I had the pleasure of interviewing Amir Orad, CEO of Sisense (business intelligence company). Amir’s background isn’t the typical profile of an Israeli tech entrepreneur. When Amir was 16 years old, he began selling software to insurance companies in Israel. After university, Amir was recruited to join the Israeli army’s 8200 division — an elite unit which brings together the best minds in Israel. His experience in the Israeli army has contributed to him becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Israel and New-York tech.
Chris: What is your “backstory”? Can you tell us about your military background?
I was one of those kids who fell in love with computers and, as a result, I was doing a lot of programming and technology related activities from a young age. I ended up working on a number of technology related initiatives — everything from selling software at the age of 16, to working on university projects around Artificial Intelligence.
All of this resulted in me being asked to join a very unique team in the israeli intelligence corps, or 8200, a place where high potential techies have a chance to express themselves and contribute in national service at the same time.
I ended up spending six years doing that, building creative, cutting-edge technologies, leveraging everything from big data analytics to hardware and software. During that period I was able to accelerate my professional and personal development, allowed to lead teams, then become an officer, and eventually, I was leading a branch of developers and people that create and innovate with technology.
That was an amazing time, and it was an amazing group of people. During my time there, I was in the same place with the people who ended up founding and leading multi billion dollar public companies like Checkpoint, Palo Alto, Imperva, and and many other prominent technology firms. What was common to all of us was that we were high-potential kids who loved technology, and when you put us all together, we became an unstoppable force in terms of our ability to build and innovatie and think outside the box.
Chris: What from your time in the military, do you think most prepared you for business?
I learned a few things. The first is that nothing beats talent. Talent is more important than everything, and talent is not always what’s on the CV. Sometimes, someone without a lot of experience can be stronger, faster, and better than someone with two degrees and a lot of formal know-how. It’s about raw talent, and the ability to attract, retain, and challenge that talent.
The importance of talent is critical not just for having people with strong skill sets on your team. There is a different level of value that is created by the interaction between talented team members. When you are feeling elite, and you’re surrounded by other elites, it creates a very high bar for the future that everyone works hard to clear.
The value of that strong team has given me a greater ability to spot talent… and, conversely, it’s made me a lot more comfortable “passing” on people with impressive CVs who just are not elite.
Most importantly, being in that environment, you understand the group dynamics and the capabilities of a bunch of strong, smart people being in the same room with shared goals and values. And what you realize is that, literally, everything is achievable.
The motto of the British Special Air Service is he who dares, wins. With an elite group, that’s not an aspiration. It’s a fact.
Chris: How would you define your leadership style?
I believe in people and I believe that everything is possible. I have a very high bar for performance for the people that work for me. Part of that is on finding the right talent, and part of that relies on me being someone that people want to work hard with. I prefer leadership over management, and I think that with the right leadership, everyone can do more than they believe they can.
Chris: What are your Leadership Lessons Businesses can learn from military experience? Please share a story or example for each.
We covered some important leadership lessons above
Nothing Beats Talent
There is Special Value In A Team
Everything is Possible
Everything is possible, and everyone can do more than they think they can achieve. When you start a company everyone will tell you it is the stupidest idea ever. If you don’t have conviction, you will not succeed. Specifically, when I started my first company, we had invented a new way to authenticate people online. It was called risk-based authentication. Everyone told us how stupid it was. If I didn’t have that deep believe that everything was achievable to sustain me, we never would have gone after it.
Another important lesson learned from military experience is that after every important activity or campaign you debrief. If you do a sales meeting, and it goes extraordinarily well, it doesn’t matter: you still need to debrief, to figure out what went right, what went wrong. That is something I do after every meeting, internal and external. It’s a debrief mentality that is based on the idea that, no matter how well things are going, or how poorly they went, there’s always room for improvement, just by focusing on the things you could do a little bit better the next time.
Chris: The future of many industries rely heavily on millennials and gen-z in regards to consumers and talent. Can you tell us something you or your company is doing to stay ahead with attracting both?
We do two things. We decided this year, one of the core focuses for the company would be a program which we call “moonshot your career.” It’s the idea that everyone at the company should view Sisense as an opportunity to grow and advance professionally. It’s based on the idea that everyone can do more and achieve more, and the awareness that people we have can aspire to grow all the time, unlike prior generations that may have looked for stability and were averse to change.
This is more than just an HR gimmick. Over the last quarter alone, we’ve had about 15% of our year+ tenured employees move to new roles, or more senior roles. That means that almost 60% percent will be in new or advanced roles within a year.
The second thing is that millennials and gen-z are excited by the challenges of the startup world — none more than the people here at Sisense, who are very excited to build something, and work very hard. Unfortunately, they often work to the point of potentially burning themselves out.
We actually need to force people to stop, take a breath, and come up for air. That is why we instituted a program called Coming Up For Air, which includes mandatory long weekends with no emails allowed, every quarter. If we want people to be able to run fast when we need them to, they need to rest hard every quarter.
Chris: Can you tell us one person in the world, or in the US, whom you would want to sit down and have a drink or cocktail with?
I pick my wife. She is an entrepreneur with her own emerging startup. When you’re an entrepreneur married to another entrepreneur, and you’re both successful, you don’t get to spend much time together. For me, if I have some extra time together it would be great.
Chris Quiocho is a combat veteran and pilot of the United States Army. Millennial leader and CEO of Offland Media, the premier content partner for business aviation. Chris is an insightful and motivational public speaker, and an emerging thought leader for the aviation industry.