#IBelong: Joe Robinson, Chief Executive Officer
Joe Robinson, Chief Executive Officer, Improbable Defence
Q: How did you get here?
A: I was introduced to Herman Narula by a friend from the Royal Air Force. This led to me moving out of a career in management consulting to join Improbable in 2015.
Q: What is the most important piece of career advice you have been given?
A: Understand what you are not very good at and hire amazing people who can do a better job than you. Set these people clear goals and support them to get there and your business will thrive. Also, successful sales is about building value for a customer, not working out ways to extract it.
Q: What’s been the toughest moment of your career and why?
A: In the military I did some intense operational tours where my formation took a number of severe casualties and we faced a high likelihood of death or serious injury on a regular basis. Leading, supporting and motivating a team under these circumstances provided both the most rewarding and challenging moments of my professional career to date.
Q: How do you unplug from work?
A: I love going on adventures with my family and I try to get out running in the countryside every day. Spending time on the farm with the horses is an incredibly cathartic experience too.
Q: If you could have dinner with three inspirational leaders, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
A: Mickey Burn (WW2 commando, poet, Times correspondent, bi-sexual and the man who saved Audrey Hepburn’s life when she was a baby – I’d imagine he’d be fascinating, entertaining and courageous on so many different levels); Tony Blair (I’m consistently conflicted about Blair: he ultimately sent me and my friends to fight in some controversial wars but he also negotiated the Good Friday agreement, radically reformed education and health in the UK for the better and raised millions above the poverty line with his economic strategies) and Margaret Thatcher (like her or loathe her she was a trail blazing woman and force of nature in British politics – I would have loved to have attempted(!) to intellectually spar with her over supper).
Q: How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
A: Other than my family, my job is a huge part of my life. I totally love it and I’m utterly obsessed about working towards improving the lives of our customers, helping to keep the country safe and making us successful in the process. So, I’m one of those odd people that thinks about work a lot and doesn’t find it draining. It’s genuinely an enormous privilege to lead such an amazing bunch of people who go above and beyond to support our inspiring customers. That said, I do take time out – exercise is my passion – running, swimming and surfing. I play a bit of cricket too (and love to watch it) but I’m a pretty mediocre player (to say the least!)
Q: What book or podcast would you recommend to anyone thinking about a career in tech?
A: I love Michael Morrel’s podcast, Intelligence Matters – it’s a fascinating insight into all things national security and technology. I’d also recommend Spies, Lies and Algorithms by Amy Zegart for a superb take on where national security and technology collide.
Q: Have you faced any barriers in your career? If so, how did you overcome them?
A: In the past, I faced some serious health issues which held me back and forced me to take time off. It was a lonely, isolating and frustrating experience but it taught me who my real friends were, to rely more on other professionals I trust to take the reins, to not take myself too seriously and try and find the joy in the small things as a strategy to develop mental resolve.
Q: What advice would you give to someone trying to break into engineering and technology fields?
A: Ensure you are aligned with the mission and purpose of the org you are looking to work with. Secondly, focus on building a network and getting to know people who work in the companies you want to work for and similar companies in the sector. Ask questions, be curious and build up a holistic picture of the culture and the people. Ask yourself, do I want to spend most of my time with these people working on this mission? If the answer is yes, then you’re likely in the right place.
Q: Who inspires you, and why?
A: I have an amazing team of female leaders around me and I’m proud that we have 50/50 representation of men and women in my executive team. These awesome women inspire me and push me to be a better leader every day. My mother has also been a key inspiration to me. She was a successful journalist for 40 years in a male dominated industry in the 1960s and 70s, when all kinds of unacceptable behaviours were sadly the norm and women in the industry were often confined to administrative roles. Despite this adversity, she forged a successful career, breaking through many glass ceilings in the process with resilience and humour.
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