Paul Monk, Group CEO, Alpha Development
About Alpha Development
Alpha Development was founded by experienced banking professionals with the aim of creating effective training solutions that accelerate the growth of early careers talent and generate high-performing teams and success in the financial markets.
Through their expert, global team of corporate training specialists, they deliver customised, experiential and innovative training programmes that teach, develop and inspire the best talent.
Q. Can you give us a brief introduction to your career background?
A. My background is very much focused on corporate learning within financial services, having started out working on top-tier graduate programmes within global markets. I then worked across several high-profile eLearning projects across financial services, before joining Alpha Development in 2012. I began as Commercial Director and Managing Director (APAC), before taking on the CEO role in 2019, where I’m responsible for the global operations and strategy of the firm.
The big questions
Q. What’s been your biggest success in your career?
A. Getting Alpha, both the internal team and clients, through Covid-19 is definitely up there, but I would say establishing our Asia business in Singapore, which is now our second-largest office after the UK HQ.
It’s the closest I’ve come to working on a start-up – having arrived in Singapore without a team, working from a home office. I was determined to build a local team who understood Singapore and the wider APAC region, which we’ve managed to maintain with over 90% of the Singapore team being from Asia. We’ve built partnerships with some really exceptional clients in Singapore, and the team has been recognised as a ‘Champion of Good’ for its corporate giving programme too.
Q. What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
A. I’ve now worked through two crises – the global financial crisis in 2007/8 and, of course, the recent pandemic. Through both, I learned to focus on what I could control, rather than statistics. It’s easy to look at scary graphs and feel that you can’t change things, but those are averages and don’t have to apply to you. Especially for SMEs, if your product adds value to your clients, then it should survive macroeconomics.
Q. What has been the biggest regret of your career?
A. I once quit a manager, rather than a company, and I wish that I had been more vocal to senior management about why I was leaving. It might not have made a difference, but it would have been a more honest way of dealing with it. Quitting managers is very common, and something we work with our clients to reduce.
Q. What has been the biggest learning opportunity of your career?
A. In March 2022, Alpha received a significant investment from BGF – a UK focused private equity firm. It’s been a big learning experience for me and the whole Alpha team, and it’s also been interesting to see how BGF focus on a much smaller set of KPIs than I imagined most CEOs would consider. That clarity has been very helpful in understanding what truly drives a company forward.
Q. Who have you learnt most from?
A. Two of the senior managers at my first role – one of whom also now works at Alpha. Put simply, they taught me that details matter, clients notice, and even if they don’t, it should be basic professional pride that ensures everything you produce is your best effort.
Something I learned later is that this means you need to entirely discard things that aren’t important, otherwise you end up just being mediocre at everything.
Q. What's the biggest challenge in your marketplace at the moment?
A. Financial services were already going through rapid changes pre-pandemic due to technological advancements, with changes to the way organisations operate and how their people get work done. It’s both a risk and an opportunity for employers and employees; existing roles are being displaced or eliminated by advancements in technology - including the rise of fintech - and new jobs and skill requirements are being formed. There is now also a rapidly widening skills gap, and shortage of talent from ‘traditional’ hiring routes such as business schools and top universities.
Tips from the top
Q. What advice would you give to your younger self?
A. Be more courageous. I’ve allowed people to tell me, and have told myself, to take an option which was less courageous than it could be. Courageous decisions will almost always produce a more interesting outcome, which will either benefit you, or be a superb learning experience. This is especially true when you’re in your 20s - a time to make mistakes (I made some, but not enough).
Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring CEO?
A. Ask yourself why you want to be a CEO. It’s a role that’s unique in having huge variability between one company and another, and with very little preparation for it. For me, I love it because it truly allows me to focus on others. Each of my executive team knows more and is more skilled in their role than I am, and so it’s my job to add value to that.
Q. What do you think is key to managing a successful team?
A. I would say two things. Firstly, a no-blame culture, meaning that people experiment more and own up to mistakes which allows us to fix them, learn from them, and move on. A culture of perfectionism is highly toxic.
Second is to ensure everyone is clear on your ‘non-negotiables’. I’m open to discussing and changing my mind on most things, but I have a few principles that are immovable. It’s unhelpful to not declare those, as they help your team to understand the person you are.
Q. What's your top tip for managing work-life balance?
A. Read any kind of research on creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. Overwork doesn’t work, and for me implies an individual, their manager, or the company is underperforming. Out of office hours, or on holiday, I don’t check my work comms – the team can contact me via my personal WhatsApp if they need to, but otherwise I’m offline.
This is something I ask my executive team to mirror, and to cascade across their teams as well. It’s also important to do some physical exercise every day, even if it's just a 10-minute walk outside.
Q. How do you see the CEO role changing in the next five years?
A. Purpose, belief, and taking your team with you are going to be even more critical in this new era of hybrid work. There is also a challenge within environmental social governance (ESG) which is being increasingly considered by all stakeholders, including investors, clients, governments, employees and the wider society.
Q. What technological advances do you foresee within your role?
A. We’re investing heavily in technology at the moment, with the primary benefit for my role being an improved understanding of our business. I believe almost every challenge is solvable, while the real issue is identifying the challenges and then prioritising their solving. The importance of data, including data visualisation and storytelling, will continue to be an increasingly large proportion of a CEO’s role.
Q. What do you see as the future of work in the UK?
A. Highly uncertain. It’s great that remote and hybrid working have become much more accepted, but my sense is that those who remain fully remote, particularly at larger organisations, will begin to feel a degree of isolation as life continues to return to ‘normal’. I don’t think that has yet received sufficient attention.
Love Mondays: at Reed we are on a mission to help everyone love their job
Q. What do you love most about your role and why?
A. People – both our team and our clients.
We have four offices across the world supporting clients in 10 key markets, and I’m deeply privileged to be one of the few people at Alpha who travels to all our locations and interacts with our team and clients there. That’s what tends to drive me forward.
Q. What does your average Monday look like?
A. I am usually based in our Singapore office, which means that every day starts before the rest of the world wakes up.
In Singapore, we’ve also implemented a ‘no morning meetings’ policy for internal meetings, so unless there’s a client event, I have time to take stock and prioritise the week ahead. Normally though – and this does sound nerdy – I think of something that I want to discuss with a UK-based or another global colleague, then wait patiently until it’s an acceptable time to call them up to talk about it!
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