Kazuki Ohta Of Treasure Data: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Always be on the lookout for potential problems so they don’t turn into full-blow crises that can seriously derail a business. Strategic planning and forecasting is very helpful in this regard.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kazuki Ohta of Treasure Data.
Kazuki (Kaz) Ohta is the CEO and co-founder of Treasure Data. Kaz uses his expertise in parallel and distributed computing to innovate in a world of exploding amounts for customer data. He envisions a future where businesses are free from siloes like those that currently divide teams and technology, and passionately champions for a unified source of customer data, insights, security, and activation as the only path toward a more customer-centric future.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I first started out as a computer science student at the University of Tokyo. During that time I simultaneously juggled other career moves, including venturing out to Chicago, where I became interested in high-performance computing (HPC) while working as a visiting researcher. My research topic was how to handle large volumes of data (i.e., petabytes) with large-scale supercomputers, and I became immediately hooked. I have always been an entrepreneur with a passion for computer science, and it was around that time, while working with supercomputers, that I realized the power of data, and the need to democratize it to provide access to other companies.
Then I started working as a CTO for a leading AI company in Japan, where I put my skills and passion to use and began building an enterprise-distributed search engine. After dipping my toes into the water of large-scale tech and data work, I then decided to go all the way. I, along with two others, co-founded what is now Treasure Data. As a co-founder and the chief technology officer, I was in charge of product management, engineering, and customer support, and worked very closely with adjacent business functions such as sales and marketing. Once we had established a strong and successful company, I joined ARM Limited, a global semiconductor and software design company owned by the SoftBank Group, through its acquisition of Treasure Data in July of 2018, where I became vice president of technology in the Data Services Business Unit. That is where I really began looking at post-merger integration strategies in many important areas, such as corporate culture, HR, product development and engineering, customer support, and IT. I have focused on these and many other aspects at Treasure Data.
All of these great, learning experiences finally brought me to this chapter of my journey as the CEO of Treasure Data. It has been extremely rewarding to see this wonderful company continue to evolve, grow, and be successful in recent years.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I made a funny mistake when I first started gaining clients and customers. I sent an email that was supposed to go to one of my employees talking about how excited I was with our new business, and I accidentally sent it to our new client! Just remember to always re-read your emails before sending them! At least it was positive! Ha!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have definitely been inspired along the way by many people I’ve met during my journey. Many people have helped me get to where I am today, but I would say that my co-founder Hiro Yoshikawa, is who I am most grateful for because he has been with me since the beginning of it all.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I definitely believe that purpose-driven businesses can be more successful in many areas. When we started out, we certainly had a specific mission and vision in mind, and that was to democratize data so different types of companies could have the power over it and really use it to their benefit in safe and effective ways. We realized there were three key problems that we wanted to solve with our company: the time it takes to analyze the data, the high number of computer scientists needed to analyze that data, and the tremendous upfront investment required to manage data. Our vision was to solve these riddles for all businesses.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
In the early days of the pandemic, over two years ago, I experienced just as much fear and uncertainty as all of our employees did. At the time, I clearly recall that none of us had any idea how long stay-at-home orders would remain in place; how long the pandemic would impact this business…or if it would even survive; or how quickly we could transition employees from the office to work-from-home environments. Every time we answered one of these questions, another five related questions arose!
As I and Treasure Data’s senior management team began to navigate these issues, the very same challenges that countless companies, of all sizes, were wrestling with, we quickly realized we were not going to be able to fix everything all at once. We needed to tackle one problem at a time, and be very thoughtful and intentional about how we rolled out and communicated those solutions to our valued employees. Thankfully, I’ve surrounded myself with fabulous, highly-experienced, and very talented senior executives at Treasure Data, and we were able to lead the company together and with a united front. At the same time, I learned the value of clear, direct communication during times of crisis, and how resilient our company’s associates truly are.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
No, I never considered giving up. Time is the only risk, right? Investors are so friendly to entrepreneurs in the United States. The SaaS business model in which we are playing is more of a long-term play. Therefore, I knew I needed to commit to the next seven-to-10 years just to build a business. However, I was ready for the challenge, so I convinced myself to spend the next 10 years with this one thing.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
A few years ago I read the book, “A CEO Does Only Three Things” by Trey Taylor. It really inspired me to focus on the company culture, people and the numbers. Everything else is relative.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to demonstrate both resilience and empathy. These two important qualities will not only make your employees and clients more comfortable and confident, but it will create the type of work environment that ensures company wellness and strength. Having resilience will take you far when it comes to dealing with challenging times; it will keep you afloat.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
When the future seems uncertain, it’s very important for leaders to continue inspiring, motivating, and engaging their employees. There are many levels and forms of fear and uncertainty which are common among employees during unpredictable times, but at the end of the day, communication is critical throughout all levels of the organization. The same principle applies as well to external communications to important audiences, such as customers, partners, and investors, who also want to be reassured. Not only does the communication need to be frequent, but also, and more importantly, it must be real and authentic, project positivity and assurances, and serve as a conduit for employees to voice their concerns. Finally, a strong leader needs to continuously monitor employee morale, and evaluate employee incentives, performance reviews, and ad hoc rewards to ensure the workforce remains productive and motivated.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
It is all about transparency, being reassuring, and showing respect to your employees as well as customers. It is important to try to deliver the news in-person if possible, and avoid a method of communication that is one-way. Many times, leaders aim for clear communication, using group announcements or memos, thinking it gives everyone space, but in-person delivery is the trusted method of a successful leader. Once the news is delivered I recommend offering up the chance for individuals to come talk to you separately, as this shows true transparency as well as empathy.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is preparing themselves for a broad spectrum of shifts that can conceivably occur at any time. Preparation includes short-term and long-term planning with other C-suite members, as well as with division and business unit heads and business function leaders. It is important to note that the smart CEO knows what he doesn’t know, and thus surrounds himself with people who are experts in all these different fields. By doing this, you’re able to create short-term and long-term value for stakeholders, and properly plan for the future.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Putting employees first is one key principle of mine when it comes to guiding a company through turbulent times. Your most important relationship in a business is with your employees. Without them, the company wouldn’t be where it is today.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Resisting change and new opportunities
- Lack of transparency
- Not being aware of external and internal issues
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Remain calm and centered, look at situations from all perspectives, and think things through before reacting…or taking action.
- You’re not alone…and you don’t have to do everything. Rely on the talented people around to help you during times of crisis and/or uncertainty.
- Turbulent times never last forever. You just to be patient to wait out the storm. “This, too, shall pass.”
- Leaders must openly and frequently communicate with stakeholders, especially employees, customers and partners. They deserve to know what is going on directly from the very top of the organization.
- Always be on the lookout for potential problems so they don’t turn into full-blow crises that can seriously derail a business. Strategic planning and forecasting is very helpful in this regard.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that I live by is, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. This quote pertains to my life in the sense that I am not afraid to take risks on big ideas I have come up with, no matter how crazy or impossible they seem. You will never succeed in this life unless you are willing to experiment, and be bold.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Kazuki Ohta Of Treasure Data: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.