Zia Yusuf--the art of leadership

Zia Yusuf firmly believes in the power of technology to connect people together. The managing director of SAPMarkets Asia Pacific tells ZDNet Asia that email has made it much easier for him to initiate contact with people, and this often leads to eventual face-to-face interaction.
Written by Ariel Tam, Contributor
Zia Yusuf

Zia Yusuf firmly believes in the power of technology to connect people together. The managing director of SAPMarkets Asia Pacific tells ZDNet Asia that email has made it much easier for him to initiate contact with people, and this often leads to eventual face-to-face interaction. Yusuf also talks about how IT investment in Asia is still at times considered a "cost" item, a mindset which needs to be changed as the ability to utilize technology becomes increasingly important. Individuals who understand how technology can be effectively used to achieve business needs will be the leaders of tomorrow, Yusuf declares.

What's your proudest achievement to date?
Supporting myself financially through college and graduate school through scholarships and summer jobs as a waiter, tutor, and painter (of houses, not art!).

Do you consider yourself successful?
I define success as having achieved a productive and complementary balance between your professional and personal life. Based on that definition, no, I need to do much better.

Is there a role model whom you look up to?
On a professional level, I would say Jack Welch (former CEO of GE). His absolute focus on people is something I truly believe in and admire. He ran GE successfully by hiring, retaining and mentoring some of the best managers in the US business environment today. He also focused on very simple and clear objectives and aligned vastly different businesses to achieve these objectives. And most importantly, he did this with the minimum of arrogance! A key quality that I think is critical.

What helps you to sustain your passion for your job?
Three main things--a need to be continually challenged by people and ideas…to push the envelope of current technical and business thinking, to build a profitable and sustainable global business in the B2B area, to never stop learning!

What wouldn't you compromise on when it comes to doing business?
My commitment (my word) whether it be to a customer, partner or employee. For if you are known, even once, to have not followed through on what you have committed to, then there will always be a cloud of doubt over your actions.

Which aspect(s) of the Asian culture do you think makes for a good or bad business edge in the global IT market?
First of all, there is no one Asian culture and it is that diversity of cultures that makes engaging in Asia a challenge. On a more specific note, IT investments in Asia are still at times considered to be a "cost" item that must be incurred. There is a shift towards looking at IT investments as strategic and critical for the future competitive needs of a company, but this is a change that needs to be accelerated.

Do you think technology isolates people or brings people closer together?
Technology definitely brings people together. Email is a classic example. IT allows us to communicate with individuals that we would otherwise never have done so on a regular basis...At my business school, each graduate receives a lifelong email address. Through this email address, thousands of past and future graduates can instantly contact you. This is very powerful. Another example--members of my extended family in Pakistan recently connected to the Internet. Now, we exchange emails and photographs on a regular basis. This does not substitute for personal contact, but it sure enhances the quality of communication when you cannot be together.

Has the birth of the Internet helped or hampered your way of life?
The Internet has definitely helped my way of life. The sheer mass of immediately available structured and unstructured information has led me to make more informed decisions--both in my professional and personal lives.

The Internet has also played a critical role as a communication tool. Interaction with family members, friends, and colleagues on a global basis has certainly been enhanced. I don't believe, for example, that email has resulted in us drifting apart. In fact, the Internet has allowed me to initiate contact with people, eventually leading to face-to-face interaction, a process now much easier than it was only five years ago.

What kind of mindset is needed to survive in this digital age?
First, we have to be open to change. The quantity and speed of information flow will lead to an economic, business and personal environment that will require us to operate in a much more fluid manner. The ability to quickly adapt and respond will be critical.

Second, in this fast-paced and dynamic environment, we must never lose sight of the fundamentals of business. For example, revenue needs to be greater than cost!

Third, technology advancement will require an even greater focus on hiring and retaining highly-skilled talent. Therefore, even as the world around us becomes more "technology advanced," to succeed, we will need to focus on the human aspects.

Finally, the ability to effectively utilize technology will be an absolutely critical skill, whether it is on a personal level (with a new PDA), a business level (with a new spreadsheet program) or an enterprise level (with a new supply chain software). Individuals who understand technology, but more importantly, understand how the technology can be effectively utilized to achieve their goals, will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Which gadget is on your most wanted list?
The largest flat screen TV I can find!

Which Web sites do you visit most often?
Yahoo Finance, MSNBC, Amazon, CNET

Do you have a favorite Internet-related acronym?
B2B--Back 2 Basics!

Any relaxation techniques?
Spend time with my family, play squash (and) scuba dive.

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