World Entrepreneur Day | A Q&A With Paul Salnikow
What was your first ever job?
I grew up in New York, where one can get one’s learner permit driver’s license at the age of sixteen. I was keen to earn some money and build my independence, but I was unskilled. My first job was working at the local Burger King in the kitchen creating flame-broiled Whoppers for US$2.65 per hour. I sometimes added extra cheese to them to improve their taste.
In times of hardship, do you find it difficult to ask for help? If no, how would a budding Entrepreneur overcome that fear?
In the very early days, I thought that I could do it all myself, but I very quickly learned that to be successful, I needed to build a team of people whose talents and experience augment mine. My team fills in my blanks and shortcomings so that together, we deliver a powerful result. As an extension of myself, I always communicate with my team, but perhaps most importantly during times of hardship. Fear arises when you feel that you “don’t know” how to address a problem. I always view problems as challenges, and thus opportunities to learn, apply and overcome. And I do that in partnership with my team.
What motivated you to found TEC and what are your upcoming plans for TEC India?
I was a junior manager working in London with a Japanese property group and they needed flexibly office space for a few months. I was tasked with securing that space and discovered that at that time, in London, that product did not exist. It motivated me to conceive of the “hotel for companies” idea and business plan which evolved, three years later, into the first Executive Centre. My plans for India are always for growth, driven by the demand of our powerful MNC client base.
Will you ever expand to the US?
The Executive Centre can successfully operate in any location that is aligned with our requirement of being a Tier 1 or 2 cities, that are economically vibrant and growing. We are a core CBD product serving a demanding multi-national client base. So locations such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Austin make sense.
How do you start your day?
By having my Apple phone wake me up at 6:25am. I’m out by 7am and in the gym by 7:20am. During Covid, with no travel, I workout Monday through Friday, and am always in the office by 9am, enjoying my first cup of coffee.
What does it take to survive and grow in the market during these unfortunate and unpredictable times?
Cash, and a sustainable cash flow. Client retention is the number one objective. Invest your efforts in maintaining the business you already have. New sales are important to replace departing clients, but retaining existing clients is Number 1. Manage your costs tightly but do not reduce the client-facing experience. So, make back-of-house savings. Under-performers should always be let go, but otherwise, embrace and preserve your team.
What pushes you through if you have a tough day?
Tough times, whether they be an hour long “bad meeting” or a “tough day” or a “lousy year” are that because before, and eventually after, they will be bracketed by “good times.” If my tough day is due to something I did, then I really try to quickly understand why and how I made the mistake, and I consciously make myself think through how to not do it again. I force myself to think through the problem. We cannot fix problems that we don’t see, but we must flex problems that we do.
What motivates you?
A job well done. I love the feeling of achieving results that align with or exceed promises. I am by nature an optimist so under-promising is not in my nature. Working hard is.
What makes a good CEO?
You need to be an exceptionally good listener: gather and consume input, information and feedback. But being a CEO is not a committee job, it’s a singular role. So, know that at times, you must be the decision-maker. When you make those decisions, own them.
Describe the feelings of opening your first TEC centre compared to opening your latest one?
Exuberance! I remember unwrapping and assembling the office furniture with my wife, and our one teammate. Doing all the tasks and then welcoming and moving in the first clients. Now, satisfaction. New centres opened by The Executive Centre in 2021 are driven by the brand, by client demand and deep execution experience. The first was a euphoric launch into the unknown, the latest is a measured expansion of capacity and profitability.
Top tips for successful leadership?
You have to really believe in yourself. But not as an egotist but as a realist. You have to be really honest with yourself, honest about your strengths and honest about your weaknesses. By having that core inner balance and belief, you can begin to work to achieve. Over time, achievement attracts others, and leadership becomes an opportunity. Then you become a protagonist, motivating others to reach for their best.
What are your 3 biggest accomplishments?
I will answer this question from a business perspective.
1) Learning early in life that the entire world is an opportunity and that I have only one lifetime within which to achieve.
2) Learning to be adaptive, understanding that one must never stop innovating to survive and succeed.
3) Building The Executive Centre from an idea into a multinational business. OK, and on a personal side, building and sustaining a strong successful marriage and family!
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