Taking Ryan to coffee
Meet Ryan Arshad, our Chief Strategy Officer, who’s not afraid of challenges, like cooking a lemon and gin tart in + 35°C weather, or successfully leading Emergn’s go-to-market strategy, employer brand strategy, and rebranding work. He seizes the opportunity when it comes his way and feels fortunate to have been able to work with the people he did and be in the right place at the right time.
What’s your role at Emergn, and how long have you been with the company?
My role is Chief Strategy Officer and I joined Emergn right at the beginning of the global pandemic, at the end of March 2020. I work with our senior leadership team to help set our corporate strategy and then operationalize it across the business. Another significant part of my role is around leading our product and strategy team, and also our marketing team. It’s quite a broad role when I say it out loud actually, and to tell you the truth, that’s what makes it so exciting.
Could you please tell us about your ‘backstory’, how did you start your career?
I started my career training to be a chartered accountant doing financial services audits for three years. Then I moved into M&A and worked on financial and operational restructuring during the Global Financial Crisis. It was quite a crazy time. I traveled a lot from Dubai to USA, Central Europe to UK, worked tirelessly and also learned a lot about business, finances, restructurings, and team dynamics. Eventually, I realized that the world of M&A wasn’t for me as it didn’t fit with what I wanted to do with my life and the kind of person I am.
I moved into the world of branding and brand valuation. After working for a couple of agencies in the UK, I was asked to move to New York to open an office there. I agreed and never regretted that decision. I spent about five years starting and growing the office, I did everything from finding the office space, hiring, buying plants, setting up the internet, trying to win the work, and do the work. It was an amazing experience.
And then the opportunity to work for Emergn appeared, I jumped at it and here I am.
What do you think helped you to succeed?
I’ve been fortunate in my career that I’ve had some great mentors along the way. When I was working in M&A, one of the partners took me under his wing and taught me so much – how to run meetings, how to do work, how to present yourself, things to think about when you’re trying to plot out your career and how to think about what you want to do. He’s still a mentor to me. And now Alex Adamopoulos, Emergn’s CEO, is a strong mentor to me as well. I’ve had great opportunities to work with very smart people who know what they’re doing and are willing to spend time helping others.
Also, besides the hard work, perseverance, and all of those things you need to apply yourself to the role, I think I’ve been a bit lucky. I’ve been in the right place at the right time. The Global Financial Crisis came, and I had to do so much, as they’re just were not enough people in the industry, so it accelerated my career very quickly. And later when my path crossed with Alex’s, which led me to Emergn.
Is it important for you to be a role model or a mentor for someone at this stage of your career?
When I was a manager at KPMG, a partner explained to me the concept of servant leadership, which in its simplest form states that as a leader you are there to serve your people and help them grow. Back then in the early 2000s, nobody was really talking about themselves as servant leaders. It got me really interested and it stuck with me through my career. As much as I can, I try and help shape and guide the people that work in my teams, help them not to make some of the mistakes I made as I was going through different companies. Also, it’s one of the cornerstones for the Emergn Way – to care for and invest in our people.
What’s the most exciting challenge in the work you do now?
Well, it has to be the brand relaunch work that we’ve been doing for these past few months. I absolutely love working in branding, creative strategy, campaigns. It’s just so exciting and encompasses everything that I really love about the business.
It has been a bit over nine months working through it with people from across the business. And I really enjoy those types of challenges. Working with different people and teams, discussing numerous topics, looking at employees and their journey, looking at clients and their journey. You have to know the business, the strategy, and the offerings, and ultimately – how to bring it all together. That’s been a hugely enjoyable challenge.
Could you please tell us more about the rebranding process itself?
It was a cross-functional team of people from marketing, product, delivery, people and culture, and talent acquisition working on it. As we went through the process, one of the things in our team was that we were applying the principles and practices of Value, Flow, Quality (VFQ). So, we were delivering value early and often to people in the business. We were trying to optimize the flow or work end to end, and also driving fast feedback from inside and outside of our business.
Your brand is a reflection of your strategy which helps you connect with target audiences. Whether it’s employees, prospective clients, partners, or whomever you’re talking to, it’s about making sure that you can form a connection and build a relationship with them. So, in our discovery phase we were talking to the market as much as we could – talent, partners, and clients – and building up a really robust evidence base.
Then we went through the crafting phase, where we took all those insights, created a number of different options, and tested them until we got to both a strategic idea for our employer brand and our go-to-market brand. At the same time, we were looking at the identity – the look and feel – of our business. We explored two quite different but quite exciting routes and did a lot of testing around that. So broadly speaking, the stages of our rebranding were discovery, crafting, and testing, and then the most fun part starts right now after we’ve launched the brand and starting to push it to the world, see it living and breathing.
Speaking of rebranding, is there anything you are particularly proud of?
Probably the response and reactions from our people. One of the things that we spent a lot of time planning for was how to engage with our people. How are we going to communicate with them? How are we going to tell them why we did this, why it’s important, what it means for them? And create a lot of moments of interaction. Because ultimately, if our people don’t like it, then it’s not going to work. And I think that’s one of the things that makes me the happiest, that it was quite a smooth process and now we’re at a place where everybody likes it, everybody has adopted it, and is using it daily.
Outside of work, what’s the one thing people should know about you?
One thing people should know about me is that I love food. I love cooking. I love cuisines. Even when we go on holiday, we’ll plan our days around where we’re going to eat. That’s more or less the way our holidays work. I get inspired by countries that I want to visit for their cuisines and it’s actually one of the hardest things about the pandemic, to be honest. Not being able to travel and enjoy it all.
Can you recall your biggest cooking fail?
I tried to make a gin and lemon tart in New York before we left. And it was one of those hot days in New York where it got to like 35 degrees. We had the aircon on the inside, but it was still too hot. And so, if you’re making a sweet-tart, there’s like a ton of eggs. The pastry has to be cold, otherwise, it crumbles. I couldn’t roll the pastry, it crumbled everywhere, the egg and lemon mixture was outside the fridge for too long and started to go off. It was a complete disaster. But I still cooked it, ate a slice of it!
Emergn is a global company with employees all over the world! If a colleague were to visit London, how would you spend the day together? What’s the #1 thing to do, or see?
Well, as I said, I plan my travels around places to eat. So probably I’d give them a tour around London based on my favorite places to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, depending on how many days they were going to stay.