, when you're just starting out you need certain skills and leaders but this evolves as the business grows. Don't be afraid to make the changes you need to make in your leadership teams, different company life stages require different skills.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
We've been lucky to receive an Innovate grant from the UK government and have seen a large number of companies like ourselves working on solutions to support other SMEs, that's such a shift in perspective. Historically, although SMEs make up 98% of the UK economy, they've been underserved and ignored, now that's changing and that has huge potential significance for the future. Not sure that's a story but as a leader of an SME that helps other SMEs it makes me really positive to be part of this dynamic community.