Aquila Capital Partners

Austin &
New York City

Leaders Don’t Just Build – They Reinvent

It’s easy to find a strategy that works and cling to it. But what works in one moment quickly becomes less effective by the nature of our constantly evolving environment. This was starkly displayed at the beginning of the pandemic, and it still applies 18 months later—especially as we experience a resurgence of COVID cases. Things have rapidly become “sink or swim,” and those who were previously resistant to emerging technologies have embraced platforms like Slack, Zoom, and more. The work-from-anywhere environment suits some and challenges others. Leaders inhabit a role of constant evaluation, learning, and refinement, and it is incumbent upon them to identify business models or strategies that will help carry their organizations through these uncertain times.

Reinventing A Company Means Reinventing Yourself 

This begs the question: what is truly necessary to lead your company, and lead it well? For me, the answer is often reinvention (or fundamentally change your business model). It’s not enough to just keep up anymore. The world is moving too quickly for just continuous evolution. You either reinvent or you get left behind. Once you figure out how to reinvent your company, you then must reinvent yourself as a leader and your team—otherwise, your team isn’t in line with your new company culture and vision. This doesn’t mean firing all of your old employees. But you can’t inspire people to do new things they don’t know how to do. You have to learn new skills and find that sometimes people end up being a better match in a different role in the organization going forward. 

Today, reinvention may look like transforming an in-office team to an effective hybrid workforce, reorganizing teams, or adjusting leadership styles. Once you’ve gotten down the road of transforming your company and your team, you have to change as a leader to serve your evolution. Some people resist change. If it isn’t broken, why fix it? But this is asking the wrong question. Instead of resting on something that is working fine, you need to ask what risks are necessary to achieve your next goal. Sometimes staying stagnant ends up being a greater risk than making a move. 

The Marriage of Risk and Responsibility 

Leaders must possess an innate understanding of how to navigate risk and responsibility. This winning combination was the engine that has fueled my companies’ successes, and it is the foundation of my convictions in leadership, technology, teamwork, and culture. The balance of risk and responsibility will carry you through investments, mergers, and acquisitions, and more—it will help you maintain a successful business in the midst of uncertainty or potential loss.  

Argo built its reputation as an agile changemaker that digitally transformed the insurance industry through a winning combination of innovation and sustainability. We didn’t get there by staying the same or repeating patterns. We began adopting initiatives to an otherwise traditional industry, like partnering with teams in cutting-edge sports teams that used technology to transform their industry and changed the way they competed. At first, people thought we were crazy. We adapted strategies often unused in our industry, but I knew the only way to get to the next level was through taking risks. We embarked upon a series of acquisitions over a seven-year period that increased the size of the company 7x and took us from a US company to a global business, something unheard of before us doing it. I believe a relentless quest for personal and professional innovation is behind the ability to outpace your competition. 

True innovation involves taking risks. We need to embrace a level of uncertainty we may not be terribly comfortable with. Now, more than ever, we need to challenge the status quo with an open and inquisitive mind. We must start rethinking everything to respond to change effectively for our customers and ourselves. People who stand still are actually moving backward—they just don’t realize it.  

Don’t Forget To Invest In Your Team

To succeed in business, you must have the best value proposition for your customer. If you don’t have this, the rest doesn’t matter. You can execute a business strategy flawlessly, but if you aren’t serving the customer, you’re going to go out of business. Every business must be managed through the eye of the customer. Then, it’s about having the best cutting-edge technology and a top-of-the-line team that knows how to use that technology to the full extent of its power. In the best, most technologically advanced businesses, the person in the driver’s seat is important. But if the rest of the team isn’t just as talented, they aren’t going to win. 

You see this a lot when it comes to driving race cars. The person in the driver’s seat often gets all of the attention, awards, and accolades. But if you look at the person who is at the top of the grid in Formula 1 every weekend, it’s the team with the fastest car. Teams win because of technology, the team supporting them, and then the person in the driver’s seat. They all know their roles and work together as one to achieve their common goal or purpose. Teams must learn to partner with the machines and technology they use and maintain the best, fastest race car on the track. Everything has its place, and everyone knows their purpose. 

The world around us is always changing very quickly. The riskiest thing you can do is preserve the status quo. Ram Charan once gave me this piece of advice: The world is changing so fast that you will get left behind if you can’t reinvent your company every three or four years. And if you don’t do it yourself—as a leader—you can guarantee that you will be left behind. When I think back on Ram’s advice, I’m reminded that doing nothing is always riskier than just trying. So I learned that making a decision is the most important part. If you get it wrong, go make another one. But you won’t get ahead today without risk and reinvention. 

Read more for additional insights from Mark E. Watson III