Suresh Vaghjiani, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Tribe Payments Ltd; the first certified card payments platform in Europe offering Visa, Mastercard and Union Pay International. Passionate about innovation and bringing the prepaid sector to the main stream. He has a substantial understanding of electronic money, throughout its complete value chain from Issuing to Acquiring, with strategic knowledge on what works and does not work in various international markets. He has represented the fintech sector and the UK government on a number of trade missions including Mexico, Candada, China and on a historic delegation with the R.H Lord Mayor of London to the southern hemisphere. Suresh was recently voted number 1 in the Payments Power 10, a top ten list of global key influencers in the industry and in 2017 Suresh became the first non-American in its 11 year history to be awarded the prestigious Industry achievement award by PAY magazine.
You have a substantial career, Suresh, you’ve done some really interesting things, but what are you most proud of?
There are probably two things I’m particularly proud of. One is I’ve always had a track record of doing things that no one else thought were possible. It is not just about being the first, but about pushing the boundaries of what is possible and not possible. Apple launched the Apple Watch something like four years ago, but a payment company I was leading launched a contactless payment watch back in 2011.
The second thing is identifying real potential. Sometimes it is about seeing the potential they don’t even see in themselves. I’ve probably mentored or brought into the payment industry about fifty or sixty people, some of which have gone on to be C-level in other companies.
That is quite remarkable, when others are saying it is not possible. So what is it about you that enables your success: your technical vision or pure grit and determination?
I think the market consists of two types of people. There are the ones who have always said you can’t do that because it is just the way it has always been done. Then there are others who come in with a totally fresh approach. It is to do with the mindset, to say we’re not going to do it like everybody else.
Has your personal thinking about doing things differently influenced your thoughts about who you’re hiring?
My main skill is shining a light on what everybody else is achieving. It is a very small industry we work in and what I don’t like to do is interview fifty people in order for me to upset 49 and give a job to one. I really like to hone in on who we’re going to get. I think the mindset of who you hire is more important than anything else. I’m also a big fan of bringing in people from outside the industry to cross-pollinate ideas.
How do you find people with the mindset you’re looking for?
One aspect is if the recommendation is really strong. Recommendations open doors. Another is when you see CVs that look so raw and unpolished. They don’t have flamboyant words or a spectacular layout. You know they’ve done it at home on their printer and gone to a lot of effort for it. I think those are the ones that you get in front of you because they are not expecting this job out of birthright or where they come from. It is almost like they really want to break the mould. If they don’t come from fintech then I think that says something about them as well. They’re bold. They’re going outside of their comfort zone.
Was there a leader early on in your career who influenced your thinking? I’m interested to hear who that mentor was for you.
I’ve had some good bosses and some bad bosses. I’ve learned a lot from the bad bosses about how not to manage people. The two outstanding bosses that I worked for both came from the military, I don’t know whether or not that’s a coincidence. One was John Tottenham, an ex-commander of nuclear submarines. What I learned from him is you get you two types of leaders. You get positional leaders who lead by fear or by incentivising the team. You then get inspirational leaders that inspire the team to work for them, so they’re not being driven by a carrot and a stick. They’re being driven because they believe in you.
How important is it to be empathetic as a leader?
Empathy is actually more important than IQ. If you can’t resonate with the people who work for you, you’ve got it all wrong. You’ve actually got the old mindset of hierarchy. If you really want your team to work as if the company is their own, they have to buy into you as a leader.
How do you keep learning?
I like to have lots of conversations. I believe you can cut through the noise by having conversations with the right people about the right topics. Sometimes you can learn something in a five minute conversation much easier than reading a whole book. The advice I have for people is if there is something you want to know about, find someone that knows about it specifically and talk to them.
Would you say the biggest risk for leaders in business right now is to be arrogant and rely on old knowledge rather than being open to learning, Suresh?
I wouldn’t say ‘old knowledge’ because I don’t underestimate the value of experience. There’s all these new guys with amazing ideas that lack any experience and they’re missing a whole other side of it. It is more that when you think there’s no more to learn, you stop learning. That’s the risk.
What is more important to you, acquiring talent or retaining the talent you already have?
I’ve seen companies that have been doing well change the way they operate and they end up losing the people that made them successful, so I do think it is important to retain the talent that you have.
How do you retain talent?
I try to be as open and transparent as I possibly can with all forms of communication with all staff. Keeping it open and transparent so people know the decisions made by the company and the reasons behind them. My advice is, if your company is doing so well that you’re able to hire new people, do not forget what got you there. People that deserve it and were successful and loyal to you when you had nothing should be rewarded when you have something. I also try to instil in everybody in the company that everybody has a stake in the business. Like a John Lewis mentality where the company belongs to everybody.
So what advice would you give your 21-year old self thinking about becoming a financial advisor?
One piece of advice for myself at that age would be to believe in everyone and rely on no one. Another thing I’d say is that the higher up the hierarchy you go in an organisation, the less oxygen there is, because there is a lot of hot air up there!
And finally, what do you believe will be the biggest disrupter in the world of work in the next five years?
It is this small thing that is a massive thing called 5G. What people don’t realise is how much new information and data will be unveiled as a result of 5G. Right now you can do some really clever things with apps, but you haven’t seen anything yet. 5G is going to be like day and night. It is a game changer. It is also a massively positive thing because it allows people who have focus and vision to cherry pick what they need.