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The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, you’ll hear from Izzy Silva, MD, APAC at Wolters Kluwer, on using EQ to good effect, making the vision visible, and data-led decision-making.

Izzy was born in Sri Lanka, moved to New Zealand when he was 9 but has called Australia home for the last 25 years.

He is currently the MD in the APAC region of Wolters Kluwer, a global information services and solutions provider focusing on health, tax and accounting, risk and compliance, finance and legal sectors.

Since graduating from Monash University with a Bachelor of Information Management & Systems, Izzy’s career has seen him take on roles at well-known organisations such as HP, Deloitte Australia, Telstra and Equifax.

His first CEO role came at GetCreditScore, a start-up based in Sydney. He has been at Wolters Kluwer APAC for nearly 4 years, having been promoted to MD from Chief Commercial Officer in late 2018.

In this episode we talk about:

  • How his EQ is his secret sauce and how he uses it to lead change;
  • Living and breathing the vision and setting the example;
  • Why data is the key to realising client and company value; and
  • The technological future of privacy, diversity and creativity.

Connecting with Izzy Silva

You can connect with Izzy via LinkedIn

Books and resources

“Where I've seen people fall over is where they change course halfway through. My process has always been to define a process, get people to agree and believe in it, and create milestones. It's much like a golfer; you don't just change a swing because you've had a bad round.”


On using EQ to good effect

  • I'm a big believer in people and so my EQ has helped me greatly in working through tough times when it comes to business and understanding a problem from a different perspective.
  • I have a close affinity to how people behave, the empathy it drives, bringing teams together and how culture is at the core of that; having that common North Star and getting a strategy in place, but also executing on it and having fun in the middle of it.

On communicating your company vision

  • I have to lead from the front, but it all falls over if you don't have an executive team to lead it with you. You still need to have the enablers at different levels of the business carrying your message forward and being very clear with your/their communication.
  • You’ve got to make people believe in the journey you're taking, and living and showing people that it's possible.
  • We were going through a cost reduction exercise and as an exec, you don't want to be seen as being held to a different level. People used to travel a lot in this organisation and at a certain level, you travel business class. To make it very visible I said, I am no longer travelling business class, just pick the cheapest flight and I'll reduce my cost by X. So that shows that I'm committed to the cause and I'm contributing to the cause. It may have made like a 1% difference, but it's the fact that I believe in living for that vision.

On the challenges of being a CEO

  • Every day is different, and to be a leader at an organisation, you're going to have to embrace that change aspect of it and also being able to think on your feet.
  • As a CEO, you get a sense of the entire business. When you're going up through the ranks, you tend to see just laterally and maybe levels below and not really anything further up, so CEO is a unique viewpoint. You see others that used to be in the position that you were a few years ago, or early in your career and you figure out oh, this is how I felt when I was at that level. It really enables you to build people's careers, build people's dreams, and also be authentic in that process.
  • The pandemic made it really clear that you need a support network, I think at every level. For me, sometimes it's better to talk to someone that is not from business.
  • The reality is the best learning experiences are ones that you fail at and you realise actually you’ve just got to get up and go. My team had this vision for a certain product that we wanted to take forward. We could see the value that it would bring to the clients, we could see the numbers, we could see it attaching to the strategy, but we got stopped at a certain level. At that stage we didn't know why, but I moved on from that organisation pretty soon after that. But then I look back on it now and realise the reason that it didn’t get up is because there were blockers further up. Political, structural, all of that. But you don't see it because you're not at that level.

On his favourite interview question

  • “You have the ability to hit this year's number and achieve a bonus for your team and the entire business. But it comes at a cost and the cost is you get the bonus this year, but it will negate any chance of the team getting a bonus next year. How do you handle this situation? So you'll get paid now and so will your team, and you'll be a hero, but by doing whatever it is, it will hurt you all next year. How would you handle that situation?”
  • The candidate’s answer gives you a perception of whether they want to become a hero now and help everyone out, and worry about a problem later. Or whether they can construct a middle ground or whether they could defer to someone else to make that decision in the business. It really gives you a view of how they think, and how their decisions or actions impact culture.

On the technological impact of the pandemic

  • The pandemic probably accelerated some of the existing trends. Ultimately businesses had no choice because everyone just went home and you had to continue the business. The only way to get through it was through technology. Typically, you need one or two bigger players, one or two industry leaders to take the jump, and then it quickly follows.
  • The data that each organisation and each individual generates, as their footprint grows, is valuable for many reasons. And the value is actually not in the data it generates, but the insights that it drives and how those insights can be used to make better decisions to drive consumer or business benefits.
  • The layer now we are moving towards that we see is automated decision-making, which is the robotic process automation or natural language processing or artificial intelligence that sits on top of that, which makes the professionals make those decisions even faster.
  • It’s a pyramid; we're moving up and technology's enabling us to move up even harder, faster to get to that decision and be able to make that decision very quickly from anywhere in the world. So technology is a massive enabler, and I think it will only accelerate in the next few years.
  • Things get normalised over time. Remember when PayPass first came out on your credit card, and everyone said, “No way am I going to do this…” And now when you go to the coffee shop, everyone's got a mobile phone with them and using it.
  • There is also a moral situation that you’ve got to watch with data and obviously security and cybersecurity plays a big role here. And there's a bias aspect to data as well. We're all human beings ultimately, that's making that final decision.

On machine learning/AI

  • We're not there yet where the machine is making the final decision; it's still just a machine enabling humans to make the decision. So there's still quite a lot of human emotion, human bias that goes into the decision-making process. You also have to understand the cycles of society, and that we go through lots of these iterations through history.
  • I was working in a company about 15 years ago now and the company itself had a data lake, but they didn't actually know what it was! They just had a whole lot of data and it was sitting across disparate systems such as point of sale or website analytics or call centre data etc. But within all of that was insights that you could drive and generate value for the business as well as the client. What the business leader did was to create a rudimentary view by pulling all of this data together in a data warehouse and interrogating it and building some outputs/reports. That really got the execs to sit up and ask, “What does that mean? What can we use?” It was seemingly out of nowhere, but the data was just a byproduct and it was just sitting there all along.

On the intersection of privacy, creativity and bias

  • There are still biases within all the products that get developed and pushed out to market. But you’ve got to have protection layers built in so that people can either opt out if you don't want something. Historically, it wasn't that way, but nowadays you can choose what appears on your various feeds.
  • The world is starting to evolve and understand that you can't really write out the bias in products because there is still a human element. But organisations at least should give some of the control back to the consumer so that they’re not just locked in. 
  • As a leader, you also have to create an environment which fosters creative thinking. You need the creative minds sitting around a table when these things get surfaced to make the decisions about which way you go, because the direction you take spawns new products and services.
  • Typically, certain backgrounds, ages, cultural influences etc will have a certain slant to how they absorb the information provided to them. So the more diversity you can get in that thinking process, the better outcome you're going to get as a product because it's then representative of society. That's the bit that execs need to grasp and that will make your product or service applicable to a greater audience.

On leading teams

  • A lot of businesses have great intentions to start off with, but they lose intensity as time goes on. People get distracted for various reasons, just like with new year's resolutions.
  • So you have to make sure that there are regular touch points, regular training, and you have champions to drive an outcome or adopt new or embed old processes or systems.
  • Reward and recognition also plays a role here. A pitfall is that leaders forget to learn from their mistakes and also celebrate their successes. The more you do those things, the more reaffirming it is for the organisation that you’re on the right track.
  • A lot of people question the executive (often silently or amongst peers) why their leaders are doing certain things. It's a fair question and we've actually been conditioned over the last two years to think that way even more so.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders 

  • Change is here to stay so you’ve got to be comfortable with that, but also feel comfortable that there are solutions to get through the process. So my one bit of advice is not to be overawed by change.
  • Be consistent – that will help you get through a challenging time. And it's good for your own senses too as it will help you to believe in yourself and know who you are and what you stand for. I've seen a lot of people try to be who they're not and sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn't.

Stay epic,