In a time when Appnovation Technologies is experiencing a period of exponential growth -- the company has created a global presence across three continents in the past five years -- we meet Arnold Leung, CEO and founder.
Following a monthly session of “Arnold’s Corner” in which all employees can submit questions to the CEO, Arnold wanted to further reach out to the new Appnovators and all the open technology enthusiasts out there. We had the chance to speak with Arnold on topics ranging from his life before Appnovation, his favourite video game and questions about the company.
Tell us about yourself.
I started Appnovation in 2007 after graduating from UBC’s Sauder School of Business’s four-year program. I realized there was great potential in the open source market, where there were many large organizations operating on open source technologies, like Drupal and using Linux [as its operating system]. As somebody who always wanted to start a business, this was a great area for me to start and that’s how things began. Since then, things have grown quite a bit with our great team. In the past nine years, we’ve been able to achieve quite a bit of success, and as we continue our corporate growth, we expect to cater to larger markets.
Sounds like you and Appnovation are one and the same.
My life is 80% Appnovation and 20% watching horror and sci-fi movies. I won’t disclose my actual favourite movie, but I enjoyed The Martian and Prometheus. I also analyzed Interstellar -- I searched up the concepts on Wikipedia and read through a lot of them! I enjoy outdoor activities and like to have fun. I guess you could say I believe in a culture of “funness”. I like to run around, chase people down and compete in challenging activities, like paintballing, rafting and skiing. I like new challenges and to build things, [which explains why] my favourite video game is SimCity.
You graduated locally [in Vancouver] at UBC. What made you decide to start a company yourself rather than continue on working in the Investment Banking industry?
It’s about seeing something grow, building it from scratch and being part of the team that makes it truly exciting.
It was always my passion to start a business. I went to a program in high school called Shad Valley which inspired me to look into entrepreneurship. I enjoy building things. For me, it’s not about the money -- it’s about seeing something grow, building it from scratch and being part of the team that makes it truly exciting. That’s why I enjoy doing it. At the end of the day, the CEO can only do so much. It’s about surrounding yourself with the people with the same mindset, who have different skillsets, attributes and finding what their sweet spots are, and letting them do what they’re good at. Building a team that is aligned and who work together is the key.
Give us one word that describes you the best.
Staying humble. It’s the most important quality -- and what I’m happiest about. Being humble and easy-going as we grow the business along -- that it’s what drives people towards success. It’s the ability to look beyond what’s already been done, and focus on the future and what needs to be done.
How high do you set standards for yourself?
Maintaining high expectations and setting the bar high means that I never feel proud and continue the quest to explore. There are two sides of the coin here: The good thing is that [high standards] push you to propel forward. On the other hand, sometimes I don’t always openly express my appreciation about the work being done around me, even though I am extremely grateful for my team and employees. Personality-wise, I’m not a big celebratory guy but some things should be celebrated.
Now pretend you were in a sales meeting. Give us an elevator pitch of Appnovation.
Appnovation is a global technology services business that helps enterprises build solutions with open source technologies. We are experts in areas like web, mobile, intranet and middleware applications. We primarily serve the Fortune 500 and Government markets.
How do you see the company changing in the next two years? How do you see yourself creating that change?
We're going to continue the vision of adopting open technologies. We're looking to expand our areas of focus to cover more within the technology sector. Currently, we’re focusing on web content management systems, middleware, business intelligence and big data. There are a couple areas where we plan to concentrate more on, [such as] CRM, ERP and eCommerce down the road. It's our vision to build a global company. Right now we have good coverage in the UK, US and Canada, HK and Asia, but we’re looking into the Continental Europe area.
What’s driving Appnovation’s evolution?
Having a great team that continuously innovates, continually adopts new technologies and continually helps clients succeed by driving processes within their business.
As a CEO, how would you describe your leadership style?
I am pretty easy-going, and I believe in letting people focus and do what they’re good at and decide without intervention. I’m not a hands-on micromanager. I believe that having a team that is excited and driven means that we can build a great company together. My job is to continuously infuse energy and excitement, and reminding our folks about our vision and goals to ensure that everyone is aligned.
What other CEOs do you look up to?
It’s all about being authentic.
I learn bits and pieces from different people and everyone around me, whether it’s from reading articles, from interacting with them and understanding their challenges. I don’t focus on one person, but a set of qualities and have a CEO style that suits myself and for the people around me. I learn from my employees, VPs and executive team. It’s all about being authentic.
What's the hardest decision you've made so far?
Hiring a CFO was a tough decision for me because I come from a finance background. I was quite hands-on in the financial side of things, but I felt this decision was necessary because I wanted to spend more time with our clients and our team here. Freeing up my time with day-to-day issues would help that.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and what have you learned from it?
In the past, we’ve made decisions before looking at all the pros/cons. We could have carried out a more detailed plan in being a global company and opening new offices around the world, but this has taught us to evaluate all sides of the story before making a final decision.
Why should people work for Appnovation?
We’re a vibrant company -- things here happen really fast.
Because things happen quickly, we’re able to provide growth opportunities for our folks. We believe this will enable them to have a fulfilling career, where they can try and experiment new things. It’s an environment where they can encounter scenarios where they may have to wait years down the road at other companies, or be someone who has more experience, before they're able to tackle these projects.