July 1, 2021
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” -Vince Lombardi
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. This month, we have the honor of sharing the Extra(ordinary) journey of Roberto Croci, Managing Director for Microsoft for Startups in the Middle East & Africa Region. Roberto is an entrepreneur. His passion for innovation has spearheaded his vision to create a better, brighter future for people around the world. When we met with Roberto, his excitement to share his story and inspire others to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits was palpable. Roberto is committed to sharing his knowledge and supporting entrepreneurship journeys from his home in Dubai, offering mentorship to start-up businesses and new ventures despite physical boundaries. Roberto cuts through the noise and takes us through his victorious entrepreneurial venture.
“My parents have always been hard workers,” Roberto begins sharing. “My father was only eleven years old during World War II in Europe. I grew up in Milan, which is north of Italy. My father would tell me stories about the war, and how he and his siblings endured through it, especially during the periods of time where they were forced to hide. When we talk about our current pandemic, we are certainly experiencing a tough period, but it’s not the first time in history where humankind is facing hard times. My father came out of the war, without any certificate or title. He found his own way to survive. He became an entrepreneur and created his own logo company; something that allowed him to follow his passion, establish a family, and grow and sustain a living.” Roberto continues sharing his father’s experience with pride, “My father’s work created future jobs and this motivated him. It has always been inspirational for me. He had a real entrepreneurial spirit. His strength was that he easily connected with people. He was the best salesperson I have met in my life. It was always great to see how people were relating to him and how he was able to receive and share information. He was the real definition of a salesman. He left behind a legacy! People are reminded of him with smiles on their faces, so that is a true legacy. My mother valued the importance of discipline, strong values, good behaviour, and sustainability. Together, my father and my mother had a spirit of trying to accomplish things; not waiting for others to get things done, but to do it themselves. Therefore, my role models have been my parents. The basic principles of work and life, and how to navigate uncertainty and collaborate with others has all been taught to me by my father and my mother. Sometimes, people forget the importance of family, where you come from, and who you are. During my childhood, being close to my parents was normal”.
Roberto shares a distinctive point in his journey during his pursuit toward post-secondary education. “In Europe, there is an exchange program where you have the opportunity to spend one year abroad in another country to complete a year of the university program. I pursued this program and spent a year in Spain to become exposed to living abroad. It was an amazing experience and opened my mind to other cultures, languages, and general curiosity to doing other things. It was an experience that opened my mind in a significant way because I loved the multicultural exposure. I made friends from different parts of the world learned so much from them.” Upon graduating, Roberto proceeded to complete his Masters in Business in Italy. “I wanted to be given that component of understanding the economy and understanding business before starting my career. Later on, I completed a second MBA through Harvard Business School. This specific program helps you experience the character in the format of case studies. It encourages you to form your own point of view. The beauty of case studies is that there are no right or wrong answers. You are forced to be vulnerable because you are asked to share your opinion; the faculty provokes a debate amongst a very diverse cohort of people with different backgrounds, different experiences, and different seniorities. This is especially rewarding in today’s world of increasing complexity and uncertainty - what you learn is that there is no black and white. Decisions may be controversial and there may not be one possible solution for problems. What I appreciated and learned was that you need to be able to look at situations from a different point of view; from a different lens - ethical, legal, or in social responsibility”.
Following the completion of his MBAs, Roberto became a consultant to initiate his career to entrepreneurship. “Consulting exposes you to many different projects”, he explains. “You are trained to manage organizations; understand how to develop relationships with stakeholders; and different methods in project delivery. You work long hours, but you learn a lot. The experience motivated me to join a start-up in Ecommerce, where I was responsible in launching retail companies in three different countries. This started in Italy, then went over to the U.K. and then on to Paris. Joining this organization was an amazing experience because I created a business from conception, to strategy, to execution. It was pure energy and very rewarding. I worked with wonderful people that were all driven to accomplish goals. The biggest reward was the launch! When you open a retail, and you have your first customer, it is just pure satisfaction and a great experience because I was involved with everything from the funding team to conception to selecting partners and moving it forward. Thereafter, I joined Google at the stage when there were less than 10,000 employees. I worked in a division of Google that was an acquired start-up that was set to grow. This role was interesting for me because I had the chance to experience different industries and their business models, and understand how their companies ran operations. This strategy was value-based in sales and I had the opportunity to understand further about how to sell, create a sales team, and how to move into other countries. I expanded the business into the wider region for Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, and Eastern Africa, growing revenues year after year!”
Roberto discusses empathy, and its power in understanding customer needs and crafting a value proposition to align with these needs. “I learned how to be a strong salesperson through the experiences I had. I learned how to create a team and scale this across different countries. I have always been driven by a multicultural exposure, and appreciated the different ways of doing business in different cultures and languages. At Google, when the business grew and we had established it in different countries throughout Europe, the job was mainly complete at that stage. We took something at an early stage; we incubated it; we made it bigger; and we made revenue. I was driven and motivated to the same in emerging markets. So, this led me to Dubai. I worked on emerging markets from Russia, Israel, the Middle-East, and Africa. Once again, I built from the ground up something that was not there. Here, I was able to understand where the countries and the economies were at; what initiatives to launch; start the training; and create a need. These markets were still in the early stages, so it took some time to build that ecosystem and a partnership in order to secure clients and show momentum. This was a great experience! Thereafter, I joined Microsoft to lead their start-ups. I was eager to create the same impact again at a new organization, and build entrepreneurship from the ground up. Connecting the dots across different players in the system from family offices to investors to government to academia to start-ups was exciting for me. I thoroughly enjoy the creativity. I love the phase of taking something very early and building it, developing it, and then, once it’s set, handing over the reins once it’s established. In countries like Africa, there are emerging markets and a young population who are very willing to diversify the economy. There is an opportunity to drive innovation and to drive new initiatives. Creating new jobs could impact the economy and the population. There is this opportunity, as well, to focus on social impact. Of course, it is important to be sustainable and profitable in the long-term, but it’s also about making a real impact when it comes to the life of people in this region, and potentially globally!” Roberto continues, “There is a big role we can play there, especially with a brand like Microsoft; which is an organization that supports sustainability, accessibility, and helping people because their mission is to empower everyone and every organization to achieve more”.
We are once again moved by Roberto’s passion and the entrepreneurial energy he brings to the conversation. The confidence in which Roberto discusses his accomplishments, and the humility in which he addresses hardships reveals a mindset that offers authenticity as a guideline to building relationships with others. “Everyone should practice awareness on how we react to things, and the way in which we speak, and our body language. And, there should be a phase where we allow some divergence. It is in this divergence phase where we become approachable and use positive body language. Follow the energy, which will lead to more ideas and creativity. This phase is important because a continuous positive attitude, behaviour and language is a reinforcement of confidence. Organizations should have divergence training as a part of their culture because it is continuously evolving with people that are entering the company. I recall a moment at Google, I was a little disoriented because people were celebrating over emails! I realized that this is a strong team reinforcement activity because it was a celebration that brought energy and collaboration, which increases the confidence of an organization and its people. It is a mindset; its language; its culture; and then, it is what you need to be proactive with. In my experience and my encounters, many salespeople were stressed going into a meeting because they wanted to show and close everything in just one meeting. But, it will never happen like this – it takes a conversation. It takes building a relationship. Also, the time horizon you place in your mind should start from the end - reverse engineering backwards! You are building this sequence of events of what needs to happen from the outcome, and then one step back from the outcome, so on and so forth. This sequence of events should be planned”.
“Helping others to be successful is the metrics through which I measure my success,” Roberto is modest in his leadership and its impact on others he has led through his career. “Sometimes, you cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created that problem. You should celebrate these achievements because that builds positive reinforcement. Also, always reach out for feedback. If you reach out to your circle of closest friends, the feedback is always politically correct. And, this doesn't necessarily help you because you need to start from self-awareness. I encourage all entrepreneurs to proactively receive feedback from people who are very direct and honest in sharing their points of view. This increases your awareness, and once you’re aware, then you can also plan the sequence of events from the end because you understand where you started from. Seeking feedback and giving feedback is the best tool that you can have because it’s free; it’s up to you; and you can do it anytime and in many ways. You just need to find the right people to support you with this feedback because not everyone will give you constructive or actionable feedback.”
Roberto shares a leadership tip when defining success, “If others’ are successful, then it means that you can achieve more because you are basically influencing other people to follow a shared mission; or, to contribute to something that you are trying to achieve as their leader. An important consideration is to forget about your title. Your title does not define your success. Remember that lateral moves are also very rewarding. It’s important to diversify your experience and get your hands dirty; understand what it takes, and produce deliverables. Who you are and how you have decided to be committed to who you want to become is what comes through your experience. It is not just institutional certificates that will count. When you see something that is against your values, for example, be vocal about it. Leadership should have a voice. You should voice your thoughts. Keeping your head up and following your values and your belief system in times where things may become difficult or challenging is going to help you grow. It will diversify your thinking as well. And diversity is important. This includes an organization’s way of thinking, but also the diversity of building upon your experience. For me, it's important to be proactive in building the diversity of thinking and experiences because it’s a wealth of knowledge across which you can connect the dots later on in your life.”
Roberto reflects on mentorship, and its importance for the experience and growth required for leaders and entrepreneurship journeys. “I can recall a situation at the beginning of my career, which today, has become a very humbling experience. I remember the frustration of not being able to meet a task related to supplier criteria. So, I went to my manager and said, ‘It’s not possible.’ My manager coached me and said, ‘You should never say it’s not possible because I just searched for an answer to your problem, and I could take you through one of the solutions.’ I remember the emotion of feeling angry, but understood quickly where my development was lacking in this situation. My manager was right; I didn’t complete my task diligently or in a disciplined way. There was a possible solution; I just wasn’t able to find the answer. I was so confident that I was correct. It was a very humbling experience for me because from that day forward, I never assume my point of view is correct, and there is opportunity in collaborating with others so that I could learn from them”.
Roberto has impacted other leaders to follow his mentorship and pave their own paths toward entrepreneurship in the Middle East and Africa. “In this part of the world, entrepreneurship for a certain number of people is a matter of life or death. Supporting entrepreneurs means a lot for their economy and for creating jobs. I wanted to take the opportunity and make a huge impact for them. Working with Microsoft for Startups in these regions meant creating something from scratch. A multicultural exposure and learning different ways of doing things is eye-opening. You realize through your differences how you can achieve success in different ways”.
Roberto’s entrepreneurial spirit is driven by knowing who is he is, and what matters to him. His mind-set is committed to continuous learning, which includes experiencing opportunities that allow him to use his creative energy; and, encourages him to also experience the world through the eyes of the community that he is impacting through his work. Helping people and organizations seeking entrepreneurial support for start-up businesses goes beyond a commitment from leaders like Roberto. He appreciates how collaboration increases creativity, and he is ignited by the risk to innovate and explore varying solutions.
A research study through Harvard University concluded that a leading regret by people when looking back at their lives was that they had chosen to try and live someone else’s life…sometimes, it is societal pressure. Or, cultural norms persisting that the path paved is adhered to and followed, making it difficult to disagree or dissent. Roberto keeps an open mind when engaging, delivering and retaining his customers. He recognizes the differences in their needs, and he leads them to success by helping them pave new paths.
“What I have witnessed is that a lot of people don’t spend time focusing on themselves. When we think of entrepreneurial journeys, it starts with knowing who you are. Which means, you need to do the work on understanding what matters to you – your beliefs, your values and your confidence. Everything you start begins by searching within yourself…if you don’t invest in yourself and choose not to inspire yourself, you cannot inspire others. Allow your entrepreneurial spirit to be known and seen by simply being able to talk about what is most important in your journey…and this starts with understanding what is most important to you.”
Roberto Croci, MBA
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar Sharma, Founder & CEO
Agilis Executive Consulting was honored to join
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