Graham Shapiro, CEO & Founder of Graham Shapiro Design
As an inventor, designer, digital entrepreneur and CEO of three businesses (and a charity!), Graham Shapiro is a busy man. He talks to The Industry Leaders about why adapting to change is important, and how his charity aims to help those suffering from mental health issues.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
I'm very fortunate and count myself extremely lucky to have been given the opportunities that I have had. At the same time, I have a strong work ethic and adopt the frame of mind that 'nothing is impossible'. I've also been fortunate with the clients who have placed their trust in me and my team. This has led to us working with leading international clients such as Fiat Chrysler, Philips, Stephen Webster, Siemens, Komatsu, Liverpool F.C, Clive Christian, CSIRO, Rolex, Rybrook, Samsung and The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award.
Looking back at the start, winning the pitch to deliver all of the European product brochures for Samsung was pivotal. This was truly a great platform to springboard my company onto a successful future.
It was never a conscious decision to be an entrepreneur and business leader; I always thought of myself as a passionate designer. I was not academically brilliant, but I could get on with people of all ages, had a good imagination and could draw. I never waited around for permission or approval, I was sufficiently self-assured to follow my instincts and, looking back, it's paid off.
What kind of work does your role involve?
I'm an inventor, designer, digital entrepreneur and CEO of 3 businesses and a charity, so it's quite varied!
I'd say my primary role, as a CEO, working with a portfolio of leading clients, is to share their challenges. It's about listening first and foremost, then anticipating what's happening in a fast-paced digital world and ensuring that they are 'future-ready.' I recognise that change is here to stay. This is something that we can all depend upon. So, for example, with that in mind, I advocate that we must lose the notion of marketing as a series of campaigns or designs. Instead, there will be an integrated series of perpetually evolving customer engagement processes. Consumers might reasonably expect a website to be a living relationship, one that will continue to evolve, just like any other relationship. This largely dictates the future of websites and new media innovation and my role - with my team's support - is to drive us forward so that our future will be as great as our past.
What gets you excited about your industry?
I'm excited about the future of design and innovation. It's evolving and developing at such a fast pace, and there are so many talented creative leaders, entrepreneurs and designers out there ready to collaborate and take us all forward. I'm excited about working with our valued clients, who are incredible. Many luxury companies with a great heritage, still have to use that brand equity to build a successful future, and I'm both honoured and excited to be asked to join them on that journey.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Start by doing what's necessary. Then do what's possible, and before you know it, you're doing what many would have thought was impossible!
Also, have a plan, own your plan, nurture and develop it frequently. Be prepared to incorporate change. Charles Darwin noted that "it was not the strongest or most intelligent that survive, it is those most adaptable to change." Nevermore applicable than the world we live in today.
Winston Churchill also said: "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often". I like that.
What, or who inspires you?
Those who overcome adversity inspire me most because they have courage, usually gained by surviving difficult times.
Young entrepreneurial people inspire me, too; my daughter Jade inspires me, all the time. I'm fortunate to meet young people in my capacity as Ambassador of Innovation at the University of Cambridge and never fail to be inspired by their energy, spirit and passion. I also serve as Entrepreneur in Residence at the Business School of the University of Chester, where undergraduates reveal hidden reserves of insight, confidence, coupled with resilience and tenacity - all qualities that I admire. So, what really inspires me is the scale of promise they all bring, with wave upon wave of enterprise and endeavour.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
I have a couple of tried and tested methods that are really no secret and all emanate from that most important commodity: respect.
I respect my excellent team, who are incredibly well informed, and I respect clients and the faith they place in me and the responsibilities that we share. My respect in people is closely aligned to my trust: this is the path to delegation, because being able to trust in people, the actions they recommend and the paths we choose to take, are inevitably based upon gathering and collating market intelligence from a rich variety of sources. This is how we stay up to date.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
I never shy away from challenges: I firmly believe that adversity is a form of learning and so, if anything, I actively seek out fresh new challenges and expect to be able to address them, constructively.
I was honoured to be invited to Bagshot Park to meet with HRH the Earl of Wessex, Chairman of Trustees, with the Duke of Edinburgh International Award Foundation. As a result, we now Partner with the Duke of Edinburgh International Award. This means that we are responsible for the integrity and substance that governs the Duke of Edinburgh International Award website in 130 countries, worldwide. This is both an honour and a responsibility that we embrace, with all the latent potential it holds for young people's futures and welfare everywhere.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
Considerable amounts of this money would go into The Graham Shapiro Foundation, a charity I set up to support mental health, well-being, innovation, and young entrepreneurialism in the UK. One of its main aims is to alleviate the suffering that many people endure from poor mental health.
Far too many in my view, suffer from mental anxiety and debilitating conditions such as depression. These conditions can be treated, and yet the scale of suffering remains immense. If anything, it has been exacerbated during Lockdown, as many are confined to home.
I would also like to change the way we think about dementia and Alzheimer's disease. This has itself become both a key objective and a key phrase, for the Foundation. We will use this as a rallying cry to persuade everyone to think differently about mental illness and specifically, dementia.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
My life does not really have a 'switch off' point. As a leader and entrepreneur, you are always thinking about things. I enjoy that, though I do like to get in relaxation time. It can be family time, meeting close friends, travelling, personal training, swimming, eating nice meals and the occasional glass or two of Malbec!
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
The recent pandemic has shown just how precious life is. If that one, single lesson could be recognised and acted upon, it would affect our industry's future, all our lives and indeed, probably every other sector. So, my wish is that our industry realises the enormous power and influence it has to bring about real and lasting change.
We now have greater communication levels than ever before, more opportunity to reach a wider audience than ever before, in more dynamic and invasive ways, and this is only getting bigger. World problems can be resolved, or at least discussed, more easily, and my wish would be that we realise we have a far better chance than ever before of reaching consensus on key issues that matter and affect all our lives.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
There are so many books and podcasts that have inspired me over the years. More recently, I'd recommend The Innovation Ultimatum: How six strategic technologies will reshape every business in the 2020s, by Steve Brown.
Brown said that we had to embrace electrification at the beginning of the 20th century, at the end of the century we had to understand digital technology, and now, at the start of the 21st century, our challenge is to embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI), without exception or delay.
He's right that AI will spark innovation and enhance and simplify the human interface. It will create new value and build products. Above all, it promises to join human talent with collaborative Artificial Intelligence. He has made a powerful case and, in my view, everyone should know what he has outlined.
How should people connect with you?
You can connect with me through my Linkedin profile:
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