Are university degrees relevant to high-level leadership?

'For me, sitting in biology dissecting a frog, I didn't really understand how this was going to help me in future life'

Are university degrees relevant to high-level leadership?

“I was terrible at university; I was terrible at school. For me, sitting in biology dissecting a frog, I didn’t really understand how this was going to help me in future life,” said Damien Andreasen, Regional Head, APAC at HR software company HiBob.

While Andreasen concedes that there are some professions where it’s imperative to go to university, he believes you can be quite successful in the world without a university degree as well. “If you’re smart, you love problems, you can solve problems, you work well with others to tight timelines and you’re driven, you can start as a junior and grow your career really rapidly,” he said.

As soon as Andreasen got into the world of work his brain was set alight. “Working with people and with purpose and being able to see a new skillset being deployed, and the impact of that quickly, that was the moment where it clicked for me. I need to be hands on, and with context.” A theme that he’s carried throughout his career. “Good leaders always lead with context, they don’t just ask you to do something, they ask you to do something in the context of why it’s important to the greater organisation and why it’s important to the individual.”

Read more: Three of the biggest challenges for kiwi business leaders

Andreasen’s leadership journey began while he was enjoying a successful sales career and a former hospitality colleague of his returned to the country with a technology idea. He wanted to tap into what he had recognised as Andreasen’s leadership skills to help get his idea off the ground. “Maybe it was a blessed moment where he recognised something in me that was about leadership and how it was transferable,” said Andreasen.

Andreasen was appointed head of sales at Spreets, a Groupon style website. I was effectively the first salesperson and I built that to a team of about 40 in 12 months,” Andreasen told HRD. “That was my real-life MBA, if you will, it was my proving ground,” he laughed. “A lot of my leadership experience came from grass roots companies and growing them into reasonably successful companies.”

The pair sold Spreets to Yahoo and Andreasen went on to co-found Lawpath. “I’ve been in start-ups and scale-ups for 12 years now. The pace of it, the challenge of it, the range of challenge, the impact you can have – they’re the things that really get me out of bed in the morning.

Read more: Leaders must learn to be hands off

Andreasen, has now made the move from founding his own businesses to working with more mature companies. He said he looks for businesses with a tenured c-suite that he can learn from, an opportunity for him to have an impact on the organisation.

HiBob ticked all the boxes for Andreasen – “the big reason I joined HiBob, is I just love the mission statement and the product and the impact that it’s having,” he said.

“The world of work is really shifting dramatically, I think the nuances in a people centric people platform is, how do we help people to navigate that agility? And how do we get them to be able to do it in a human way,” said Andreasen.

“I think that's very much attached to my mission statement as well, in terms of the leadership style that I aspire to have, which is, be authentic, be transparent, lead with data and context, and have empathy and understand what drives people.”

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