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David M. Brear, 11:FS Group CEO, on culture and leadership

11:FS Group CEO David M. Brear is a firm believer in the importance of strong leadership and an empowering culture to achieve digital transformation

|Jun 17|magazine8 min read
David M. Brear
11:FS

Group CEO

“Our vision is to change the fabric of financial services, but our mission is purely about unleashing talent,” says David M. Brear. As Group CEO of 11:FS, Brear knows more than a thing or two about unleashing talent. The innovative startup is on a mission to unleash the next generation of financial services based on the premise that, currently, the digitisation of the industry is only 1% finished.

It is a bold boast, but then Brear and the team that he has assembled veer towards the bold. The company, which like all good startups was built around the table at one London’s many Starbucks, has in four years assembled a team of the world’s top banking, fintech and insurance leaders. Under Brear’s stewardship, they are tasked with transforming traditional financial services from within by building new, truly digital services from scratch.

Discussing leadership, Brear is keen to give his thoughts on the competitive advantage this gives 11:FS. “Culture, if I’m honest, is our secret sauce,” he explains. “For me, it’s often such a misunderstood thing, too. It’s not about copying Google or Apple, or mirroring what Facebook does; so many organisations and people spend so little time prioritising the tactics, strategies and culture that lets you get the very best out of the people that work for you.”

For Brear, getting the best out of people involves a level of autonomy that some leaders find difficult. He calls this a ‘power to the edges’ approach when it comes to decision making, whereby everyone is involved where necessary. To do this, 11:FS has established an environment where everyone is empowered to perform to the best of their ability.

Of course, when it comes to leadership, a natural question revolves around the approach a leader takes to directing such talented individuals. “Regardless of how smart or skilled they are, everyone needs leadership,” Brear says. “I’ve always taken the view that leaders are more important than managers in an organisation, and I think great leaders should be as consistent and contextual as they can be for everyone. I try and lead each person as an individual, to understand what motivates them and what makes them perform. Personally, I feel like I learned more playing sports than I ever did in the business world, and I bring almost a sports psychology mentality into 11:FS that has allowed us to build such a strong company and vision.”

Reflecting more closely on his leadership style, Brear explains that leaders are more important than managers. “It’s not really what you do that matters the most,” he says, “it’s how you do it. Leaders lead, managers help to shape the view of what that means. Great leaders are as consistent as they can be for everybody, but also have to be incredibly contextual. The best people realise that every individual is different and therefore a good leader should always lead and treat the person as an individual.”

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This approach pays dividends in the company’s external work, too. 11:FS helps financial services companies navigate these challenges and to understand the competitive landscape on their journey to digitisation. And while its proposition covers a host of key areas that contribute to the next generation of digital financial products, Brear is also a firm believer in getting the basics right first. Or, as 11:FS terms it - the infrastructure.

“People often talk about technology debt or legacy technology as the major inhibitor,” he says, “but for me that’s not the case - you get the right culture in any of these organisations and any challenge is surmountable. The newer organisations are those that are able to possess that more entrepreneurial spirit which means they’re not operating in silos, they’re curious, always asking ‘why?’ They don’t treat digital as just another distribution channel, but as everything.”

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