Thoughts On Business Leadership By Laurence Cooke

Small Business Canada

Laurence Cooke Founder, Chief Executive Officer – nanopay

Laurence drives the vision to offer CBDC to central banks, and leads the overall strategy and direction of nanopay to deliver scalable payment and liquidity solutions to banks and businesses. Laurence is responsible for raising capital, managing investor relations, and taking the business to new heights.

Prior to founding nanopay, Laurence worked with WIND Canada and was Vice President of Wireless at Shaw Communications Inc. He was also Chief Operating Officer of Bell Mobility and Bell Distribution Inc (BDI), where he was responsible for all of Bell Mobility’s operations and led a team of 9,000 employees. At BDI, Laurence was responsible for all retail for Bell Canada. Prior to joining Bell, Laurence was a senior executive in Accenture’s London Strategy Practice. Laurence co-founded two wireless data businesses in Europe, Melodeo, Inc. and Xtempus.

Active in the payments community, Laurence is a member of the Payments Canada Stakeholder Advisory Committee, FinPay and the US Federal Reserve Faster Payments Task Force. Laurence holds a Master in Business Administration degree from the London Business School, and a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Economics from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

1. What is your definition of Leadership?

Even a quick search will reveal that there are many definitions of leadership. At the simplest level, leadership is the art of bringing people together to achieve a certain task or goal. It’s the ability to clearly articulate a vision, convince others to believe in that vision, and empower them to deliver on that vision. Leadership is about winning the hearts and minds of our teams.

2. What are the most important values and ethics you demonstrate as a leader?

Leaders take on many shapes and sizes. To me, the key to being an effective leader is a clear vision that will create a better society–a cause that is larger than an individual. A greater purpose helps inspire my team to deliver the highest level of results. To achieve this vision, I believe that transparency, decisiveness, and humility are essential. In terms of ethics, one needs to understand that all relationships are built on trust, and breaking that trust damages relationships.  It is really difficult to lead people that don’t trust you. I find the best approach is to be 100% honest…even to a fault.  Nothing like a transparent workplace to keep you honest.

3. How do you encourage the development of your employees?

At nanopay, we create a safe space to try, learn, and fail.  I empower my team to make “type 2 decisions,” or any decision that would not have a critical impact on the company. This provides an opportunity for my team to take on responsibility outside of their typical role or title within the organization.  This also allows me the time to focus on “type 1,” or mission-critical decisions.  It is OK to fail, as long as you learn from your mistakes.  It is liberating to say mea culpa: own a mistake, fix it, and move on.

4. What is your advice to Canadian business owners during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

I have three pieces of advice:

A. Put people first. Your employees and their families, your customers and their employees.  Whether this is ensuring the safety of employees by supporting a productive ‘work from home’ environment or finding creative ways to serve customers to reduce risk. Businesses are teams of people. Without the people, there is no team; without the team, there is no business.  At the end of the day, our businesses depend on it.

B. Know your numbers. Understand your run rate costs and the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Have a plan for best-case, most-likely-case, and worst-case scenarios. People always say “hire slow and fire fast,” but any leader I have met that follows that advice is acting in their own self-interest.  These are difficult times, but we have to make difficult decisions quickly–otherwise, there will be nothing left.

C. Take time to reflect. Bill Gates said something interesting (I’m paraphrasing) “COVID-19 is indiscriminate and treats everyone equally, so should we.” I think this is a good time to reflect on what we have and how we can help those that don’t.

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