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Four CEOs had to face tough questions during the CEO hot seat panel at NEXT Summit Valletta.

Below are some of the highlights of the session, which was moderated by PressEnter Group CEO Lahcene Merzoug.

Sam Brown

Rootz CEO Sam Brown was asked to share an instance where he had to be dishonest when doing business.

“I think that any leader in a business has to have a manageable level of dishonesty about the way that they do things,” Brown replied.

“What we’re really talking about here is the kind of white lies that matter when you’re doing business.”

Brown said in many circumstances – be it mentoring someone or entering any type of business negotiation – a manageable level of dishonesty can be required “to put the other party at ease or to move the conversation along.”

“You often hear people say ‘I know where you’re coming from.’ I would say nine times out of 10, that’s a dishonest response.

“Because most of the time you don’t at all, but you’re trying to empathise. I’m trying to get there and work with you, but the reality is that I really don’t understand why you did what you did, and I’m not there.

“I think a manageable level of dishonesty is required in order to sustain good relationships.”

David Carruthers

Former BetonSports CEO David Carruthers, who recently recounted his five-and-a-half year legal battle with US authorities in a Breakfast with NEXT interview, reflected on how he took BetonSports public in the early 2000s.

Merzoug asked how he managed to attract major investors like Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch to the business.

“I put on an amazing performance, but I used every trick in the book,” Carruthers said.

He realised after his first meeting on the first roadshow that he knew a “thousand times more” about the sector than potential investors.

“I wasn’t scared,” he added, “I used to walk into the room before they would come in, and I would never sit down, I would always stand up. So when they came into the room, we were equal.”

“I would also put my chair against the window, so the light would shine on me and I’d have some control over them. And then I just told them the story about the business, which was a compelling story.”

Back in 2000, when he started, the company had a team of 700 employees. By the time of Carruthers’ departure in 2006, that number had soared to 3,700 employees.

Martina Åkerlund

Next up was CallsU CEO Martina Åkerlund, who previously served as CEO of sports tech company Triggy, where she is now part of the board of directors. 

When asked by Merzoug if non-executive roles were a source of easy income, Åkerlund disagreed.

“No, being on the board of a company, that’s one of the few positions where you can held personally liable for not behaving right or making the right decisions.

“Companies that want to achieve things and wants to go somewhere, they’re expecting a lot from their board members, so it’s definitely not easy money.

“I am also a big shareholder. I love the company and I love what they do. So for me it’s completely natural to keep on supporting them in every way that I can.”

Merzoug continued his enquiry, citing instances of board members who seemed to have nominal roles, chosen more for their prestige than active involvement, and asked if Åkerlund had encountered similar situations.

Åkerlund acknowledged that such situations exist but stressed the importance of aligning board composition with the company’s objectives.

“I think as a company you need to look into what you want to achieve and have a board that goes in line with that,” she added.

Pierre Lindh

For the first time ever, NEXT.io managing director Pierre Lindh also participated in the CEO hot seat.

When asked by Merzoug about the sacrifices he has had to make for success, whether in personal or professional realms, and if they were worthwhile, Lindh reflected on the inherent trade-offs of ambition.

“What have you had to sacrifice to achieve your success? Whether in your personal or professional life, and were these sacrifices worth making? Do you have any regrets or second thoughts about your choices on your path to success?” Merzoug asked him.

Lindh replied: “Running a company, trying to build a business, being ambitious — it all comes with a price, right? Are you willing to give up valuable time with those close to you?

“At the end of the day, when you’re old, what really matters is being close to family, friends, and the people that matter most in your life.

“I think for some, it’s probably a personality trait; some people choose to go down that path of being willing to sacrifice a lot when it comes to personal relationships.

“That definitely is the other side of the coin of going down this path of trying to build a company. So, I would say, yes, definitely when it comes to family relationships and close relationships, there is a time sacrifice there for sure.”

He admitted that he sometimes envisions a quieter year ahead, although he admitted that this is most likely a bit “delusional”.

To reach a point where there’s more time for other aspects of life will likely take longer than anticipated, Lindh noted.

“But,” he added, “you need to have that kind of light at the end of the tunnel, feeling like okay, we’re going to get past this period. Things are going to calm down. That’s what keeps you going 110% every day.”

All sessions from the Leadership Stage of the NEXT Summit Valletta can be found on the NEXT.io YouTube channel.

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