Self-made billionaire, philanthropist, and conservationist Brian Sheth wears many hats — and he wears them well. While many floundered during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the early days, the entrepreneur adapted and shared his experience at the 2020 Milken Institute Global Conference, The Next Decade: How to Manage Disruption.
“Battling through this time of adversity and being resilient is critical. In software, you always plan for disruption,” Sheth shared. “That’s, to a certain extent, our job. We’re not doing our job for our customers if we’re not always coming up with something new, different, and innovative. When we think about what this new and incredible disruption will do for the next growth trajectory, for [our] companies, which by and large are a little bit larger, maybe a bit more mature than traditional software companies.”
Sheth: Rolling With the Punches
COVID-19 was a worldwide example of the importance of planning for the worst — or at least being prepared for whatever might change or go wrong. Other disruptions include an ever-changing global economy, social and geographical shifts, and movements to switch to sustainable business models.
Sheth, who graduated with a degree in economics from the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, comes from a software and systems background. Contingency planning is second nature to him. His corporate experience also taught him about always being ready to roll with the punches.
Sheth strives to stay ahead of the curve, no matter what may lie ahead. For example, he shares, “We’ve made investments in diversity training and diversity and inclusion hires to make sure that they are helping our portfolio companies implement systems that’ll at least make sure that our processes are better and are more open. We started this a long time ago when we recognized that if we left it up to companies that operate in certain geographies, they tended to get really not very diverse candidate pools. They tended to look a lot like the people who already worked at the companies.”
Excellent Management Can Mitigate Even the Biggest Disruption
In addition to his extensive business acumen, Sheth has considerable experience in the charitable sector. The Sheth Sangreal Foundation was founded by Sheth and his wife, Adria. As part of its mission, the foundation supports environmental and education initiatives. He’s also involved in Re:wild, a conservation organization.
An experienced, well-trained, and efficient management team is the greatest asset for any organization, whether for-profit or nonprofit. They’ll be able to make the best decisions for the company based on current and potential situations and will be able to plan wisely and strategically. In the software and technology spaces, which are always evolving and growth-oriented, it’s imperative to have a reliable management team, primarily to ensure that capital is being used wisely.
Says Sheth: “Every great business should have a great management team, and those management teams should always be thoughtful around when capital is available, [asking] ‘How can I spend it? Can I invest more and build better products faster? Or can I buy out some of my competitors or some interesting companies in our ecosystem so we can provide our customers more in the long term?’ So that’s how we evaluate whether there are great companies with great management teams.”
Living and Working in the New World
Even before COVID-19, remote working was becoming more and more popular. The trend certainly escalated during the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions on personal interactions.
Technology facilitates this disruption, from remote conferencing to cloud-based information systems. Working from home has its advantages, such as reducing carbon emissions associated with travel and opening opportunities for employers to access a greater pool of geographical talent.
Sheth points out that in software and technology, former hotbeds of quality staff may have to compete for talent. “They might be less important going forward because larger companies are going to be more open to looking for talent outside of where their headquarters are, recognizing that employees can be productive, and at least a lot of tech companies and other white collar jobs, from wherever they sit.”
The Importance of a Work-Life Balance in a Disrupted Workplace
One of the most important things to ensure when it comes to remote work is maintaining the all-important work-life balance. Contrary to what some shortsighted leaders might think, most employees seem to push themselves harder from home.
This could partly be due to an increased need for productivity during challenging times, but it’s also undoubtedly to do with blurred lines. The commute home from work was always the comedown, and home was the time to reconnect with family and friends and unplug. Now that the home and the office are one, challenges arise that may affect employees’ mental and emotional well-being.
“But look, I do worry about it,” Brian Sheth said on the Milken panel. “For many folks early in their career, these six months, which will probably end up being a year of Zoom-only work, are hugely impactful. And they don’t have as much trust as maybe the rest of us panelists do, and those things will change and get back to some version of normal, which will include in-person interaction and a little bit more in-person fun. And so I think it’s incumbent upon us, who’ve been around a little longer, to tell them that this too shall pass.”
Sheth predicts in time, businesses and employees will adjust to the new normal.
“The work from home dynamic will be a mix of work from home and in the office. Our employees have heard loud and clear that they don’t love it all the time, they miss one another, but they appreciate it sometimes,” Sheth says. “And so we’re going to see that, and we’re going to see that in our portfolio companies as we advance. Some of our companies — not all of them, but some of them — congregate around some of these high-cost living centers in the U.S., and what we’ve seen is a lot of our employees move during this pandemic to lower-cost areas, to areas that are more beautiful, more work-life balance.”