Getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable: Interview with Lisa Hau, COO at Bidstack

“It’s not very often that a 25-year-old gets to ask a FTSE listed CEO about his company’s performance.”

Lisa Hau, COO & Board Member at Bidstack Group PLC, an innovative in-game ad platform, shares her inspiring career journey and transition from the corporate world into start-up culture with X4 Technology’s CEO, Peter Rabey, on The Leadership Learns Podcast.

Lisa has 15+ years’ experience working at FTSE 100’s including WPP, where she led investor relations before joining Bidstack Group in 2020. Find out how “getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable” can help you succeed.

Listen to or read the full interview in episode 7 of the Leadership Learns podcast with Peter Rabey below…

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How did you get to where you are today? 

Although I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life in London, I was born and bred in Sydney and attended the University of Technology there to study business and major in accounting and finance. I was very fortunate to land a graduate programme at KPMG and trained to be a charted accountant. This led to a role at Price Border House Coopers where I took up the opportunity to second to London and it was exciting to be at the centre of the universe, particularly for financial services.

My time at these two accountancy firms strengthened my financial acumen and led to the opportunity to move on to be an equity analyst at Librum, which is a UK brokerage firm, and then to Jefferies which is a US investment bank where I led a team in media and internet.

It’s not very often that a 25-year-old gets to ask an FTSE listed CEO about his company’s performance. So that’s something that became second nature to me and working with the world’s most impressive management teams was something that I had privileged access to.

Was it always the plan to get into senior leadership at some point? 

Yes. At the time it probably felt like opportunities presented themselves to me, but the reality is they were all deliberate moves considering the conversations that I’ve had with mentors and being aware of the evolution in the market.

Something that I’ve been proud of is always showing up and delivering more than what’s expected. What led to the role at WPP was during my time as an equity analyst where I was travelling a lot, after a very successful conference with the management team from WPP in New York, they approached me to join the investor relations team.

At that point, I didn’t feel ready to leave my exciting role at Jefferies, but the opportunity to work with Sir Martin Sorell was the key driver of my decision.  I spoke to a good friend of mine who said to me, ‘It’s not a dish that comes twice around a sushi train.’ So, it was something that I grasped with both hands, and I worked at WPP for about 4 years, and when I wasn’t preparing for earnings or on the road meeting investors, I was out there learning from the founders of the agencies.

That’s where the seed was planted in my head in terms of what drives these people. They have so much stamina and they’re so excited about what they do. I’d say that’s probably when it started to click that I wanted to move from a strategic role to one where I was executing, operating and leading as well.

Have you often found that the people you work with are a key part of your decision process?

Absolutely. Whilst I was an equity analyst, I was essentially running a franchise, so from that perspective, it is entrepreneurial. Working for Sir Martin Sorrel, a founder and CEO is one way of really sitting on the edge of your seat. You’re not a spectator, you’re contributing to the business. Of course, there were management changes at the business and periods of uncertainty – this is where I thrived.

Once the dust settled, I was confronted with the feelings of what am I going to do next. I was ready for my next opportunity, I’m feeling a little bit complacent and comfortable, and I was used to contributing and making a big impact to the management team. At the beginning of the global pandemic, I took stock, reflected, and it was a frightening time. I found what helped me to get through that was to reach out to my network.

How have you found working in a founder-lead start-up compared to a big corporation?

I watched the corporate world struggle during the pandemic with video calls in the very early couple of months, ‘how do I turn my camera on….I’m on mute.’ The average age in my team is probably under 30, they’re digital natives, so the transition was quite seamless for us as a company. My focus as a leader became focused on how I keep everybody connected, and that was reflected through weekly calls that we did just to update the team on the priorities and to celebrate the wins. It was quite difficult to celebrate some of the great work that we were doing if we were all apart from each other. I’ve been excited about everyone starting to come back because we are a knowledge-intensive company and all benefit by being together and innovating cross-functionally.

How have you made sure that you’re not too comfortable for too long? 

Throughout my career, it’s indicated it’s time to move on to greater responsibility or the next role. If I think of the skill sets and the competencies, it’s been refining and preparing myself for the next one, and I’d say that over the years I’ve gotten very comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. It’s probably a signal to myself that I’m evolving as a person and developing professionally as well, so I would reflect on that and see that as an incubation period.

What challenges have you encountered in the past 12 months?

From a leadership perspective, the challenge is making sure that I’m working close enough with each individual and understanding what motivates them as well – even more so whilst we were working remotely. That’s been a duty of mine and setting each individual up for success and understanding that there’s a myriad of skill sets that I can work with. Aligning each person to objectives and building a culture of performance has been a challenge, but also rewarding as well.

What are you most proud of?

Watching the fundamentals of the business strengthen and flourish. A lot of that has to do with the talent we’ve brought in. We’re at a size where everyone makes a significant impact, and the business is at a stage now where we’re attracting great profiles from tech companies. I’m proud of the team that we’ve built up in the past 6 months and it’s paying off.

How has the hiring process been in a start-up environment? 

As a team, we are very collaborative when it comes to hiring decisions. We try to build up a consensus because we want to foster an environment of cross-functional working relationships. Candidates have to go through a thorough process so we can assess the value that they can bring on day one.

The personal attributes we look for are a desire to be in a scale-up business of our size. It’s a career-defining move for each person that joins the business, so screening for that tenacity, grit and drive are the core attributes that we look for as well as what we see on their CV’s.

What, as a leader, requires more regular attention or effort from you?

What I’m guilty of is not taking enough time off and that probably affects my team. That’s something I’m quite eager to do in the coming months and I do encourage the team to take some time out because being in a scale-up everything appears to be a priority.

Are there any books or podcasts that you’ve taken long term learns from? 

The Social Animal by David Brooks – I read this a few years ago and it has made such a lasting impression on me. The review by the Economist sums it up well; A fascinating study of the unconscious mind and its impact on our lives.

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