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Quickfire Questions is a Forbes Advisor UK series in which business leaders share exclusive insight on their background, the secrets of their success, their hopes for the future, and what they would do if they were handed a magic wand
Asaf Navot was born in Israel and holds an MBA from INSEAD Business School.
After serving as an army captain, he worked as a strategy consultant at Bain & Company before founding property letting tech start-up Home Made, which serves both landlords and tenants, as well as build-to-rent developers.
He lives with his family in London.
What set you on the road to success?
I learned the value of hard work through sport. When I was 12 I became a professional swimmer. I trained for over 30 hours every week, all year long. Eventually, my hard work paid off and I started winning.
As a teenager, I became the national swimming champion in both the 100 and 200 metre breaststroke. I found that the harder I worked, the ‘luckier’ I got. This is a lesson I have carried with me ever since.
I have also had the privilege of working with some amazing colleagues throughout my career – outstanding professionals who possess a rare combination of world-leading talent and unimpeachable commitment to their ethics and values.
Each new chapter in my career might seem like a radical change, but the keys to success in each industry have always been the same. Namely, a strong culture, the relentless pursuit of excellence and collegiality.
Did you have a hero when you were younger?
Growing up in Israel, I admired Shimon Peres, the former President and Prime Minister, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Politics is complicated, but he was both a man of peace and a man of action who was never afraid to stand up for the things he believed in, no matter the political or personal price he had to pay.
He was a true visionary who saw beyond the immediate hurdles that had deterred so many others, and his tireless efforts brought those who had been bitter enemies together to work towards the goal of peace.
Do you have one now?
My parents are the best role models I could have hoped for. Their values guide me daily and they’re often the first people I call to consult with on business matters. My team would be surprised to know how well my parents know each one of them!
Do you get bored easily?
Our journey as a company has been so exciting so far that I haven’t had the time to get bored. I’m also highly focused in general – a skill I developed at Bain & Company, where I spent many long nights working on complicated Excel modelling.
A momentary lapse in attention to detail could have costly consequences!
Who do you admire in business and in life generally?
I admire people with tenacity, who fight to make things happen. In particular, I admire people who launch start-ups without a supportive socio-economic safety net.
It takes a special person to believe in themselves and embark on a risky journey filled with conviction that they can make a difference.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Direct but supportive. I prefer to empower individuals rather than micro-manage every function.
Home Made’s team is made of leaders and independent thinkers, so I measure my success as a manager according to my ability to allow team members to grow and develop on their own terms. I do that by providing direct feedback that is aligned with our company culture.
Leaders don’t have to be the loudest people the room but they do need to make critical decisions and own the end result.
I have no doubt that some of our team members will eventually launch successful businesses of their own and I hope that their experiences at Home Made will help them to achieve their aims, whatever these may be.
What are your ambitions?
I want to have a meaningful, positive impact on as many people as possible, whether they’re customers, team members, or partners.
I love our company mission as we’re helping people to find a home – the most sacred place for people, the place where they feel safe and create memories with their loved ones.
The process should be simple, fair and fun. Moving home is an exciting occasion that shouldn’t be made painful by an archaic industry, and it’s rewarding to make that dream a reality for so many renters.
My ambition is, ultimately, for Home Made to grow into the most trusted partner for people renting or letting their homes.
Do you believe in luck?
I do. However, I always do my best to affect outcomes where circumstances are within my control.
I’ve been told many times that I’m highly tenacious and I will always try to change my ‘luck’ as much as it is possible. My least favourite phrase is “this cannot be done.”
Quite often, you will find that things can be done; it just requires extra effort, heart, and resourcefulness.
What qualities do you look for in colleagues?
For me, the most important qualities are humility, authenticity, collegiality, boldness, empathy and a keen commitment to always doing right by the customer.
Having worked many years in strategy, I’ll be the first to admit that company culture is far more essential than strategy, on any given day. The moment you prioritise short-term objectives or values over your culture, you might win a battle but you will definitely lose the war.
Micro-manage or big picture?
That depends on when, and with whom!
My approach is actually quite simple – whenever I disagree with a colleague I ask myself two questions. One, ‘is it important?’ Two, ‘am I certain that I’m right?’
If it isn’t critical, I will explain my point of view but we will follow my team member’s suggestion so that they can learn and develop (and occasionally prove me wrong).
If it’s important but I don’t know that I am absolutely right, we will debate and form a consensus. In very rare cases where it is important and I know beyond doubt that I have the correct answer – I will call it out. This has only happened once since I founded Home Made.
If you want to breed leaders and empower people to make tough decisions, people need to know that you trust their judgement.
Do you think business is valued by society?
My view is that society equates commercial ambition with greed, so people are quick to make assumptions about the character and lifestyle of people who want to succeed in business.
I disagree. The most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders I’ve met all wanted to change the world – and only then did financial success follow.
Creating jobs and impacting customers’ lives is admirable in my eyes. I know that our 50-plus team members and their families, as well as the tens of thousands of Home Made customers, live a better life thanks to what we’ve achieved in the last three years. I hope we can do the same for many others in the future.
How do you think business will change from 2020 onwards?
I believe that coronavirus will accelerate certain cultural changes that were already in motion, such as the shift from high street retail to e-commerce, increasing numbers working from home and younger generations choosing to prioritise experiences over possessions.
I also believe that consumers today, myself included, show what are called ‘symptoms of immaturity’ and find it increasingly difficult to delay gratification. In other words: “I want it now, my way, with all the features, and for free!”
I think that coronavirus will accelerate this trend, and that companies who can cater for this need will emerge victorious. Mastering last-minute deliveries, increasing customisation and improving customer support are essential.
Any businesses that don’t constantly listen to the voice of the customer and fail to adapt accordingly could face extinction.
How would you like business to change from 2020 onwards?
I would like to see progress in three areas:
Inclusion: Employers who fail to include people with different backgrounds, beliefs, or identities will miss out on the richness of our society. As an example, our industry, real estate, is expected to cater for the needs of all parts of society but doesn’t necessarily have the same representation among its decision-makers.
Less regulation, better enforcement: Red tape and superfluous regulation pose an existential threat to many businesses, while basic standards are still not always being enforced. I would love to see business-friendly deregulation followed by greater enforcement to ensure necessary rules are respected.
Incentivisation of job creation: All indications suggest that we’re heading into a significant recession, so I would love to be able to employ more people and allow other employers to do the same.
Governments should consider bold measures to spur job creation. For example, offsetting National Insurance Contribution payments during a company’s first five years or allowing younger companies greater research and development reimbursement.
Here’s a magic wand – what are you going to do?
Provide free, high-quality education to everyone. Knowledge should be available to anyone seeking to learn, and education is the best way to create a truly meritocratic and innovative society.
What’s your favourite time of day?
Around 08:30, when the office starts filling with highly energetic and driven team members, all determined to change an archaic industry. You can literally feel it in the air each morning, and it’s incredibly invigorating.
The Home Made story is still in its opening chapter, and we have so much left to achieve as we change this bloated, archaic industry.
That said, one day it will be the time to move forward and pass the torch to the incredibly talented young team running the business. When that day comes, I will move on to do what I truly enjoy all over again – building a new company to disrupt another large, traditional industry.