This week, SunBiz talks to iQiYi ‘s country manager for Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei, Dinesh Ratnam (pix) .

Success: The Insight Story – Be bold, know your stuff inside out

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

The first 10 years of my career were the most formative. I was fortunate to have had a career that spanned multiple cities (London, San Francisco and Kuala Lumpur), multiple industries (investment banking, tech and media) and multiple fields (strategy, finance and operations). Being exposed to a varied set of experiences has definitely taught me the importance of being open to different perspectives and that there are always two sides to the coin. I’ve also learnt the importance of being adaptable and resilient, which are among the many life lessons that helped shape my leadership belief system.

What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for a job?

It really depends on the level of seniority I am hiring for but in general, the must haves for me are the ability to demonstrate passion, perseverance and growth. Everything else is secondary. Passion is a belief in the vision, mission and goals of the company which ultimately translates to taking pride in one’s work, and going above and beyond to drive success. Perseverance translates to a positive can-do approach and resilience in the face of challenges. Growth translates to having a natural curiosity and willingness to learn, along with an open mind to learning new things and new perspectives.

How do you think the industry you are in will evolve in the future?

I see three key trends driving the future of the video streaming industry – the prominence of Asian content rivalling that of Western content on a global scale, the convergence of premium and user-generated-content platforms, and the reimagining of the user viewing experience through the application of next-gen technology such as extended reality or machine learning driving hyper-personalisation. Leveraging on these trends is a key focus area for iQiyi as we seek to solidify our value proposition.

What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business?

> Be bold and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

You can only improve by trying and failing. If you haven’t failed, you haven’t learned, and the best time to make mistakes and learn from them is at the start of your career when you have room to make mistakes. You have plenty of time ahead to correct, and generally people will also be more forgiving.

> Know your stuff inside out.

Be it producing a piece of work, building a product, brand or business, having all the details at your fingertips will not only instill confidence but also impress those around you. Conversely, having only surface level knowledge and being unsure of the details will diminish your confidence and credibility.

We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts.

We are already in the technological revolution. The internet has permanently reshaped the way we live our lives. However, I do believe that we are definitely on the verge of another shift, what with new technologies like blockchain, AR/VR and the mass application of AI and machine learning. These are gaining significant momentum and fueling possibilities such as decentralised platforms, hyper-personalisation and of course, the promise of the metaverse.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life?

I’ve never had formal mentor relationships but have been fortunate to have close relationships with all the senior leaders I’ve worked with. Although I’ve benefited greatly from the exposure over the years, but two experiences stand out. The first is from the year I spent in London as a “chief of staff” role supporting the CEO at JPMorgan Investment Banking business for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The second is from the couple of years spent in a similar role for the co-founder and CEO of Catcha Group here in KL. Being able to observe first-hand how they ran their businesses and also participating in high-level strategic and operational management discussions with them were immensely valuable. The interesting thing is that despite both leaders running very different businesses, the common thread between them is the relentless pursuit of excellence in whatever they do.

What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

I want to establish iQiyi as the go-to entertainment service for Asian content in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. I also want to help develop and grow the local content ecosystem with the ultimate goal of making Malaysian content global. As a nation, we have a rich heritage and a unique diversity, making us Asia’s cultural melting pot. We also have amazing talent and a natural “can-do” attitude towards things.

I see no reason why our content and storytelling can’t take centerstage on the global arena given the combination of all these elements. Of course, this is an industry wide effort and many local stakeholders are already driving towards this. I would love for iQiyi to be an additional force multiplier towards this goal.

Best piece of advice you ever received on your career.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up, as your opinion and perspective is likely more valuable and critical than you think.” Growing up as an introvert, I used to always overthink things or second guess sharing my point of views early on in my career. Even in instances where I could have likely been the most prepared or knowledgeable person in the room, I still shied away. Over time, with the advice and encouragement from supportive leaders and mentors I’ve worked with, I developed the confidence and courage to speak up.

What I have also come to appreciate during that process is actually how not speaking up or sharing an important point of view is actually doing disservice to the team or business as the best decisions are made when all opinions and facts are on the table.

Most-admired business leader? Why?

Excluding the leaders I had the pleasure of working with, there are a couple of global business leaders I admire like Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan. He has been touted by many as the “face” of Wall Street, having built JPMorgan into the financial powerhouse it is today.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?

Religiously keeping up with industry related news is a must – I subscribe to multiple relevant news portals and set up news alerts for key topics. I also have regular conversations with stakeholders and peers in the industry where we discuss ideas, issues and general observations we see in the market. The other thing I do is speak to our users and partners to get first-hand feedback on our content and product.

If you could have an hour with any thought leader in the world, who would it be and why?

I would love to have an hour with Chinese President Xi Jinping. His tenure is the embodiment of long-term thinking with the conviction to drive major reforms, resulting in China’s continuous accelerated ascent that has put it in prime position to become the world’s largest economy.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced? And what did you learn from it?

The most recent challenge was actually at the start of my role at iQiyi, which was during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. I had to build a team from scratch, adapt to a new company and new culture, establish the brand in the local market from ground up and execute on core growth levers to deliver quick wins – all during the lockdown, in a virtual/remote working environment.

What are the top three factors you would attribute your success to?

> The first is most definitely hard work. When I started my career as an investment banker in London, I had a bad case of imposter syndrome seeing that the rest of my peers were highly accomplished finance majors from the best schools in Europe while I had zero grounding in finance. I decided that the only thing within my control was how hard I worked to catch up to my peers – ultimately that work ethic served me well and I do believe that the harder you work the luckier you get, and that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

> The second is resilience. There is a famous quote by Mike Tyson that goes “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. In life, there will be many instances where we will get metaphorically punched in the mouth – but with perseverance and resilience, one can only emerge stronger.

> The third is to always take responsibility and to have an “owner” mindset. There will always be many things that don’t go our way in life and business, but how we choose to approach challenges and problems is important. We can either blame other people and external circumstances or we can take ownership and responsibility, and drive towards a solution or a better outcome.

Tell us a joke

Going to steal a joke from a sceptical fund manager who recently said to me that with recent market conditions, the letters in IPO really stand for “it’s probably overpriced”.