2017 / 10 October

Is it worth quantifying sacrifice?

Three months ago I was contacted out of the blue and told that I had been identified as a potential candidate for a new role. While that statement in- and of- itself isn’t that interesting, what was interesting was the type and calibre of the role — the CEO of an ASX listed health tech company.

My first question was why? Or rather, how? How did I get through even initial stages of consideration to be contacted?

Nevertheless, I was certainly intrigued, so I responded and eventually we organized a phone call. I was given very little information ahead of time, but the conversation certainly piqued my interest. A fascinating area, some well developed technology, but more importantly, an underlying strategic vision that, while not spelled out clearly, I could see creating some major impact in Australia if handled correctly.

I am a fairly blunt person. Often to a fault. I am blunt when I speak to people and more than that, I am blunt about my abilities. One of the questions was about where I might need support and where I could struggle. I was blunt in my assessment and was completely open about where I would need support if I were to do the job well.

The person on the other end of the phone said that I was remarkably honest about such things. I responded and said “I may as well tell you now, and hope we can set ourselves up for success than cover it up now and have them find out three months into the job”. No one wins that way.

Suffice it to say, my bluntness was appreciated and we arranged a face to face. I did some more reading, prepared some more questions, but I went in with the decision that the person I was speaking to would decide if I was someone who could do the job or not. I was the outsider. So I went in as myself.

At that stage, it was all a bit surreal and I had the safety net of my current job and Health Delivered, so there was no harm in fronting up and putting my genuine self on the line. Apparently that approach worked and I was invited to meet the board as one of the final three or four candidates. But the initial pool was 10x that.

The meeting with the board was much the same. We discussed what I had seen of the company and where I thought focus was needed. We discussed my entirely unorthodox adventures to date and how I had landed in the position I was in. And finally we discussed what my ambitions were, particularly related to my own company. I was blunt and honest, but within that I think there was passion, enthusiasm and intelligence because I love what I do and I wouldn’t have stuck at this for over two years if I didn’t believe in it.

Ultimately, the question was posed — would I give up everything else to focus on just this company? And while I have enough confidence in my abilities to know I would be a great hire, I couldn’t sit there and honestly say I would walk away from all of our work for this. I genuinely believed that there was a way to get the companies working together (I may have gone a little too blue sky on that one), but I had to be honest with myself and with the board.

It was a fascinating, personable and worthwhile conversation. But I walked away knowing that by answering in the way I did, I had taken myself out of the running.

Finally, and with little fan fare, the hire was announced. The newly appointed CEO is impressive. Over twenty years experience, plenty of commercialization, development, R&D in health and technology. A host of companies that, whilst not household names, certainly paint a very solid picture. I’m pretty confident they are in good hands.

A big part of me is disappointed. I am competitive, particularly with myself and to get so close but not quite there doesn’t appease my personality. I did some more reading and digging and found out the remuneration. While there are some pretty hefty targets, the compensation between salary and stock is pushing $500,000 — of which over half is salary.

Half a million dollars.

I work part time. I put every dollar I can into my business. Depending on the projects I take on, some months my salary is lower than it was when I first started in this industry. I’m never driven by money, but it’s a confronting comparison.

The timing of this was particularly relevant given where we are in the investor journey — gearing up to go again. Counting every penny to push them as far as they will go. What could I have done with a budget? With long term stability? With a salary meaning I don’t have to seek other work to pay my mortgage.

A fascinating game of what ifs that doesn’t achieve anything other than give me more to think about during sleepless nights.

Instead, I wanted to take the absurd and surreal three months and see if they have taught me any useful lessons.

Firstly, I learned that showing up as myself is important. Particularly if I want to be considered a leader. I am not perfect (far from it) but I am learning to call out and own my weaknesses so I can surround myself with people who do those things well.

Secondly, it’s still strange to me to be considered for these sorts of roles. Someone with less than a decade experience against people with multiple decades. Objectively, I think I have advanced faster than most and I’m pretty sure my relentless drive and possible insanity will continue to create these opportunities. But it takes a mental leap to turn that objective view into something I have internalized as part of who I am. That is a work in progress.

Thirdly, it is both challenging and meaningful to quantify the sacrifice. To put a number on the conversation we had. While it shows how much I potentially walked away from, it does validate the numbers in our own investor documents. I am asking for far less than that, but it helps put into perspective what the market is doing and how it impacts us.

Finally, and most importantly, I don’t think it’s possible to put a number on the opportunity to create your own thing. While I’d be happy being paid handsomely to bring someone else’s idea to life, I would much prefer to take on the world in our own way. Which is what we continue to do. And while every hurdle and setback hurts more than they should, every little win and every little bit of progress is worth more than any pay cheque.

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