Customer turned CEO: Glenn Williams

27 Jan 2018

When talking about customer satisfaction and loyalty, one rarely finds a customer so fully invested in a company’s brand and proposition that they become the company’s CEO!
That is the story of IP Global’s CEO Glenn Williams.

Glenn was introduced to international property investment firm IP Global in 2010, while he was CEO of insurance giant AXA’s Singapore business. In 2016, a few key opportunities led him to his current position.

Glenn tells us more about his journey.

From client to CEO. How did this happen?

Investing with IP Global was a recommendation from a friend. I’ve always believed that if you get a good referral from someone you trust, that’s probably the best direction you can ever get.

After my initial and subsequent investments with the company, I trusted their business proposition. IP Global uses an underwrite model for most of their investments, that means they make a financial commitment with the developer by purchasing the properties before selling them to clients. I like that IP Global puts their money where their mouth is.

It was just serendipitous that the company was looking for a new CEO in 2015, and that’s when I got a call from IP Global founder Tim Murphy. At the time I thought the call was about something having gone wrong with one of my investments, but it was quite left field to say the least! But, because I personally believed in the company’s basic proposition, that excited me to take on the role.

What made you start investing in property?

Coming from the insurance industry, we dealt with many different types of funds and some of them were property, so that was my first point of interest. Other than houses I had bought to live in, my first property investment was in 2006.

What was the biggest lesson you learned as a property investor?

Actually, it was during my first property investment when I bought off-plan developments in Miami and Spain. Before they were completed, the 2008 financial crisis hit. The one in Spain hadn’t even begun construction, so the money had gone. More frustratingly, the one in Miami was fully built and I was ready to complete, but because many other investors couldn’t get mortgages, the bank pulled the funding. Also, the property investment company I was working with literally disappeared – no one was there to help or anything. I still believed in property investment, but I was more wary about finding a company I could trust. It was quite a difficult, painful, and expensive first learning experience.

Now that you are CEO of a property investment firm, what do you notice on the flip side?

What I learned from that experience, and now as IP Global’s CEO, is that when times are tough, you should talk to your clients more, not less. I find that good consultants care for and communicate with clients much more, while it’s the weaker consultants who don’t want to talk to clients because maybe they are embarrassed or perhaps don’t know how to address the issue.

Also, as an investor and time-poor leader, I found doing private equity investments much easier than direct property investments. So, one of the things that I was keen to achieve when I first started at IP Global was to provide a smoother investment journey for clients and give them more guidance.

How do you foresee the industry changing over the next few years?

The big buzz word for the past few years across industries has been digital transformation. The insurance industry has been slow to embrace digital technology, but the property industry is even slower. There isn’t really much digital transformation happening in property yet, so I feel there’s a huge opportunity in the market. The way Uber has changed taxi regulations using a digital platform, the property industry could possibly apply that too, for example by simplifying current market norms when clients are completing. On a simpler level, even an app that leads people through the property investment journey could help clients more easily understand the end-to-end process.

Which other leaders are you inspired by?

Someone I’ve really admired is Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager for Manchester United. I’m reading his leadership book right now, and it’s very compelling. It’s pretty amazing for someone to have spent so many years on the top in such a competitive environment, and to have successfully rebuilt a winning team three times over a couple of decades.

How do you tackle failure?

The only way not to fail is not to try, so you’re going to have to first accept that you are going to fail from time to time, and the second thing is to say, “Fine, I failed, now what can I learn so that I can do better next time?” When you fail, fail fast, learn and succeed the next time.

What does success look like for you?

To identify what success is, you have to ask yourself, “What are the most important things?” For me, success is about balancing your work life, home life, and health. Balancing all of these things is a challenge. As a leader you’re going to have to accept that you are going to be putting a lot of time and effort into work – that is what you have signed up for in the role. As a leader, success for me is about building a great team that can provide great products and services to our clients, which enables a company to deliver its promises to its shareholders.

To sustain yourself, you are also going to have to focus on yourself outside of work and get that balance right. Having said that, it doesn’t always work out, but you have to look back and think about how you can recalibrate.

What advice do you have for future leaders?

One of the most important skills in life is the ability to learn, adapt and apply yourself. There are so many people you can learn from, not only senior leaders, but also your peers, team members, clients and competitors. If you want to lead, keep learning and keep motivated. Leading takes energy so you need to ask yourself, “Do I enjoy what I’m doing?” That doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy every minute of every single day. Work is hard, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s only a bad thing if you find yourself demotivated, for both your health and career. If it’s hard and very motivating, that’s fantastic.

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