Zia Yusuf (GRD ’93), a leader in the private sector and co-founder of a startup in Silicon Valley called Streetline, spoke about startup companies, leadership and steps to success in Silicon Valley at the Philip Sachs Lecture on Leadership, sponsored by the master’s of science in foreign service program. The lecture, entitled “Leadership, Silicon Valley and a Celebration of Failure” took place in the Intercultural Center Auditorium on Thursday afternoon.
“That initial kind of conversation about creating something that nobody’s done before where you have no experience in and asking somebody for a few hundred thousand dollars initially or maybe even a million dollars to go try this — that’s a pretty unique kind of approach to starting something,” Yusuf said.
Yusuf presented several different companies including Netflix and Tesla, showing how they took a new idea and turned it into something revolutionary.
“In all of these cases — and there’s tons more — there was a different perspective, a different ability of somebody to look around the corner and see a world very different than it is today,” Yusuf said.
According to Yusuf, the revolutionary idea behind his own parking company, StreetLine, was to eliminate physical change in parking meters.
“You take something that nobody really has done much with and are still using the coins for a parking spot and you say ‘Hey, I’m going to rethink this now,’” Yusuf said.
Yusuf then went on to speak about other key components to success in Silicon Valley, and said that the team is the most important.
“It’s all about the people,” Yusuf said. “You can take a great business plan with a crappy team and end up with a crappy result. You take a crappy business plan with a great team and they will figure it out and things will work out.”
Yusuf also spoke about leadership styles, emphasizing that each leader has specific strengths and weaknesses. He utilized the metaphor of an envelope and said that each person fits into a different niche of leadership style.
“All of us have strength and weakness and the really good leader and the really good manager will spend the time and energy to understand what that kind of envelope is for you,” Yusuf said.
Yusuf presented another quality that he finds important in leaders: the ability to listen more than they speak.
“I have two teenage daughters, which is a lot of fun at that age, and I often talk about the fact that God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason,” Yusuf said. “Listen more than you talk.”
He also said that a key component of good leadership is a sense of humor, which helps boost morale and improves the work environment.
“I think humor is such an important part of leadership and the ability to go into a room and diffuse a tense situation and that doesn’t mean you get up and start telling jokes up front, but the ability to diffuse that tense situation to take an aggressive comment and turn it around on somebody in a different way is very, very important,” Yusuf said.
A brief question-and-answer period followed Yusuf’s lecture.
“I came to this presentation because I’ve been curious for a long time about how leadership works and I wanted to gain some insights into that particularly from a former student in the same program that I’m in,” Dave Bowen (GRD ’15) said. “I thought there was some very useful advice that’s applicable to a wide variety of enterprises and both the public and private sector so I thought it was very informative.”