Suzette Bailey makes complex systems simple. She is a CEO and co-founder of SimpleContent.AI, CEO and Founder Sensory7. She helps organizations improve compliance communication and marketing. Strategic Information Management Expert. Productivity Specialist. Female Founder. Founded, built, and ran a multi-million dollar IT consultancy over 22 years helping some of Australia’s largest businesses to manage their information effectively. This year cofounded SimpleContent to use AI to help businesses generate marketing and critical content. Now VC funded.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Suzette Bailey: I started my career as a science graduate but my skills and interests led me quickly into working with technology to produce business outcomes. I’ve now been CEO of an IT consulting business for over 20 years and recently became CEO and co-founder of a second business, where we’re using AI to help businesses produce complex business content quickly and cost-effectively.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Suzette Bailey: I didn’t start out planning to be a CEO. When I started my first business there were four of us and we jointly managed the business. However, over time the other founders dropped out and I stepped up into the role. As an early-20s ‘accidental’ CEO, at the time I didn’t know a lot about what I was doing, so I reached out to other business owners for help. I was working in a male-dominated industry and became part of a group that worked together to meet large government contracts. While I was still the only female CEO in the group, it gave me a network that helped me build the business and form the right client contacts for success. Working with that group I was able to overcome a lot of the early challenges in my role and grow my business to a multi-million dollar company.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Suzette Bailey: My most important professional inspiration has changed over time. There were a couple of individuals in the early group I was part of that particularly helped me achieve success in my business. One was Charles Rudder, who mentored me and helped me navigate the corporate sector, the other was Roehl O’Ringo, who helped me to restructure my business for success.
Later internet marketing experts such as Alex Mendossian and Jeff Walker helped me to apply my corporate thinking to become an entrepreneur, not simply a business owner. It was a long and slow process over several years, but a pivotal point was at a conference where Alex provided me with personal guidance, putting me on the startup journey. SimpleContent would not be around without that process.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Suzette Bailey: I fell into the role of CEO and had to work it out as I went along, so many of the difficulties I experienced were as a CEO, rather than on the journey to become one. As a CEO I didn’t know that CEOs usually don’t approach their competitors for help, and I built strong relationships with a number of them leading to large successful collaborations.
At one point I became very sick and was unable to work for nearly nine months. In that time my business suffered and I had to negotiate a repayment program with the tax office to save it, which I did. This led me to automate my business so that, as CEO, I wasn’t indispensable and the business could grow and flourish without me at the helm. I learned that one of the most important roles of a CEO was to be dispensible, to establish the systems and protocols within a business that would allow it to continue to thrive regardless of the personnel working within it.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Suzette Bailey: SimpleContent.AI helps businesses to produce critical business content quickly and cost-effectively through using natural language AI to generate first draft material. We started out helping businesses to accelerate the production of their marketing and sales content, as SimpleMarketing.AI, and have expanded into supporting them with writing tender responses, grant applications, compliance materials, and even internal and client reports.
As CEO I’m responsible to the board and our investors for the overall corporate strategy, operations, and trajectory of the business. I specifically oversee investor and partner relations and are deeply involved in our sales approach, particularly where it comes to working with partners who are selling our solutions into the market. I’m also responsible for our budgets and cashflows and look after our international growth.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Suzette Bailey: For me CEO means the leader of the business. The CEO has a leading role in setting the vision and direction for the company and the culture of the business. It is not all about them, it is about shaping the environment that allows individual staff to thrive and contribute to the success of the business. A great CEO provides the environment for their team to reach their potential and drives a culture of innovation.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Suzette Bailey: When I first became a CEO I didn’t think about it. It was just stepping up into the hole to provide leadership. Then over time, the role evolved around me. I always had a collaborative approach both internally and externally, but I became more conscious of how I set that tone for the business. After a few years, I realized I lacked some of the skills needed as the business grew, and went and got training on corporate governance, as well as taking on a mentor. As CEO of a startup today, I am more aware of the obligations of a CEO and the responsibility a CEO takes on when they step into the role. I better appreciate the requirement for the CEO to be the custodian and champion for the strategic vision of the business and to lead by example.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Suzette Bailey: The first role is providing the vision for the business. It’s not only about the destination but about the road the business takes to achieve that vision. Next is taking lead on corporate culture. Many CEOs don’t necessarily realise how much their behaviour impacts on the acceptable behaviours across the organisations they lead. The CEO must champion the culture they wish to dominate the company they lead and be aware of the consequences of their behaviour, even outside of the decisions they are making.
I don’t really want to name other companies, but I’ve watched situations evolve where a strong and self-directed CEO has taken control of a company and, without realising it. imposed a culture that was detrimental to the goals they were seeking to achieve. It became a blame-casting culture, where people were afraid to take bad news to the CEO because of how they would react, leading to a number of problems in the business that the CEO was unaware of, and ultimately causing the business to implode. Another critical role for CEOs is to ensure the business has the right systems so that no individual, including the CEO, is a single point of failure. That the business is robust enough to survive the temporary or permanent loss of key personnel – whether this is a holiday, someone resigning or, in my case, the CEO being sick and unable to perform their role for an extended period of time.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Suzette Bailey: Possibly the most difficult decision I’ve had to make was to encourage a shareholder to leave the business when they were not a good fit. The person had originally been a customer of the business and had a solid track record of success in corporate roles. However, his skills didn’t match the needs of a smaller consulting business.
As such shortly after bringing him in as a shareholder, I realized that the match was not right and was harming the business. I had to negotiate his exit and help him realize that it was for the benefit of both the business and himself to do so. It got quite heated at the time but in the end, we parted on relatively good terms and the relationship remains cordial. The business benefited from the decision and continued to thrive.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Suzette Bailey: For me, success is more about helping people and building something I can be proud of, a legacy. It also involved building an environment where others can be successful and realize their own goals. It is about building a sustainably profitable business where many people benefit over time.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Suzette Bailey: Innately I’m a collaborator and mentor, so I brought these capabilities to the role of CEO and they’ve shaped my course over many years. I’ve had to cultivate corporate governance and finance skills – which initially I found very difficult. These have continued to be the areas where I seek to continually improve as they don’t come naturally to me.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Suzette Bailey: Here in Australia we’ve been fortunate to have been less impacted by the pandemic than many other places in the world. Plus my businesses can be operated remotely, with services delivered via the internet, making them very adaptable to lockdown and other constraints. Finally, as I systemized my businesses, having learned from my previous illness not to leave this to chance, they have been very resilient to the pandemic and we’ve not seen major impacts on our activities or cash flow.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Suzette Bailey: I recommend that new CEOs surround themselves with reliable advisors who can provide specialized insights and support for different aspects of the role, particularly any that they personally feel weak in. I also recommend that CEOs take the steps required to fully understand the governance requirements for their business in the jurisdictions they operate in. I’ve seen many people elevated to CEO roles due to specific skills in people management, sales, or operations, who don’t always fully understand the legal obligations their businesses must meet.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Suzette Bailey: A skill that eluded me for a really long time was writing marketing content. As a scientist, I was taught to write in a given way, and in my IT consultancy we primarily wrote documentation for corporates and government, and we became so well known for what we did we didn’t need to market the business. So when I tried to pivot my IT consultancy to work with small businesses around six years ago, I struggled to write the marketing content required to attract and engage customers and had no one on staff to do it. This actually triggered my interest in using AI to write business content, which led directly to the creation of SimpleContent.AI. Now I use AI to write most of our marketing content and couldn’t be happier.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Suzette Bailey: If I wrote a book about my life today, the title would be ‘The accidental CEO’. It would focus on how a Science graduate ended up cofounding and running a business that uses AI to generate business content. It’s been an interesting road.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Suzette Bailey for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Suzette Bailey or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin
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