The road towards leadership development isn’t passive. It’s more than just enabling life experiences to wash over one. Effective leaders learn from experiences in a thoughtful as well as strategic manner. One such thoughtful leader is Andrew Simpson, the COO of Alessa. In an interview with Exeleon Magazine, Andrew shared key insights about his journey and his beliefs of what makes for an effective leader.
Q: What has been your role as a leader since being appointed as the COO of Alessa?
Andrew: My role has always been the creation of an audacious vision for the business. My view is that knowledge centric businesses like ours are only as good as the people. Everything we create is a reflection of the amazing team we have on board. We are relentless in ensuring we have the right people on the ‘bus’.
Q: What makes for an effective leader? How do you facilitate the same in your leadership?
Andrew: Effective leadership is the art of enrolling a group of individuals in a common vision and getting them to execute that vision in a way that is more than the sum of the parts. This is particularly important when you lead a strong group with diverse opinions.
The sustainability of a common vision requires deliberate enrollment at various levels of the organization and that means the leader cannot be the only person enrolling others. The enrollment conversation and communication must be consistent and intentional.
At Alessa, we ensure that the conversations begin in our recruitment process and is reinforced as often as possible in our corporate culture and evidenced in everything we do.
Q: What has the journey been like for you as a leader over the last two decades?
Andrew: The journey has been interesting and the experiences second to none. I have had great successes and failures that have allowed me to be the person I am today. One thing to note is that when I look back I hardly remember the business deals that were won or lost. Most of my memories are about the people I have interacted with including, team members, investors, customers, competitors, and partners.
The technology landscape has also been truly exciting. The power of transformative technologies means that we can move from concept to product so much faster. It’s a creator’s dream to be in this business today.
Q: Before starting your first company – Symptai Consulting Limited, what was life like for Andrew Simpson?
Andrew: I have been intellectually curious as far as I can remember. I wanted to know how any and everything works. Every single day for my entire life, I want to learn something new. If someone mentioned a term I never heard before, I am obsessed with finding out what it is about.
So every job, certification, post grad studies I embarked upon was very purposeful. I wanted to know enough about a lot of things. Hence a degree in math and computer science followed by an MBA in banking and finance and led to jobs in tech, audit, telecoms, banking and insurance.
This meant that I had the foundation to start my first company mid-twenties. My leadership abilities were first discovered and harnessed in sports. Every team sport I played, I always want to be a leader. Sports taught me how to lead by example, putting myself on the line, and leading by doing as opposed to leading by telling. Taking extreme responsibility and ownership, knowing when to be in the trenches and when not to be. Those things you learn over time.
Then there was learning from others. From my managers, those reporting to me and my peers, I intentionally set out to be a student and learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible. Today, my role has emerged more into mentoring and teaching others.
Q: Looking back, would you have done anything different when the company was being formed?
Andrew: There are lots of things that I would do differently. Ranging from bad hires to investments. The one regret I don’t have is not taking advantage of every opportunity that presented itself.
Q: What has been the biggest driving factor for you as a leader? What would be your advice to aspiring leaders?
Andrew: In the earlier days, I just wanted to win. But in recent years, I am driven more by the need to do something worth doing. However, on a day-to-day basis the big driver for me is accountability to my team members.
My advice to aspiring leaders would be to surround yourself with a really good team of people. Anything you are trying to achieve is largely dependent on the ability of that team to execute. Be curious, read a lot, listen to audiobooks, study others that have been where you are trying to go, and be audacious and aim to be even more successful.
Q: How does Alessa fight against fraud and other forms of financial crimes?
Andrew: Our company’s financial crime software solution, Alessa, is a continuous controls monitoring and financial crime detection, prevention and management solution. It uses advanced analytics that are AI-driven to detect complex fraud schemes across multiple departments and systems.
We do this by using simple and configurable workflows that guide employees through policies and processes with easy-to-use case management tools for investigations, remediation and enrolling the entire organization in a culture of compliance. Alessa is now used in more than 20 countries by financial institutions, FinTechs, corporations, and casinos.
Q: How does Alessa facilitate innovation among its employees?
Andrew: Fail early, fail often, fail fast. Be brave and be willing to break the mold and do something different. Be highly motivated to achieve and do things differently and take accountability for your career. Those are the kinds of things we promote internally to drive innovation.
We are not trying to motivate anyone; they must arrive that way. All we are doing is deliberately creating an environment that support this mindset and obsession with finding simple solutions to complex puzzles and problems.
Q: What has been the biggest roadblocks during this journey?
Andrew: The biggest roadblock has been trying to find enough people that are likeminded, who can be truly and absolutely enrolled in the vision.
Sometimes in life you think the things that give you the greatest discomfort should be avoided. However, what I have found is often the biggest breakthroughs in business and in life happens where you are having the most discomfort. Put your head in that whirlwind of discomfort – that’s where the good stuff is.
Q: How do you plan to take Alessa forward? Where do you see yourself standing in the coming years?
Andrew: The number one thing we need to do is continue to have audacious goals. That requires a passion for excellence while fully recognizing that there are no shortcuts. It is a long never-ending journey to get there.
On a personal note, I want more of the same. I’ve had over 20 years of great experience as an entrepreneur and I want to continue doing that on a global scale.
Q: Finally, what do you think is the most important trait for a leader and why?
Andrew: A commitment to execution. Anybody can dream. Anyone can have vision, but are you willing to do the uncomfortable things when it is time to execute?