“I was great at the tech but running a business was a whole different experience” Mario Thomas CDir, Global Principal Executive Coach & Trainer, Amazon Web Services
Mario Thomas began his tech career when the internet was in its infancy. He became a Chartered Director with the IoD to learn how to run his own business, and now articulates how cloud can transform business to global C-Suites at Amazon Web Services. He believes the cloud is leveling the playing field for businesses of all sizes.
I finished school in 1994 when the internet was just emerging. I’d always loved technology and its potential and wanted to go to university to understand more about it. I started an HND in Computing but was moved onto the software engineering degree course by the head of software engineering who was impressed by the gaps I found in the university’s clearing system!
Part of my degree included a year in industry; where I built the UK’s first online regional newspaper website for The Leicester Mercury. After graduation, I joined a venture capital backed buyout of over 100 regional newspapers as chief digital officer, taking the entire group online for the first time and venturing into ecommerce and payments tech. By the time the business was sold in 2002, the commercial opportunities of the internet were obvious and I realised my skills were in demand. I set up my own tech business to help organisations launch online businesses in the business-to-consumer, and business-to-business space.
I was great at the tech but running a business was a whole different experience. I didn’t know how to raise an invoice and I was paying bills from my savings. Having your own business can be very hard, and lonely but as managing director, I didn’t feel I could talk to my own team about what was keeping me up at night. It was the first time I’d felt like I was failing at what I was supposed to be good at.
Fortunately, the IoD was able to provide exactly the support I needed, starting with training. I signed up for the Certificate in Company Direction and quickly learned how to organise my business. I found the modular approach offered by the IoD helpful and I completed the Diploma in Company Direction in 2005, followed by my election to Chartered Director in 2006.
Part of that learning was understanding what skills I needed on the board to support me, this was the most transformative moment for me. One of my first appointments was a non-executive director head of finance who became my right-hand person for more than a decade, helping me grow the business with clients like The Coca-Cola Company and Gulf Oil International.
Becoming a Chartered Director felt like the personal challenge I needed at the time. Something to have in my ‘back pocket’. More importantly it enabled me to see the whole picture and view my business strategically. Being a Chartered Director has helped me overcome self-doubt as well as opening numerous doors into interesting NED roles.
Around 2009, I got very excited about the cloud and could see the potential for it to transform business. The cloud has democratised access to IT and made it possible for anyone to realise a business idea quickly. The best illustration of this was witnessing start-ups and small businesses launching new apps and customer touch points during lockdown. None of that would have been possible without the cloud.
Inspired by possibilities of technology once again, in 2015 I changed my career path to join Amazon Web Services, initially in their Professional Services team where I developed several products which allowed customers to evaluate how best to adopt cloud, and then leading the Global Business Advisory practice. Most recently, I’ve become Principal in the Executive Centre of Excellence where I combine my tech knowledge, consultancy skills, and business understanding to help our global field sales teams to articulate our value proposition to customer executive stakeholders in global c-suites. There is still a lot to do in the c-suite; there is a digital skills gap in the board, and the recent developments around machine learning and artificial intelligence adds even more urgency to addressing those gaps to ensure boards can respond in this new hyper-speed environment. The cloud is the enabler of this and can drive better business outcomes. Being a member of the IoD and a Chartered Director puts me in a great position to communicate this to both current and future business leaders.