C-Suite career advice: Roger Walton, Resistant AI – IDG Connect

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Name: Roger Walton
Company: Resistant AI
Job Title: Chief Revenue Officer
Location: UK
Roger Walton brings more than 25 years of experience in general management, sales, alliances and business development in Europe, North America and Asia. Before Resistant AI, Walton was General Manager – Americas for Quantexa, a global provider of technology for anti-financial crime. Walton was also Vice President of North America at WhereScape (data integration automation) and Vice President of EMEA at Triple Point Technology (global provider of commodities, trading and enterprise risk systems). He also held senior sales and management roles at Actimize, Fortent/Searchspace and IBM.
What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Empathy is the biggest one, understand and hear what other people are wanting and going through.  Listening is also so critical, there are clues in everything. By asking questions you get more knowledge, you have two ears and one mouth so use them in that order. Then there is preparation, which is everything. Whatever you are doing, whether it is an interview, presentation or similar – be as prepared for it as you can be. 
From a broader perspective, a personal piece of advice is to ensure you aren’t being over-focussed on what others are achieving. Be the best version of yourself in business and life, manage what you can control rather than longing for something you can’t achieve.
What was the worst piece of business advice you received? To go for the money!  I did Electrical Engineering at University and when I left I had some wonderful opportunities put in front of me like working with an oil exploration company in the middle of the jungle in Africa and the Far East. I also had a passion for music, especially sound engineering but no one encouraged me to follow that as they said there wasn’t any money in it. Instead I went for the money and got a management training job – yawn. Follow your passion is my advice, as even if the money isn’t great you are doing what you want to do. 
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Look at the broader picture and the opportunities it presents. Do what is important to you and follow your passions, not just the market. I’ve ended up in financial crime, more specifically anti-money laundering as it is something important to me that I feel strongly about preventing.
Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Absolutely not! I never set out to enter this market, but as a result of following the money I did. Once you are in an organisation however, you get exposure to so many different departments and areas of business such as sales, marketing, research etc. Following the money led me to selling, which became my strong point and eventually got me to where I am now. No path is 100% the right one, but make the most of each opportunity you have and you will reap the benefits.
What was your first job in IT/tech? It was with Digital Microsystems, selling software for local area networks. It was an ideal time within this sector and I was supporting sales teams and developing leads. I have lots of fond memories of that time and feel my technology background really helped to shape what came next. 
What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? People think that if you aren’t IT or tech focussed that you can’t work within such an organisation. However, if you have confidence in your ability and skills, you can take that anywhere and use it to your advantage. It goes back to preparation and building the appropriate relationships with people. There are many different types of successful people in many different roles, don’t let yourself get pigeonholed.
What tips would you give someone aiming for a c-level position? My first piece of advice is to not necessarily aim for a c-level position. If it is right for you, you will get there naturally. However, if you do have that goal then make sure you know how to delegate rather than trying to do everything yourself! You need to build trust from and with those around you in order to scale up and grow.
What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I think I probably have reached my career goals. Could I have been a CEO? Well you have to be super thick skinned and as the person at the top of the food chain it’s a lot of responsibility.  I have achieved what I have wanted to, I spent 20 years working to be able to drive a strategy, work with a team and complete a job. I always wanted a global role that functioned across departments, so I could drive that strategy rather than conform to it. 
Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I have never had a good work life balance, I’m not great at aligning to that despite knowing it is really critical. I use exercise as my way of unwinding but I could do better. I encourage my team to strike the balance, I don’t pester them in the evenings or expect them to respond to my emails.  Having respect for their work life balance is as important as having it yourself.
What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I’m not sure I would change anything as it’s been a wonderful journey and I’ve had so many great experiences. There have been amazing twists and turns but they have all given me lessons and experiences to learn from. Maybe I could be accused of not going for it sooner, and bigger than I did but I’ve certainly not held back. The most important things are my kids, anything I might have done differently might have meant I didn’t have them so I’m glad of the path I took.
Which would you recommend – a coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Coding bootcamp as it is more experience orientated rather than theoretically orientated.  However you can do anything with the right approach and attitude, it’s about learning new skills.
How important are specific certifications? There are pros and cons of each.  Qualifications are important but not the be all and end all of everything. 
What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Attitude, attitude, attitude. It’s not about subject or qualifications but attitude – how you approach something, how you feel about it and how you react to it are key. I did a workshop a while ago with Sony and IBM who were asked what they look for in new recruits. They said it’s not about the subjects or the qualifications but the people and their attitude. You can learn new skills but it’s hard to change your attitude.
What would put you off a candidate? Not listening or not wanting to listen. Everyone needs an open mind to listen and hear.
What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview?  How can those mistakes be avoided? Don’t try to over impress, just be the best version of yourself. Never try to compete with the person or people interviewing you.
Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? It depends on you, your passion and your interests – never lose sight of that. You can have wonderful careers in both, just believe and be true to yourself. 
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