The Tech @ the Top speaker series showcases successful leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs from a variety of organizations. Topics span leadership, entrepreneurship, globalization, social innovation and business growth strategies. An event brings students, alumni, and community members together to network and learn from the leadership philosophies and strategies that have transformed a speaker’s career, organization, and life.
I organized the Tech @ the Top series. The series is an important part of the MBA experience as it enhances the learning, reflection, and application of students’ studies. Here is my recap and impressions of our second speaker in the fall 2017 series, Ajai Seghal.
~ Susie Buysse, Senior Associate Director for the work-compatible Technology Management MBA and Hybrid MBA Programs
Our second fall 2017 Tech @ the Top speaker was Ajai Seghal. Ajai just started a new role as Chief Technology Officer of Eagleview, a provider of aerial imagery, data analytics, property data, and GIS solutions for government, infrastructure, and commercial sectors. In his early career, Ajai helped found and scale Expedia from a small team of 40 in Microsoft into a new public company that became the world’s largest travel agency. He then helped establish Groupon’s travel business as VP of Product & Technology, before moving to Hootsuite as its CTO/CIO.
Ajai described a few experiences at the C-level as well as his guiding principles for changing and growing a successful business career.
He shared, “I joined Hootsuite in 2014 as their CTO and CIO. It was always going to be a 3-year stint and it was a really good ride. I learned a lot being at the C-level, in a company approaching a billion dollars. It was funded by venture capital which was a brand new experience. When you don’t have money and you’re a private company, you manage your budget completely differently. You focus on how the dominant venture capital firm wants you to manage your business. I learned something really interesting. They have a portfolio of companies, and they pay a lot of attention to companies who are doing really, really well, and they pay a lot of attention to companies doing really poorly — the kind of attention you don’t want as a CEO, CIO, or COO. Then they have this large swath of companies’ right in the middle and no one ever asks questions. We were right in this middle fold.”
When asked about what he likes about smaller companies, he responded, “I don’t like corporate politics. I like doing the job and just like to speak my mind. Speaking your mind when you’re in a political world is a surefire way to make enemies and lose your pull. I selected companies where politics weren’t tolerated and always believe that people should work together toward a common goal.”
Ajai highlighted three beliefs for managing a career:
- If you want to rise through the company, the strongest skill you need is communication. You need to stand out and communicate well on what is relevant to the company. You get noticed by talking, but not talking too much … by not stating the obvious. People who are successful are excellent communicators and are really, really good at what they do. When they are communicating, they convey ideas clearly and succinctly and communicate something of value. As a leader in a company, I quickly identify who knows what they’re talking about versus who is just talking.
- Moving to a new company is never a sure thing. Take risks and work your a** off and you will likely be successful.
- Don’t give up on your career goal. If you give up, there’s no potential and you’re doomed. Figure out why it’s not working and then change it and make it work.