Q&A: A conversation with Slalom London's Alex Qatsha
September 2, 2014
Alex Qatsha recently opened and became the general manager of Slalom’s London office. Previously, he started and ran the company’s Atlanta office.
What has kept you with Slalom for nearly eight years?
When you work somewhere, the people that you work with are always the glue that holds you, and I've been fortunate to have great people as superiors, as peers, and as people that support me throughout my career here at Slalom.
There's so much more to it than that. The team that hired me really lived up to their word when they said, "It's your business. Run it."
I think back now to when I started. I was conditioned, as a lot of us are, (that) when you have an idea you go run it up the flagpole, and talk to other people about it, and try to get buy-in before you do it. And I remember even in the very early days calling back to (headquarters in) Seattle and saying, "You know, I'm thinking about this. What do you think?" And the answer always was, "Well, if you think it's the right thing, go ahead and do it."
I stopped asking permission. Not to say I haven't had to ask forgiveness a few times, but I stopped asking permission to do things, because it's an environment of trust.
That's something that I try to impart to all the people that I hired into the Atlanta office, and I've stood by and I’ve watched people that came in as mid-level, or maybe even junior consultants, grow to run big practices now. And it's because we give them all the support they need to spread their wings and fly, and create something amazing, and they do it. I have every reason to believe that will happen over here (in London).
Tell me a little bit about why Slalom wanted to expand internationally.
The primary reason we're doing this is we've been pulled by a lot of clients to go do it. What I mean by that is, we have a lot of clients in the U.S. that say to us, "Listen, we're doing this global implementation of something, or we're working on changing our user experience profile, but it has to be not only for the U.S. If you had the footprint— an international footprint -- we'd be able to do so much more with you."
We also looked at our people, and our people are constantly wanting to do better work, more interesting things. And with that broader footprint, we know we will have the (reach) for us to garner better work -- better, broader, meatier, more strategic-type projects.
Why should people come work at Slalom’s London office?
We do great work for our clients. We care about our employees. We care about our employees' families and what they do. We care about the communities where we live and work.
Work doesn’t have to be drudgery, (but) I think a lot of companies look at it that way. (People think,)“Oh, I have to go to work, and it's going to be horrible, but then I get to go home, and then I get to do fun things.” Well, there's a way to work but still make it kind of fun, and it's just a different perspective, I think, than a lot of companies have.
We're all there during the day trying to be successful, and support our clients, and help each other. And if we create that kind of environment, people want to be a part of it.
Who's going to be a good fit for Slalom?
Do they have the skills to do the job? That's table stakes, in my opinion. Once they make it past that: Is it somebody you want to sit next to? Is it somebody you want to work with? Is it somebody you want to put in front of a client? Is it somebody that will go that extra mile and try to make Slalom a better place to work for everybody?
One thing I always talk about is culture. I believe culture is a zero sum game, and what I mean by that is, you're either adding to it or you're taking away from it. And that seesaw flips back and forth 1,000 times a day. You're taking in the morning, you're giving in the afternoon, or whatever it is. But, at the end of the day, you should have had a net give.
Is this person going to be somebody that shows up, does their work and leaves? They might do great work, but that's not going to be a net give in my perspective. I'm not talking about staying overtime and being on every single planning committee and all of those types of things. But I am talking about a little bit of, Are you making this a better place to work?
Can you talk a little bit about what you think makes a great leader, and what your own leadership philosophy is?
Leadership means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To me, it’s, How do I create an environment where other people can be successful?
I think about that every day, just in those terms. What can we do here to make this person successful?
I don't know that there is a philosophy there. I mean, I read all these books on it. I don't anymore, but I used to read them, trying to look for that nugget of information. It's just not there. It really comes down to hiring good people, treating them well and connecting with them, truly valuing them, giving them some guidance where they need (it) - and being open to the guidance they give me, and I think that's it.