Akram Atallah joins Donuts from ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, where he served as the first president of ICANN’s Global Domains Division and oversaw the management of generic domain operations, domain name industry engagement, and web services. Previously, Akram served as ICANN’s chief operating officer. Akram’s diversified technology experience runs the gamut from engineering to operations to product development and marketing. Before ICANN, he was the chief operating officer at CoreObjects Software, an engineering services start-up. Prior to CoreObjects, he was general manager of the Broadband Access business unit at Conexant, and before that was the general manager of its Universal Access business.
His accomplishments at Conexant included increasing business unit revenue to more than $800 million, improving profit margins, transforming the marketing and engineering functions, and strengthening its position as a global market leader. Akram holds a master’s degree in business administration, a master’s in electrical engineering, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Colorado at Denver. He is trilingual in English, Arabic, and French.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Akram Atallah: At a young age, I had a passion and aptitude for high tech. That is why I studied computer engineering and started as a hard disk drive systems engineer developing some chips along the way. But I soon realized that even the best product doesn’t work unless it addresses a market need. Since those decisions are made on the business side, I decided to get my MBA, allowing me to make a greater impact in these matters. After my MBA, I took product marketing roles with semiconductor companies. Eventually, I moved into management positions at various tech companies, serving in COO positions for a nonprofit startup, president of the Global Domains Division for ICANN, and currently, as CEO of Donuts Inc. These leadership positions allowed me to play a key role in developing comprehensive and well-thought-out strategies, leading to the success of established companies as well as startups.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Akram Atallah: I came to product/business management roles with a background in engineering. As such, I was used to tackling problems with very logical thinking, analyzing and dissecting in detail how best to execute and test solutions. But that was definitely not the right approach in management. Here, you have to manage multiple functions simultaneously and be able to make quick decisions. That was a real challenge for me at first. On top of that, I had taken a pay cut to start over as a product manager.
When I decided to go into business management, I was determined to make it work no matter the obstacles. I kept reminding myself that if other people can do this, so can I and to keep an eye on the prize. This wasn’t always about becoming a CEO. I started in business as a product manager and worked my way up, seeing things through and always exceeding expectations.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Akram Atallah: I would define resilience as the ability to focus no matter what is happening around you. I have a very temperate and humble personality. I don’t get too excited or too depressed about anything, and when something bad happens, I don’t think, “How could this happen to me?” I know there are far worse things happening every day. When something good happens, there are even better things happening somewhere else. I neither dwell on a situation nor celebrate because I’ve already moved on. Dwelling on the past is a waste of time, and I prefer to look ahead. This has always worked best for me on a personal as well as a business level.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Akram Atallah: Logic, strategy, collaboration. Let’s start with logic. I am incredibly logical. When someone brings up a good product idea and tells me they have the audience for it, I immediately visualize all the other necessary questions and qualifiers. For instance, why are they going to like it? What if someone copies you? How will it get to market? Is it easy to use? It’s not about disqualifying the idea—it’s about getting to solutions so we can execute and be successful.
When it comes to strategy, it’s about identifying a critical problem and finding the best solution with the best execution. And all three must be well thought out and vetted.
At heart, I’m a collaborator. I want to share ideas with everyone. That is why I create trustworthy and mutually beneficial partnerships with suppliers, employees, and customers. When I was running a market-leading semiconductor business, I took care of my customers and helped them succeed, although they needed my product more than I needed them. Later on, when I moved to run a new business, they returned the favor by updating their designs to use my new product, which helped me be successful.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Akram Atallah: Personal branding is something that you need to consider from the start. It sets the stage for how you are perceived. I am naturally a modest introvert and have shied away from the public limelight for much of my career. Promoting myself is not my strength, especially if the branding is for my benefit. I realize now, however, how important my personal brand is to the business overall. That is why I have opened myself up to interviews such as this one to share my experience and expertise. I am, after all, in the branding business. Descriptive domains are all about online identity and branding.
How would you define “leadership”?
Akram Atallah: Good leadership should encompass several qualities. At a minimum, a successful leader needs to have a strong vision, display outstanding communication skills, be accountable, and show empathy. The latter is especially essential in today’s world where many people have been adversely affected by the pandemic and dangerous weather conditions.
I believe in leadership that embraces diversity, innovation, collaboration, learning, and growth and helps people be the best they can be. It is preferable to lead by example, so I strive to be a mindful leader who creates a strong teamwork-oriented community where all constituents feel empowered to contribute and play an important part, giving them a sense of belonging. I try to balance the different stakeholders’ needs and wants with care and consideration and encourage a shared voice and vision.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Akram Atallah: When you’re creating a business, keep in mind that you are not the market, and your opinion is just that—“your opinion.” So start researching the market needs and identify a problem you can solve. Whenever you’re faced with a question or an impasse, always put yourself in the customer’s shoes to solve it. Then build the brand around the problem/solution and, ultimately, the benefit to your customers. The risk of creating a brand too early is that you’re less open to discovery—you’re trying to fit your problem/solution into an arbitrary framework. It’s limiting. Also, and perhaps most important, solve a permanent problem, not a transient one.
Finally, exercise and discipline are essential for the best physical and mental well-being. It’s important to know when you are not being productive and do a mental reset. Multi-tasking and overworking could lead to mistakes that end up being a waste of time and won’t lead to increased productivity.
What’s your favorite “leadership” quote and how has it affected the way you implement your leadership style?
Akram Atallah: “Authentic leadership with consensus-building.”
I heard the advice “be yourself and everything will work out” multiple times. It’s good advice since the alternatives are already taken! I’ve always been authentic in my leadership style, but I used to manage top-down until I was introduced to bottom-up policy development. Initially, I thought this approach was a disaster. It was too slow with a lot of back and forth and endless repetitive debates. However, after a few exercises, I realized the benefits of consensus-building before starting with actual development. Compromises were made, but there were no surprises, and everyone was clear on the outcome. Before implementing an initiative, everyone involved had a clear and shared vision with a common goal. Because of this success, I’ve embraced consensus-building as part of my leadership style, which in tandem with authentic leadership allows me to lead transparently.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Akram Atallah for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Akram Atallah or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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