Robert de Souza - on a knowledge-sharing evangelical crusade

Robert de Souza, chief knowledge officer of Viewlocity, feels the triumph not in getting the best deal, but in maximising the deal for all parties. He also believes that no gadget should rule our lives, and tells you why he'll never get a PDA.

Robert de Souza Robert de Souza, chief knowledge officer of Viewlocity, feels the triumph not in getting the best deal, but in maximising the deal for all parties. The 42-year-old former NTU (Nanyang Technological University) professor also believes that no gadget should rule our lives, and tells you why he'll never get a PDA.

Can you share with us the contributions you've made to the IT industry?
I consider myself fortunate, having had the privilege of immersing myself in both academia and business.

During my tenure as an Associate Professor at Nanyang Technological University from 1991 to 2000, I realized the importance for Singapore to establish itself as a logistics hub, especially amidst globalization and the advent of the Internet. My highlight here definitely has to be the pioneering of Singapore’s first Masters course in Logistics. Students are now graduating from this programme, and at an opportune time, just as the Singapore government launched a logistics initiative that required bright talents to lead the nation to logistics excellence.

As an academic, I consider it a personal achievement to nurture so many young minds in Asia. It is a pleasure to encounter these past students and see them realize their own ambitions and the feeling of pride when you realize that you actually made the difference. Just yesterday, a journalist I caught up with for lunch turned out to be one of my ex students, and I found out through her that one of her classmates whom I mentored has found a great career with Arthur Andersen.

As a communicator and consultant, I have had the honor to address, empathize and advise so many people, from senior executives at leading multinational companies to small business owners, through speaking engagements, consultations, papers and workshops across Asia.

But my proudest achievement by far is from the context of a businessman and technopreneur. Based on my consulting with corporations coupled with the years of teaching and research, I went on to co-found a company in 1998 that provided Web-based supply chain solutions. To put it metaphorically, I have seen “the seed of a thought incubate into a tree...whose shade I now enjoy...but do not take for granted.”

Can you describe what's a typical workday like for you?
With my global role, the only real certainty I have is that I usually do get some sleep, but I can't necessarily predict when. In a typical day, I could be addressing a group of CEOs in the UK, or meeting with industry analysts in the US, followed by catching up with the latest research on supply chains and organizational engineering, either with fellow academics or by speaking to companies in the field. Generally, as a chief knowledge officer, my workday involves me being an academic, a businessman, and a communicator blended into one. I make it a rule that each day should involve at least two of these disciplines.

What helps you to sustain your passion for your job?
My crusade in life centers round the acquisition and sharing of knowledge. Boring as it may sound to some, I am passionate about the supply chain, and even more passionate about communicating the benefits that companies can derive from anticipating and solving just some simple problems.

Fortunately for me, Viewlocity also champions the value of knowledge-sharing, and my role allows me to continue this evangelical crusade. To a certain extent, my current job allows me to have my cake and eat it too!

What are your core values regarding business and money?
Practise what you preach, and preach what you have practised. Having lived in many different parts of the world, privileged and under-privileged, and being from a multicultural family gives me a unique perspective on east-west, rich-poor values and what is really important from a needs and spiritual perspective.

Is there anything you wouldn't compromise on when it comes to doing business?
I would not compromise on my core values – self-respect and integrity. Equally important however, I am motivated in business not by "getting the best deal' but by maximising the deal for all parties -- that's often a challenge, but really worth it when it comes through.

How do you define success? Do you consider yourself to be successful?
Success to me is measured by fulfillment and contentment of the whole self at home, at work and at play. A high achieving professional life is rarely possible without the balance of a happy home and expressive play. In this regard, I am so grateful to having passed certain milestones on the rocky road to success.

As for the future, who knows what it may throw at you. But as long as you do not lose sight of what’s important, then you’re on the right track.

Any role model whom you look up to?
I have never really emulated myself on another but do admire some noted names. I admire Jack Welch for his impact and visionary management style that created many industry leaders; Eli Goldratt for his ability to communicate sound business ideas through layman story telling; Peter Drucker for his insights and deep analysis into management theory and practice; and Lee Kuan Yew for achieving goals and vision in difficult times.

Is there anything you would have done differently if given the choice?
I actually do not have any regrets. I strongly believe that everything is for a purpose and part of the journey.

How do you relax?
A glass of red wine and a good book.

Which Web sites do you visit most often? What kind of books do you read?
I visit the well-trodden Web sites in management, and I read and collect most of the latest management books. The most recent addition to my collection was “Necessary but not Sufficient” by Eli Goldratt.

I find great pleasure in the serendipitous discovery of little-known Web sites that gives me unique insights. Generally, I like Web sites that feature topics/discussions on systems thinking – The Fifth Discipline – as Peter Senge labels. Discovering interconnectedness and multidisciplinary approaches and its relevance to thinking and problem-solving in my domain is refreshing and challenging even from diverse fields such as medicine.

Is there any one gadget you owned that you can't live without?
No gadget should rule our lives. However, my most important device is my notebook. Wherever my notebook my office.

Which gadget is on your most wanted list?
I can tell you what’s last on my list -- a PDA. At the current stage of connectivity, [PDAs] seem to waste more time than they save.

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