Arash Shoari Nejad, Executive at Motion Metrics based in Vancouver, BC, is a leader focused on growth and passionate about building teams. He has vast experience from his time at General Electric (GE), running multi-national sales teams and Rockwell Automation, making different heavy industries more productive and reliable. Working his way up - and around the world - he was ultimately responsible for leading a $2 billion sales region at GE.
He is currently working on growing Motion Metrics - a private technology company leading the market in AI-based image and video processing cameras in the mining sector. At Motion Metrics, Arash leads global sales, marketing, services, and operations.
I spoke to Arash around the time he completed his first six months at Motion Metrics. He has set ambitious targets for himself and the company and is already looking ahead to meeting and exceeding those. I started by asking what he enjoys about this latest challenge in his career, and how he goes about managing and motivating teams based around the world.
"We have offices stretching from Australia to Russia, Africa, and Latin America. In short, my job is to inspire people and determine where and how we need to position ourselves to grow five-fold as a company and deliver more value to our customers. I live for challenges, and that's the challenge that attracted me to leave S&P 500 to work for a private and small firm.
Every day, I get up between 4 to 5 am. I spend the early hours contemplating. If I need to do something that requires attention and concentration, that's when I get it done; eating my "Frogs" early morning as Brian Tracy would refer to those must-do tasks. The rest of my days is meetings with scheduled intervals to respond to messages.
Meeting after meeting may seem like a very inefficient way to spend time, but meetings are when I can build trust, create inspiration, and give directions. If I can help any of my team members move an inch forward, I've contributed, and I've helped them grow. That sums up my daily business activity.
Working from home, communicating with remote teams, is something that most of the workforce has had to adapt to in the past year or so. It is no different for Nejad though communicating with remote teams is something that is almost second nature to him at this point, and his dedication to connecting with his team and ensuring that they are happy and motivated remains key to his work.
"My team is about 50 growing to 60 in the next four weeks. Team members are spread all over the world, and I've never met 90% of them. I lose a lot of information when not meeting face to face, and my EQ sensors had to be resharpened for the digital-only world.
What makes me happy is making others happy. It sounds like a strange thing to say for someone in my role in business. But if I go to bed knowing that I put a smile on someone's face, aligned someone's career with their passion, or made someone happier at work, I feel accomplished. I feel like I did something great, and that keeps me going even if I only have digital platforms available to me."
Nejad enjoyed a 15-year career at GE, which saw him move up the ladder and all around the world. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Behind his impressive resume lies a story of hard work, determination, and commitment. From his first job at Radio Shack, to Nortel and GE, I wanted to find out what those experiences have taught him, and how they have informed the work he's doing today with Motion Metrics.
"I grew up in the Prairies in Calgary with my parents fueling my curiosity and eagerness to solve a challenge. When I finished electrical engineering school, the headquarters for GE automation was stationed in Calgary. I had offers from several oil and gas companies, and based on my parents' recommendations, I joined GE. At the time, GE was the largest company in the world by market cap. Under Jack Welch's leadership, it had grown to be a conglomerate like today's Amazon or Apple, which was in the news every day. It was exciting as an engineer to join them. They were an organization driven by results, pushing every individual to perform better than yesterday. If you were given a task and you accomplished it, they would come back with twice as much and say, 'here you go.' It felt like they were pushing you towards the limits where you would fall apart and say, okay, that's enough.
I was a very driven person, and I hated failure, so I kept saying yes. I was relocated nine times by the time I was moved to Vancouver. I like to tell people I have an 'M.B.A.,' Master of Being Around! I've lived pretty much in every corner of the planet, which has opened my eyes to globalization and how we operate worldwide. It's different from just reading about it - experiencing the social challenges and how people interact is essential for building trust. Part of building trust with anyone, whether it's a customer or an employee, is to create rapport and equality. To understand how to be equal to someone in Russia, Australia, or Africa, you must understand them first. My M.B.A. has helped me figure out the social challenges of leadership.
Back to my GE career and in 2005, after being stationed in Italy and Russia, I started taking sales and marketing courses within GE. They had a university, set up by Jack Welch, to teach leadership to employees and educate the leaders of tomorrow. I started managing a $25 million P&L, a set of products with top-line and bottom-line goals. Those product lines grew over time to $150 million, and eventually, I reached the corporate team at GE, where I was part of the Global Growth Organization (GGO). GGO performed the well-known functions of finance, sales, marketing, and HR under a veteran corporate leader, John Rice, to grow GE. How do you grow a company that sells MRI/CAT diagnostics, locomotive engines, gas turbines, and aircraft jets, all at once? It was in GGO that my perspective of the world and how things worked dramatically changed.
GGO moved me to the Middle East, the second largest region for GE outside the United States in terms of revenue. I learnt to be successful by lobbying governments and large organizations to sell solutions valued in billions of dollars. The number of zeros in a deal increased quite a bit for me at that point in my career. I became proficient in aligning the interests of governments, consultants, local manufacturers, and GE to sell billion-dollar contracts.
Politics was a vital aspect of doing business, especially in the Middle East, working for an American company, and being a Canadian. Doing business with one country meant that you might lose the relationship with another customer in another country because something was going on behind the scenes amongst the politicians involving complex societal and religious parameters. The ever-changing dynamics were exhilarating to me and made me who I am today."
Talking with Nejad, it is clear that he has a deep affection for his time at GE and the organization that provided the challenges and opportunities in his career. But in 2017, the company restructured their operations and eliminated the Global Growth Organization that had been the best part of his GE career. And while he admits that considering a move away from the company that had given him so much as a "challenging moment" once he had made the decision, he set about finding a role that could fulfil his ambitions.
"I had worked most of my life at GE. Being in that large corporation and going into aviation one day and healthcare another day, I didn't have to look anywhere else to find challenges. In 2017 Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, stepped down, forcing a significant change. My first manager at GE, Simon Wong, put me in touch with the president of Rockwell Automation North America, Tessa Myers, which led me to Vancouver to start my 2nd S&P 500-career.
The cultures were completely different. That took me a while to grasp, and as they say, I was a fish that didn't know what water was. A couple of years passed, and I made significant headway inside Rockwell Automation, and then COVID hit. I had a fantastic team at Rockwell, and we were growing despite the pandemic, but I felt like something was wrong. The pandemic gave me the time to think about my life differently. I began taking courses at The Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. I learned the concept of positive psychology and the science of happiness, courtesy of Dr. Martin Seligman. That brought me to a point where I realized I needed to find a challenge to grow much faster. I needed to be behind a steering wheel of a speed boat.
I began to explore the idea of moving to the United States, but my family had endured enough moves. I met with an excited and successful inventor and CEO [Dr. Shahram Tafazoli] in Vancouver, and we both wanted to reach for the stars knowing we could get there. I looked into the culture of the company, and the way they operated was a perfect match."
Vancouver-based Motion Metrics is primarily a tech company, which has focused its expertise on the mining industry in a number of exciting ways. A quick scan of the website reveals ambitious projects for autonomous operations, space mining, and a host of IoT and video analysis applications. As someone completely new to the industry, I asked Nejad if he could explain a bit more about the work they do and what challenges Motion Metrics aims to solve in the mining industry.
"Motion Metrics has invented ruggedized cameras that can be placed at the harshest places on earth, such as open-pit mines. We have learned how to turn those videos and images into actionable information through artificial intelligence, deep learning, and cloud computing. We have solved some of the toughest mining challenges, and we're only getting started mining the data.
As a simple example, there are massive shovels at the mines that fill their buckets with 100 tons of material using enormous teeth that engage into the ground. The teeth can break and damage the crushing facilities or the belts. Broken teeth can also pose a safety risk because if a broken tooth gets stuck, workers have to manually remove it, which has unfortunately led to a loss of life. Motion Metrics was the first and is now the leading supplier of missing tooth detection on the shovels and loaders.
That was just one example. Once we implement our ecosystem at the mines with cameras in various process locations, the mines become more productive and sustainable while becoming safer. We have a project in Kazakhstan that Sustainable Development Technology Canada supports.
For me, coming from heavy industries, the mining industry is no different than oil and gas, forestry, pharmaceutical, or automotive. All of them have a very similar set of challenges. Their experts are gone, and they can't get new ones. Generation Z that are joining the workforce doesn't want to stay in jobs for 40 years. The average tenure of the new generation within the S&P 500 is two and a half years. Previously, operators were hired and taught how to operate the shovels. It took a few years until they become proficient, and then they'd stay there for 40 years. That's going away if it hasn't gone away already. Then there is the lack of capital. Capital used to be readily available in the heavy industries, but it's moved away from them towards software firms. You recall Instagram and Twitter being valued in the billions; these valuations do not exist in the heavy industries, and they do not have access to capital like Google or Apple.
Problems don't end there, and then there is the earth with dwindling resources. In the mining world, they now have to dig a lot more to produce the same amount of material as in the past. Therefore, costs are going up, and corporations need to be more profitable than the year before, so it's highly challenging for mining companies to operate.
We are there to help but, it is a communication challenge. We are a software company with AI-assisted 3D cameras, and they're in the business of digging the ground. They have a very different set of skills and expertise than we do, and I'm trying to bring us together. That's the real trick."
Combining diverse experiences and skillsets is nothing new to Nejad, and he is clearly excited about the new adventures he has ahead on his new speedboat. As someone who embraces challenges and finds the process of being thrown in the deep end exciting, I was excited to hear what he thought his biggest challenges had been to date, and what impact that had on his career and perspective.
"I would say every day is a challenge for me, and that's why I get up. If I look back to some of the toughest challenges I had to endure and overcome, it was being thrown around from geography to geography. The experience gave me alligator-like skin. We are a world apart in how we live in North America, not worrying about safety and security, things that we take for granted despite what you see on the news. Try travelling through Pakistan while planning a trip to Afghanistan to meet with the Minister of Energy and then learning that the meeting location exploded the week before you were supposed to be there. Risks are very relevant when navigating a global corporate career, and with a family, it's more apparent.
Having corporate mentors is essential. That's probably something that I missed early on in my career. To have an experienced leader who's seen so much more than you have, having the ability to call him or her and say, 'I'm going through this, can you help me?' is superbly important.
As Simon Sinek says, infinite learning is also imperative. Things change so much globally, and it's not enough to have just a plan B. You need plans C, D, and E. The speed of change has accelerated so much over my 20-year career that it's even unbelievable to me. The US Military calls it the VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous). I've heard some people talk about the increasing speed of change in reference to Moore's Law. What we experienced during 2020, which was radical and extreme, could be experienced all at once in one day in 10 years. Intense planning is required, and you have got to get yourself ready for anything."
It's a sobering thought, and a prospect that many in the world would struggle to cope with. But Nejad speaks calmly and assured that with proper planning, preparation, and the right mindset anything is possible.
"I took up sailing here, and I love being by the ocean. It has taught me so much. When you're out in the middle of the ocean, there's nothing you can do with the wind, it blows in any direction it likes, at whatever speed it likes, but you can adjust your sails. We need to have our sails in place and make sure we catch the right wind at the right time to go from A to B and avoid drowning."
It should come as no surprise to learn that Nejad is invested in leading not only effective but happy teams. And as someone with experience in leading global teams, remotely and around the globe, I asked him how he would describe his leadership style and what advice he would give to other aspiring leaders looking to lead the next generation in the workforce.
"My leadership style transformational. It's the type of leadership where change is the only constant. I always say to people, growth and comfort are allergic to each other. You can't be comfortable and grow at the same time. So, my leadership style is putting people in their uncomfortable position but in a positive way. You need to get out of your comfort zone to grow.
I lead by example. I roll up my sleeves, and if I have to pack a box or put a wire in a panel for the team to win, I'll do it. The other aspect that's important about transformational leadership is doing it on an individual basis, customized, and deep within your team because they're all different. Each team member is unique in their own way and has their passions, weaknesses, and strengths.
Apart from understanding organizational psychology for any aspiring leader, you have to learn positive psychology and how it works in an organization. To most, a psychologist is typically concerned about removing misery from someone's life. But what about happiness? If you hire a landscaper to come to your garden, they pull all the weeds from your garden. That doesn't make it pretty. Someone needs to go and plant flowers, design them to make them beautiful. A lot of psychology in the past was around removing the weeds from our lives. But it didn't make people happy. Aspiring leaders need to make their team members happy through the science that's been developed over the last 100 years.
The other thing that I've been pushing for a long time is to remove the word' manager.' It belongs to the 60s as you can't manage people anymore. All you can do is inspire them to be better, to do what you want them to do. I've started to remove the title of manager from people's positions. Everyone I hire goes through a process to see what kind of leadership skills they have, even if they're an individual contributor.
One last piece of advice I would give is to reach out and network. During exhibitions where people used to gather, you would see a CEO or a VP. If you're young and early in your career, it's hard to say 'hello' and ask for something. It's hard to hear rejections, and some people are going to tell you to go away. But you will learn from every interaction and as Adam Middleton would say to me: network, network, network".
Of course, I could not let Nejad go without asking him for some words of wisdom. It's the question we ask everybody that we speak to. And with such a diverse range of experiences - from Vancouver to the Middle East and everywhere in between, I asked Nejad for three key takeaways from his journey so far.
1. Live your life as if today is your last. I used to think way ahead but looking ahead too much makes it harder to appreciate what you have today.
2. Focus on learning. Learning should be infinite and continuous. It is needed to help us adjust, grow, and focus on our goals and aspirations.
3. Be happy. Purposefully build your life around happiness. It's one of those things that we don't think about very much. There's science behind it so you can learn it, apply it, not just to yourself, but to people around you. It's called positive psychology.
Speaking of psychology, Nejad has clearly developed a passion for the topic, and I was curious to hear how he had applied this science to himself and those around him, and he shared a brilliantly simple approach he uses to work on his own emotional intelligence while spreading a little joy in the world. Give it a try!
"I spent a lot of my time at airports, and I realized it's a waste of time to sit or stand. So, every time I got in a queue, I started to look for ways to make a person behind me or in front of me laugh. The measure of success was easy. If I made them laugh, it was an accomplishment, and if I didn't, we'd go our separate ways. It was also helpful to society as we all need to laugh more.
I wasn't very good at it in the beginning. I had maybe a 20% success rate, but you have got to keep going. By the end of it, I was probably at around 90%. I was able to look at someone's behaviour, what they were saying on the phone or to someone else, pick up on something and come up with a way to make them laugh. I had plenty of time in queues, so I thought that was too easy after some point. I began to do it in the elevators, where I had a time limit. In an elevator, you're down to 20 or 30 seconds. Eventually, you unconsciously learn to read others and pay close attention to every detail."
You can find out more about Arash Nejad and Motion Metrics here: https://www.motionmetrics.com/