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IGNITING THE SPARK with Atif Sheikh, Business 3.0

David Farquharson

Business 3.0 is a management consultancy with a unique approach to consulting and digital which helps to transform today’s business and build tomorrow’s.

Atif Sheikh
Atif Sheikh

The moment that ignited the spark in me to start a business was…

It was when I received an offer to become global CEO of a cutting edge industrial design & innovation consultancy. It was a job I had lusted after – and yet I realised at that moment that I didn’t want to work for somebody else. Rather I wanted to work with a team that I had been able to hand pick, a team put together to bring diverse perspectives and huge passion to building a new type of advisor and partner to big business. It wasn’t that I thought I could do it better - I just decided that I wanted the onus of responsibility on me. That way whether it works or not, I won’t be pointing the finger at anybody else.

That was one moment - the other was back in 2013, when I was doing a piece of work for Aviva. We had worked with their CEO and exec team to define the blueprint for what the company wanted to achieve over the next five years. We were running an event to launch this future direction to their top 300 – and it created this intense moment of pride and blinding clarity for those in the room. Then, over the next few months, we witnessed that happen across all thirty thousand people who work for Aviva. It was then that I knew that creating that kind of belief and momentum is what I wanted to focus on every day.

The thing that’s most surprised me since I made that move is…

How much I’ve learned. I had worked for several FTSE 50 businesses previously, and I assumed that I had learned most of what I was going to learn about being a leader and about running a business in those experiences. Twenty years of learning from my elders and betters meant I thought starting a new business was going to be mostly about deploying those lessons. I knew being an entrepreneur would be a whole different kettle of fish – but what has surprised me is how this new business has reignited my learning around what it is to be a great leader.

The toughest challenge I’ve faced is…

One of the biggest challenges has been keeping together our extraordinarily talented leadership team. It’s so important to keep my team positive and hungry and excited about their future in our business.

The other challenge has been helping the wider team to ride out the lull after the Brexit decision. We’ve had to learn how to keep the team facing forward and create an environment where they can learn about resilience and how to handle periods of adversity.

My biggest success has been…

Developing new leaders in our business so that we’ve got strength in depth – that’s been one of our biggest successes so far.

The other is that we’re in year two, and we’re already achieving the year four numbers in our business plan. To be two years ahead of ourselves is not a result I would have predicted.

I’m very good at…

Inspiring people to believe in where we’re headed and unleash their full potential; and also at encouraging senior leaders to face up to what’s really going on in their organisation. I believe facing hard reality is the first step towards creating progress. I do this in my own business too. Identifying what’s happening and using that as a starting point to then say, “Right, how are we going to move forwards and improve things from here?”

The type of person I look to recruit into my organisation is…

Other than having the right sorts of skills and experience, there’s three things I look for. The first is hunger. You can’t teach people to be hungry - they either are or they’re not. I want only motivated people around, so I look for hunger.

We look for hybridity - people who have had multiple career experiences. That’s particularly important to us given the kind of challenges that our clients face in the modern world. Our people need to see more than just one way of doing things.

And the third thing is heart. We want people who deeply care about the work they’re doing and the people they’re working with.

The part of my day I most look forward to is…

I take the train into Paddington and I’ve started walking from the station to the office. I love it. I walk fast enough that I can’t be on the phone or doing emails. It’s forty minutes where I can enjoy London, get fresh air, and have the space to think.

If I could give my 18-year old self one piece of advice it would be…

I think it would be look after your physical health. For you to be everything you can be intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, your body must be in tip top shape and you should look after it well.

Outside of work I can be found…

Spending time with my two little daughters and my wife. Trying to create time for a date night. Flying my drone.

My philosophy on life is…

My philosophy is that you don’t get anywhere great in life without going off course a few times. It’s not whether you go off course that matters, but rather how well and how quickly you correct. I’m always banging on to my team about off course – correct, off course – correct…

If I was asking the questions, I would want to know…

I would want to gather all the tips and tricks people use to get themselves through the tough bits. Particularly the moments of doubt - what is it that they fire themselves up with, and how do they make themselves more resilient?

What I like about working with Ignition Law…

I like the fact that Ignition are unafraid to give you an honest opinion, and they’re always willing to fight for you if required.

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