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Team Q&A: 7 Questions with our CEO, Ryan Macpherson

Our fearless leader, CEO, and newest dad, Ryan Macpherson has some excellent words of wisdom to aspiring c-level executives. Check out his bio to find out how he balances leading a global team while pushing Coassemble to evolve every day.

29 Jun 2020 by Rocco Brudno

About Ryan

Ryan is a thoughtful leader that does his best to help his team from the frontline. Whether it’s chatting with the sales team, planning company initiatives with the team leaders, or representing our company at events, Ryan’s always there with a smile. As a newly made dad, Ryan still took the time between feeding schedules and business calls to tell us what it means to be a great leader (spoiler: it’s all about trusting your team)

1. You have an exemplary career in training and education—how did that start for you?

I used to play tennis a little bit. During my time at University, I started coaching and found I was very passionate about assisting others to consume and understand skills and knowledge. I have always loved the concept of how someone learns and improves at something. It just so happened that I was studying Physical Education at the time so when I paired the organic passion for coaching with the theory of education from Uni, my understanding of what a career could look like in that space fused. Since then, I have immersed myself in roles that allow me to educate and grow those around me while I learn and grow myself.

2. What is the biggest shift you’ve seen in your industry during your career?

When I started teaching in 2005, I was fascinated about how to get quality educational experiences online using the skills I had at the time (very limited PPT skills). It meant often those who had the knowledge to share and make a real impact were locked out of the process. To steal an analogy from my Head of Strategy Alastair, today we’re seeing what happened to the website and associated software industries happen to the eLearning industry. Making a website used to require specialist knowledge and an agency to get a finished product. Then you had companies like WIX allowing anyone to create a website with no code on the cloud in an hour or so and start selling… When I first started my career (ages ago), online training tools were still completely inaccessible and complicated in much the same way and the L&D team held the keys to sharing knowledge in a business.

That was never going to last, as knowledge can’t be tied down. In the same way that website creation was set free, I think what we see today is that the real knowledge holders like team managers, team drivers, business owners, franchise owners have contextualized knowledge and they want to share it quickly and powerfully. I think the biggest shift I have seen is a focus on the experience of learning and how to empower everyone within an organization to take a part in the training and education piece.

Go back 4 years ago when I met the Founder of Coassemble and genius Jude Novak, what I loved was that he had really thought about the challenge around creating impactful (and more importantly fun and colorful) training easily and simply and had thrown out the complexity and boring nature of a lot of educational tools of the time. The rise of social learning and platform asynchronicity and integrations is playing a part in creating knowledge sharing that is much more powerful when it is set free at all levels of the organization and I love that we are helping to drive that shift through Coassemble (Sorry L&D)...

3. How do you lead your team across two continents and several time zones?

I think my team often leads me… but appreciate the question.

The answer for me is millions of conversations a year at whatever time or location that conversation suits the team. When you have a remote team as a CEO, I feel like being in Slack every day and being across as many chats as possible is the same as walking the floor in a large office and connecting with your team and feeling the pulse of the business—you just do it through a thousand micro chats, emojis, and online meetings. For me, this leads to a continual level of insight into the vibe, temperature, location of the fires, and most importantly, what the team is passionate about and finally, (ideally) what I can do better to support them to succeed and where I am failing them.

Coassemble is built on the strength of our team—at every level of the company. It is our people that drive amazing experiences for our customers, so my job ends up being really simple. If I can provide autonomy, flexibility, and the chance to move the needle in the business in a way that they feel is fun and challenging, then I just need to sit back and help join the dots and encourage continual experiences for that to happen. If I can encourage the team to investigate and challenge themselves, fall over and make mistakes and eventually, drive real change in their own career and also in our customers' experience, then I have done my job. So I open up my Slack status to always be available to have that conversation that helps them do that! I often get people saying to me, all you do is talk, chat, and discuss the business all day all week. For me, that is the biggest compliment I could get as it means my teams are the ones that are achieving amazing things day in and day out and all they really need from me is a sounding board and freedom to test their ideas and deliver the magic.

4. As a new dad, how have you applied leadership skills to fatherhood/vice-versa?

Mmm, very interesting question! It is very hard at 9 weeks to have a thousand conversations with my new daughter and so far she has failed to understand how to use the Slack app. However, I would like to think I am already setting the scene for exploration and independence with just the right amount of support mixed in. For example, “Tummy Time” is one of those exercises that is very much a challenge for my daughter at this age as she is discovering that a floppy head is not going to cut it in a few months and balance is this weird feeling hardly ever achieved. But it is a critical skill moving forward that will allow her to sit soon (here is hoping…).

For me, this is similar in nature to a new sales team member trying to find the balance between overselling and providing product knowledge in their first weeks and sometimes falling off the demo sideways. So I have let her determine the positions she wants to try and for how long she wants to do Tummy Time while making sure I don’t let her fall on her head and while guiding her practice time and approach.

For me, the opportunity for growth really only happens when the challenge is real, the new learning is fast, and the change is monumental. If I can, in business and in life, help set up that environment where people feel supported but highly challenged, then usually they stick the landing and I am proud to say my daughter has made great progress. Tummy Time nailed = Fathers Day present guaranteed.

5. You were previously a Tennis Pro—what was that life like and how did you transition to where you are today?

Pro is probably going too far—I like to think of it as I spent enough time annoying my parents inside the house with a tennis racquet and tennis ball that they chose to send me away for a few years on the tour to get rid of me.

I think my tennis career can be summarised best by my first big tournament win. I clearly had no idea of what the true sacrifice my parents had made to make my dream a reality. I won a big cash prize and I went crazy on a new swanky hotel, the best new Nikes, excessive room service, in-room movies, and even purchased a first class flight home (I was 14)… only to arrive home and realize that I had spent enough to cover my coaching fees for a few months. Needless to say, my parents were not impressed and took my racquet away. “No more tennis," they said. It really hurt at the time but taught me the true meaning of winning, was not the reward but the experience of competing. That is what I missed then when they banned me and is something that I still miss to this day!

I think any level of elite sport instills a level of grit into you that is not easy to remove. In 2000,a 60-second poor decision from me meant I would never play again, I had to pivot and pivot in a major way. For me, that day is probably why I am leading Coassemble today. My ability to pivot successfully in my career and every day is one skill that I owe to that experience and really helps me drive the business through the many changes and challenges that we experience every year. Starting a business feels like a rollercoaster and sport is very similar—some days you're on top of the world taking home the trophy and others you're the only one on-court wondering why you play sport at all.

6. As a company’s CEO, a leader, a father, and an all-around hero, what’s your go-to move for unwinding?

“100% Utah” “I peel the skin off chicken” “Caught my first tube today” “He’s not coming back”

Definitely watching Point Break at full volume, yelling out the lines all the way through.

7. What is your biggest piece of advice for CEOs starting out in their role?

This one is easy and I have 4 points.

1. Expect to make a lot... and I mean a LOT... of mistakes but learn to love them and build off them.

2. Invest time in your team as your number one priority, as the returns will outweigh any other business investment tenfold.

3. Remember that everyone in your business is smarter than you are and that is a good thing!

4. Never argue with the Founder

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