How to Lead a Company Turnaround to Success

When an organization is underperforming there are only a few options to consider. Either you take the deliberate decision to close the doors, or you can fight by challenging the status quo, the modus operandi, the strategy, and whatever else is necessary to restore the company’s livelihood. A successful turnaround will require a strong management team and a sound business proposition as well as the trust and support of both the company’s employees and shareholders. I was excited to host Haytham Kaddoura during my show “World Class Leaders.” Haytham is Dubai-based and currently the CEO of SmartStream Technologies. He has experience in investment advisory, asset management, corporate restructuring, strategy formulation, and execution for boards of some of the most prominent corporations across the GCC and the greater Middle East and North Africa region. SmartStream Technologies is a global recognised leader in financial transaction management solutions with over 2,000 clients. The company provides a range of solutions for the transaction lifecycle with artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies embedded. I also had the pleasure to assist Haytham and his leadership team recently helping his Product Dev Leadership Team to develop strategic thinking, a new strategy, priorities, market solutions and product lines.

The lessons from SmartStream Technologies turnaround

Before being appointed as a CEO, Haytham got involved as a board member and this was a critical step for him because it allowed him to see the potential of the organization and how to make changes. In fact, in just six months after becoming the CEO, he brought the company out of the real and regional profitability. Not just that. Haytham had supportive shareholders who believed in his capabilities and skills and overall allowed him to achieve:
  1. Higher margins
  2. Higher revenues
  3. Growth opportunities for his team
  4. Better technological advancements within their services
The secret behind success, in this case, is having a formidable team that is just as motivated and driven as you are. “We’ll do what’s good for the organization, but we will always take care of the people”

It starts from the culture

Having both a reliable team along with shareholders’ trust are two important parts in a successful turnaround but you can’t get great results without touching your company’s culture. Indeed, culture must be changed if you want to make a successful turnaround. Haytham did realize this was necessary and he empowered and involved people in the change. Here’s what he recommends:
  • Create a forum where employees feel safe to express their ideas
  • Build an open-door policy with your people. This will show them that if the leader is accessible then everyone else should be too.
  • Create an environment where people love what they do and want to keep driving the organization forward.
“Allow your people to have a vested interest in the success of the business”


But when it comes to making massive changes in the organization, here’s when resistance kicks in. It is within human nature to resist change. As a leader, you can no longer use the mindset of ‘survival of the fittest. In today’s times, you will need to realign your thoughts to ‘survival of the most adaptable to change’. “If we stay where we are, we will never grow” Give people the space and safety they need to experiment, try new things, make mistakes. If you build a culture that is based on “no repercussions” on people even when they fail, your employees will look for opportunities to be creative and build innovation for your business. The fear of failure should not determine whether or not you keep pushing forward. “We are not afraid of failing, it happens so we can learn”

Get your clients involved

During these macro changes, some organizations shut the doors to the external world. They spend weeks or months building a new strategy, team, and marketing proposition. Actually, if you involve your clients as Haytham did, the results are much better. SmartStream put the clients at the core of their turnaround strategy. They spend time hearing their thoughts, expectations and suggestions. Besides, they offered well-tested solutions that gave them peace of mind and reinforced their leadership in the marketplace. But SmartStream had another challenge. The company operates in a conservative market such as banking. Haytham realized something very critical to deal with this issue. He found there are two types of people within an organization: the visionaries, and the pragmatists: – Visionaries work on a longer-term (between a 5 and 10-year horizon) with the intention of having an effect on the outcome that will happen slowly and over this period of time. But this comes at a cost of delayed return on investment. – The pragmatists will spend money today on something that will have its benefits within the next 5 years. There should always be a balance between the two. This can be done by deciding which one of these goals is more important to your organization at the time. The message here is loud and strong. Know your customers inside-out. “It simply is not easy to turn a battleship, everything has to be done in a measured way.”

The turnaround and the hybrid work (that keeps its doors open)

Can hybrid work hurt a company during change? With modern technology, there is no excuse to not be accessible. For Haytham, it is as simple as pressing a button and meeting with someone, who might even be on the other side of the world – time zone allowing. You can encourage a 20-30% increase in their capabilities within the workplace just by creating accessibility. There should also be more room for increasing experiments and when they do not work you should learn to take the knock but get back up. Here are some tips on enabling your teams to become more successful working remotely:
  • Cascadia workshops – which is essentially the balance between money and life. Finding a balance is key to your effectiveness and overall performance.
  • Have reasonable expectations for your team members when working with different time zones.
  • You need to respect people’s time, family occasions, personal appointments because they will feel more engaged and appreciated.
Remote working has been clearly very successful for SmartStream but Haytham agrees there are obvious benefits in working in the office. Allowing for casual conversation at the water cooler, or interaction with colleagues while making coffee has tremendous value for people and cannot be replaced whilst sitting at home. People can become easily dispensable when they are not physically there, that’s not what your organization should be built on. Your company culture should not be dependent on this factor either. company culture should not be dependent on this factor either. Your employees are always your best asset. Before ending the podcast, I asked Haytham the traditional 5 closing questions: What is the number one lesson you have learned through your years of experience within your career? Listening. Knowing that nobody knows everything. Just sit there, listen for real judgment. But listen carefully. What is one thing you might have done differently in your career? In my early days, in my career, I made some decisions that were purely financially driven. Don’t give up on your passion because you want to make more money. If you find yourself in a good place, and you’re effecting change, and it gives you the buzz and vibe, stick to it because it’s extremely rare to come by again. What was your best performance ever? Whether as a CEO or before, And what was in place which allowed this level of performance? The buy-in from my shareholder and team, funded my success when I was stepping in as a new CEO. I think it should be the first 100 days, the second 100 days, the next 100 days etc. My on-going question has been: What am I going to do in the next 100 days to deliver impactful results and ensure that everybody’s buying it as if I’m just stepping into this business? Which idea leader do you turn to for inspiration? I’m gonna be a bit biased. I’ve learned a lot from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed. If you look at the Dubai story, they’ve never shied away from challenge or trying something new. You might say learn from the failure, build on it and, and evolve. That can exemplify how having that vision and chasing your vision delivers results, making sure you have the right people around you to advise you and guide you. What is your favorite business book that has helped you across your career? “Who moved my Cheese”. It always gives you the perspective of “am I in the right place doing the right thing?” “Am I just too comfortable where I am?”. That book works from somebody who just started on their journey to somebody who’s been in the industry for 30-40 years. That gives you that 5-10 minutes of sitting back and reassessing your performance. How are you performing against what you’ve done before? Or what do you want to achieve? Yeah, simple book, nothing fancy. But it delivers much, much, much more profoundly.

To connect with Haytham Kaddoura, you can connect with him on Linkedin:

Find out more about SmartStream Technologies:

To listen to the full podcast click here 013: How to Lead a Company Turnaround to Success with Haytham Kaddoura – Andrea Petrone If you want to receive our weekly insights via email, subscribe today at:
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