An Englishman in… California

Reflections on working Stateside

Nick Bailey

By: Nick Bailey
Blog

Nick Bailey has recently returned to the UK having completed a 3 month assignment in California. It sounds like a very glamourous posting warm weather and a laid-back lifestyle but what was it really like? Here he tells us in his own words…

I led a specific project for a Californian client based in San Francisco as well as spending a week prior to that co-hosting an executive immersion visit to Silicon Valley for a UK based client. Firstly, let me share some general observations of the West Coast lifestyle:

  • Californians are super friendly, welcoming and polite.
  • It’s not always sunny in California! In fact, I arrived there when California was experiencing its wettest weather in 5 years. It followed a serious drought so the water was very welcome and left the landscape uncharacteristically green and lush. It’s also pretty frosty first thing in the morning in March…
  • There are many diverse cultures and backgrounds in California – I was often in meetings where none of the attendees were born in the United States. Coming from Britain was not unusual or at all different. I didn’t get much reaction to my accent.
  • Everyone drives everywhere, even across the road… And the often-extensive sidewalk network, where I was staying at least, was unused. The locals assumed I was too poor to afford a car because I walked so much!
  • Starbucks coffee tastes so much better in California than the drinks they prepare in the UK… perhaps it’s the climate! Starbucks became my go-to coffee shop of choice, not something I ever believed could happen.

What it’s like to work in financial services on the West Coast of the US?

In all honesty, not that different to London. Or at least not for this particular assignment… The issues, day-to-day challenges and working environment are all very similar to what I have experienced elsewhere, especially in the UK. Was the Silicon Valley influence on this traditional financial services company obvious? Not particularly, and perhaps in one sense, not unusual.

That said, if ever there was an opportunity to look to Silicon Valley for solutions to some of these traditional industry issues, it would be for an organisation based nearby. I think this says more about the relative priority (due to industry challenges, such as compliance) rather than the influence of being so close to the epicentre of technology innovation.

Are Silicon Valley executive visits all that?

One of our unique approaches to helping companies deal with disruption is hosting customised executive immersion visits in Silicon Valley. These address a very specific challenge the organisation is facing and provide a true immersion into our unique innovation network and the overall ecosystem that abounds in the area.

There’s no substitute for being on the ground in Silicon Valley and experiencing how early stage startups operate, supported by the incubators and venture capitalists. The need to gain traction quickly requires startups to operate in a way that yields results almost instantly and seeing this is hugely enlightening for teams used to large corporate ways of doing things. It is incredible to see the influence this has on leadership groups from traditional organisation structures and operating models. Seeing it first hand and discussing ways of working with startup founders and CEOs is very powerful. And it almost always leads to further requests from clients for help in implementing some of these ways of working, and in some cases, specific startup technology solutions, in their own businesses.

During my time in California, I was fortunate to be part of the host team for a UK based client, visiting Palo Alto and San Francisco. It really is eye-opening. The way we organise and execute a week-long visit with a dedicated agenda of startup, incubator and VC meetings linked with accommodation, catering and fun social activities is amazing and really demonstrates a great client experience.

Haven’t heard about our Silicon Valley executive visits? You owe it to your firm’s future success to find out more.”

We often include a design thinking session in our visit agenda, centred around a specific challenge the executive team are facing in their organisation… We are design thinking experts and we ran a day-long design thinking workshop for my visit. We can run these workshops in most locations and on this occasion, we based ourselves in Fact0ry, a design studio and workshop located near Alamo Square.

One of the key requirements for a successful design thinking workshop is access to suitable customers to test the prototypes the team design. Fact0ry sourced a contingent comprised a selection of the hip and trendy of today’s San Francisco – something that would be very difficult to recreate elsewhere. This provided a unique insight for the executive team to test their design with, and the our design thinking workshop was definitely one of the visit highlights.

We have now run over 10 of these visits for executive teams from the UK and Europe, as well as South Africa, and even the US. The attendee feedback is incredible and now I can see why. If you haven’t heard about our executive immersion visits, you owe it to your firm’s future success to find out more.

Expanding into the US

It was great to have a direct hand in recruiting some of our new US-based team members during my time in California and helping so many of the others to learn more about our firm, and the way we do things. Our presence in the US is growing from strength to strength, and we are now providing full consultancy services as well as hosting many executive team Silicon Valley immersion visits. It speaks volumes for the Elixirr ethos that our team on the ground in the US, led by Eric Rich, are already writing another chapter in our story so far.

My top three takeaways

My time in California was over all too quickly and I hope to be back there again soon. In the meantime, my top three takeaways from my time there are:

  1. Executive immersion visits to Silicon Valley are a great way of seeing a different type of working, as well as looking at new technologies. There’s no substitute for being there and experiencing it first-hand. Are the kool aid and the pixie dust real? That’s a great question! Absolutely! The challenge then is having the capacity and drive to implement the new ways of working when you get back home. We can help you with that. And we’d love to…
  2. We have a great team in the US and our capability is already extremely broad. We continue to grow fast, and we have a strong pipeline of talent to propel it further. Our first major US engagement is now in its second quarter, and the market is responding well to our approach. The future looks extremely bright…
  3. Working in financial services in California, or at least the Bay Area is not that different a place to work in than London. Sure, the weather is nice and generally more reliable, but the work environment is very similar. The perception that a traditional financial services business based close to Silicon Valley is in some way more advanced than similar businesses based elsewhere is not borne out by my experience.

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