Guest writer Danny Attias, CIO at Anthony Nolan, reflects on being recognised as a leading CIO and what this means to both him and the sector
Last week Danny Attias, CIO of Anthony Nolan was recognised as the leader of the 2020 CIO100, here he reflects on what that means to him, his charity and the sector.
Last week I was recognised as the leader of the 2020 CIO100, a list of the most transformational and disruptive CIOs in and from the UK. I decided I would take this opportunity to write a piece of personal reflection about my journey. Having never written an article or blog I figured it was time to try it out and see how it lands. It is never too late to try new things, on the contrary it is the only way to keep on learning and growing.
I first appeared on this hallowed list in 2018 as the highest placed charity technology leader and top ten new entrant, a source of immense pride for my team and I. Making it into this exclusive group had long been an aspiration of mine, so coming out on top this year was truly overwhelming. This honour is wonderful recognition not just for me, but also for the team that I work alongside every single day, a team who immerse themselves completely into helping save the lives of people with blood cancer.
Since the announcement I have had the opportunity to reflect on my journey so far and kept coming back to the same thing, it doesn’t happen by chance, we don’t do it alone. Whilst ambition, capability and opportunity all have their parts to play in being successful, they are minor in comparison to the influence of the many great people you meet along the way.
Upon finding a fantastic candidate I remember a manager once warning me "It takes a brave person to recruit someone better than yourself". I thought to myself, ’you must be a very brave man indeed!’ Only kidding, I thought to myself, that’s short sighted, surely your role as a leader is to achieve the best outcome you can, not for just for yourself but for your organisation, so that requires the best team you can muster. Who would Hannibal be without Face, Murdock and B.A.?
If you have to create an environment to protect your job, then you are putting your own self-interest ahead of the success of your organisation. This is something that does not sit comfortably with me. My ethos has always been that I want to do so well that I’m no longer required in my role, not so that I can lose my job but so that I can turn my hand to different and bigger challenges. Rather than be being pinned down by your past, you can constantly chart out new adventures.
Of course, it sounds reckless to talk about doing yourself out of your job at the best of times, let alone in such fragile ones. However my experience has confirmed to me that that the simple act of making something so efficient that others can look after it demonstrates exactly the kind of skills organisations want. Far from wanting to cut those people loose, they are freed up to work on bigger and more complex challenges.
As a result, I have always tried to work and surround myself with the best people I can find, Each and every one of those people have been instrumental in helping create the path I find myself on. Whether they be incidental points of contact along the way giving a nudge in a different direction, or working side by side for months or years on end, sinking or swimming together, I could not be where I am today without them.
On one hand I grew up with a privileged background as a white, British, privately and University educated male, never having to worry whether we would get to go away on a family holiday, let alone where my next meal would come from.
On the other I am the child of hard-working immigrant Jewish parents who fled North Africa after the war, passing through refugee camps on the way to Israel to build a better life for themselves and their family. This helped me create a sense of balance where I was full of gratitude for the opportunity I had been afforded and worked hard to make the most of it as well as being respectful and supportive of people around me who did not have the same advantages.
I grew up in a bilingual home with a strong and caring mother, an entrepreneurial and loving father and a supportive and successful big brother. Combined with an education in multi-cultural, North West London this meant that I never had trouble balancing the role of genders, religions or cultures, so much so that I was always more attracted to diverse groups than uniform ones. This might explain why I ended up co-running my University’s International Students’ Association.
This also underpins my constant drive to always seek out diversity of thought and experience and surround myself with the best people I can, regardless of their background. It’s also why I became a signatory of the Tech Talent Charter, in order to help create a greater sense of balance in our society, create opportunity and be an example for others.
I am ambitious, this is not something I am ashamed of nor would I ever try to hide it. However, I am not competitive. This is something that has confounded many people who know me as they often associate one trait with the other. Whilst I have always wanted to do well, to get ahead, to be the best that I can be, I am not driven to do so at the expense of others. I want to drive myself forward and, where possible, take the people around me on that journey. I take no pleasure in winning at the expense of others when we can all do better together.
This can be illustrated in my own practice of triathlon. I train and race to go faster every time, meticulously track my progress and set myself targets each year, but I am only racing myself. I get frustrated if my times get worse and will analyse my diet, training, equipment and technique, but if a friend beats me in a race then I am happy for them and will support them every step of the way.
I have a relentless desire to grow every single day, to challenge myself and others, to learn more and to meet new people so that I can learn from them and, equally, share my experience in return.
There are two sides to every coin. I would describe myself as an eternal optimist; we can do this and nothing can stop us. I am also incredibly critical of myself. Whenever I deliver a major project or initiative, I always look at it with a critical eye and ask myself what could I have done better?
When a challenge seems insurmountable I see endless opportunity, once that challenge is overcome I look for failure and ask what could we have done differently.
This is not to disparage the efforts of myself or my team, but instead it is to extract the essence of those lessons that you can only get by failing. Only then can you become stronger and deliver even better next time. I have always tended to enter new situations with an equal balance of the fear of not knowing enough or not being good enough alongside the confidence that I can learn (quickly if need be) and get better. In almost every occasion I was lucky enough to meet someone who I could learn from and together we enabled each other’s success.
There are a huge list of initiatives, projects and people I could refer to but that is probably an article for another day. Many of those individuals are called out and thanked on this post.
I have not written this as a piece of thought leadership, a self-help guide or a manual on how to lead. In the most part it was just an opportunity to reflect on the collaboration, values, ambition, humility and growth of my journey that makes me me.
Please do bear in mind that these reflections are personal and are true for me, that does not mean they will resonate with everyone, far from it, we are all individual. Our society is polarised enough that hopefully we can start to re-learn how to accept that different people have different viewpoints and they do not have to align with our own.
If you found this article interesting, informative or just entertaining, then please do comment below - especially if you have any other topics you would like to hear about, who knows, this could become a regular thing. As for the next 20 years of my career, who knows which path that will take...
Hear Danny take part in the Tackling Inclusion Live panel at the #BeMoreDigital Conference 2020