When it comes to tech and Startups, it probably doesn’t get much better than working at Facebook.
Stephen Scheeler, the former Managing Director of Facebook and Instagram Australia, can confirm: it was an incredible environment to work in, but the beauty of Facebook goes beyond the catered lunches and free dry cleaning associated with top Silicon Valley companies.
What Facebook’s culture teaches employees
“Facebook’s a big enough business now that not everyone’s a hacker, jumping in the swimming pool at midnight, but there are a couple of common threads running through all of it,” Scheeler said.
One is the ability of employees to deal with ambiguity and rapid change, he explained, with Facebook actively recruiting people that cannot only handle, but also thrive, in such an environment; it then rewards them for this.
“When you work there, there’s not a hardcore longterm plan. There’s directional places we’re going but everybody knows the business is moving so fast and technology changes so quick that it’s very hard to have a five year plan; even one year plans can be kind of fuzzy compared to other businesses,” Scheeler said.
The ability to pivot quickly is crucial at Facebook; ‘pivot’ may be a tech buzzword, but the social media behemoth does it well because it comes from the top, Scheeler said.
“It will be Mark Zuckerberg saying, this is a direction we need to go in as a business, and there is a change throughout the business that is communicated and happens overnight,” Scheeler said, pointing to Facebook’s shift from desktop to mobile in 2012 and the shift to video in 2015.
“In both instances Facebook did something called a lockdown, which basically means most, if not all, of the business stops what it’s working on and starts working on something else, so we stopped working on desktop started working on mobile.”
Scheeler’s ability to thrive in this environment came from a an appreciation of learning and a desire to learn, with this the guiding focus throughout his career.
“I came out of university in the late 1980s, so in business terms in some sense many things are the same, but in terms of digital and tech much has changed since those days, so obviously the type I’ve done, especially over the last few years, I never could have imagined coming out of university,” he said.
Why the Food and Beverage sector must innovate
The love of learning saw Scheeler work for a number of companies that were, in their own way at the time, innovative, including Westfield and Lion.
Having spent four years at Lion – then Lion Nathan – as director of strategy from 1999 to 2003, Scheeler is excited for a homecoming of sorts as a mentor in the Lion Unleashed program by Slingshot Accelerator.
“When I was there, almost 20 years ago, I saw a business that built a merit-based culture within the company. It’s easy to say, we want an innovative culture with people taking risks and all those sorts of things, but you need to build this into the way you assess people’s performance, how you reward people, the way you learn from failure, and the types of leaders you try to develop,” Scheeler explained.
“Lion was very good at all of those things, building the culture underneath where people could really feel that they were thriving…I think even today they’re noteworthy for building that type of place where people love to work and feel their brains and innovation and efforts are valued.”
Scheeler believes the company also has a strong history of thinking outside the box and creating new opportunities that others haven’t thought of before – and the possibilities in the food and beverage space are endless.
“The space they’re in is a fertile one for innovative and disruptive businesses starting to emerge. Consumer products have been built up through an ad and supermarket model, in that you show ads through mass media and hope people will go in store to buy product A and product B,” Scheeler said.
“That’s been a really great model which has created billions of dollars of value, but the reality is that tech, and in particular mobile, have changed much of that equation. We now have the ecosystems of big commerce, of on-demand delivery, the ecosystems of data and targeting, and the changing expectations of consumers.”
Why everybody needs a mentor
Scheeler’s previous work with Lion and his expertise across mobile will be of great value to Startups in Lion Unleashed, though having always approached mentoring as a two-way street, saying a number of people he would class as his mentors are younger than him, he believes in turn he will also learn from participants.
“The younger mentors teach me stuff I don’t know, because they’re just better than me at many things. I would say that even some people that have worked for me have been a mentor because I’ve learned so much from them,” he said.
“I’ve always tried to have that relationship with people that work for me, because it’s not a one-way thing, I’m not the one teaching you, I can learn a lot from you and can benefit from what you can teach me, and I think that openness has benefited me over the years and made me a much better manager and leader.”
Want to work with Stephen Scheeler? Learn more about the Lion Unleashed program here.