Alex Long- The CEO Shadow

Capital International Group
October 23, 2017

Alex Long has spent his summer shadowing our CEO, Greg Ellison.

Before he headed back to Swansea University for his final year studying Business Management, we were able to catch up with Alex to see what he made of his unique experience:

What made you want to shadow the CEO for the summer?

The real inspiration for wanting to shadow Greg was Brad Stone's Book The Everything Store, which documents the rise of Amazon and as a result talks extensively about Jeff Bezos' (CEO of Amazon) management style.

One of his most eminent programs is Bezos' CEO shadow where high-level executives shadow him for 1-2 years. The job of the Shadow in Bezos' case is one of an adviser, sitting in on all meetings and travelling with the CEO. Bezos can talk through difficult problems and bounce ideas off the Shadow. Shadows tend to graduate and run young but critical parts of Amazon's business. Andy Jassy, who is now CEO of Amazon Web Services and Amit Agarwal who leads Amazon India, both were previously Shadows.

I did not want to presume that I would be experienced enough to be a valuable adviser to Greg. However, as with any CEO, managing capacity is essential, and there are always projects that are not mission critical but would add real value to the business, that do not get completed because there is not enough time in the day. I thought that I could help pick up some of the slack on these projects enabling Greg to focus on his most important work.

I also wanted to get real experience and mentorship of how to run an actual business. Much of my University degree is centred around how to manage large projects/ organisations, but all the work experience available to me tended to be lower level jobs where you do not get exposure to the reality of managing people. I wanted to have a better understanding of this primarily, so that in the future I could take this learning and become a better manager faster. I also thought it would enable me to better empathise with people managing me, so that I can better understand their problems allowing me to be a more valuable employee.

Finally, I thought that it was important to foster mentor relationships early on in my career because these people can help guide you through the difficult times. I thought Greg would be the perfect person for this as he has a wealth of experience in the financial industry and on the occasions I had met him previously, I found to be an excellent teacher.

Did the experience live up to your expectations?

I have learnt far more than I would have expected in fact. Capital is going through an exciting period of change and growth. There are not many work experience opportunities where you can say that you were in the room for the hiring of 4 new members of senior staff.

Having the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in these meetings is fascinating because you get to focus on how other people manage these situations.

What did you enjoy most?

My most exciting part of my 6 weeks was travelling to London to visit ClearBank in the Gherkin. I had previously read about ClearBank but meeting the people who are running and changing the way clearing through the Bank of England is done was very inspiring.

The whole group came back from that trip energised, and I felt very privileged to be part of a team at Capital that is building something special with the Bank.

I was also fortunate enough to have a tour around Microgaming's Offices by Roger Raatgever and Leila Ashton. We were able to talk extensively about culture and some of the strategies they had used to foster their culture with Microgaming over the years.

What was the biggest challenge that you were faced with?

Head of Car Parking. Who knew it would be so hard to coordinate everyone to park in the right spaces!

What have you learned?

The most important thing I have learnt is that Culture beats Strategy every time.

The primary role of the CEO is not creating the perfect plan or micromanaging everyone; it is fostering the right culture within the business and getting the right people in the right positions with the resources in place for them to perform at the highest level.

This understanding of fostering the right culture is something I need to focus on when I go back to University for my final year.

We would like to thank Alex for taking the time out to chat with us, and wish him the very best of luck completing his degree!

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