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CEO Q&A: "A leader has to be completely dispensable"

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Steven Mendel, CEO and founder of pet insurance firm Bought By Many, speaks to HR magazine about the importance of delegation, and how invaluable HR is to leadership.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Relaxed, open and supportive. I aim to create an atmosphere that allows everyone to feel challenged and comfortable to challenge in return.

Pre-pandemic, I travelled between our offices in the UK and internationally, but the pandemic meant I had to rethink how I could connect meaningfully with our growing team.

Since March 2020 when the first lockdown started, I have hosted company-wide Zoom calls to keep everyone up to speed with our business objectives, goals and announcements (as well as new team introductions, birthdays and pet show and tells!).

I host these three times a week and even though they are completely optional, we often get more than two thirds of the team join the calls.

We recently had a record-breaking 200-plus team members join our funding announcement call. Even as we continue to grow and begin to think about balancing home-working with a return to the office, I hope to keep the same level of connectivity for all our team wherever they are based.


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What’s your top leadership tip?

It is key to spend time looking for the right people and to onboard them thoroughly. With your support and backing, people will have the foundations they need to go own their role and add huge value.

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader?

A leader has to be completely dispensable otherwise the monkey is always on your back. If you get caught up in the small stuff, you risk creating blind spots and missing the bigger picture.

 

What do you do to help others progress through the company?

We have focused a lot of our time on finding the best talent to help us on our mission to be the world’s leading pet health provider. As a young company, our people have the opportunity to shape their own roles in a way that fits our business goals, meaning there is plenty of opportunity for progression.

I encourage open conversations so that our team feel they have the tools to succeed and empowered to carve out their career with us.

What do you look for from your people team?

Our people team support and drive our culture and check our values are resonating with our team as well as helping us with recruitment and onboarding. Our current focus is on growing our team and ensuring our values translate to all our new joiners.

In the last year alone we have more than doubled to almost 300 people across Sweden, the UK and the US – a number that is set to double again over the next 12 months as we create more job opportunities internationally.

Do you think HR directors have the skills needed to be CEO?

Everyone has the ability to be a CEO. However, CEOs delegate everything and make themselves completely dispensable.

We wear many different hats depending on the agenda of the day. On the other hand, HR directors and chief of people are specialists. They are uniquely positioned to promote values and culture – both intangible but highly valuable assets in any firm.