C-Suite Spotlight: Kristo Kaarmann, CEO, Wise
Who exaclty is Kristo Kaarmann?
A financial services entrepreneur, ex-consultant with a computer science and maths background, Kristo Kaarmann is a London-based Estonian who is CEO of Wise (previously Transferwire), an online currency exchange and payments service, which he co-founded in 2011. Dubbed the robin hood of currency exchange, Wise is the first of its kind, allowing people to access the real-world market exchange rate by cutting out traditional banking fees. With backers such as Richard Branson, Wise turns an annual profit of £21.3 million and transfers about £4.5 billion monthly for individuals, small businesses and even banks.
And why is Kaarmann in the spotlight?
Well, because the company he co-founded and is CEO of is one of the fastest growing tech companies and having raised over US$1 billion in primary and secondary transactions from investors, Kaarmann has announced he is planning to take Wise public and has appointed Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to help. And because in February, Kaarmann ditched his original company brand Transferwise for new branding, Wise, as he has a broader vision for the 10-year-old money transfer service with plans to move towards a stronger digital banking-based business model and roll out investment products to Wise’s 10 million customers later this year.
How did Transferwise (Wise) come to be?
While working as a management consultant at Deloitte in London in 1999, Kaarmann received a Christmas bonus of £10,000, which he transferred to his Estonian savings account only to discover the bank had used an exchange rate 5% less favourable. This led him, and co-founder and fellow Estonian Taavet Hinrikus (who he met at a party) to find a way of transferring cash overseas in a more cost-effective way.
And how did Kaarmann get there?
Prior to setting up Wise in 2011, Kristo was a manager at Deloitte for four and a half years where he specialised in actuarial modelling systems, implementations and delivering systems, tools and data environments for clients’ finance, risk and actuarial departments. He also led the firm’s tech approach to help clients with management information and systems architecture challenges in response to the Solvency II regulatory requirements. At PwC, Kaarmann helped banks and insurers bring their processes and systems into the 21st century. Here he analysed and designed management information systems for retail banking clients. He started his first business, an online investments tracking portal investor in 1999, which he sold a few years later. He has an MSc in Mathematics and Computer Science.
Any other awards or achievements?
Well, apart from being named the wealthiest Estonian citizen, according to Estonian World in 2018, he was recognised in the 40 under 40 by Fortune Magazine
In his own words…
“When you're starting up a new business, you have to be organised. Consultants are usually good at organizing and structuring the work to get things done fast.”
5 Ways Leaders Can Create a Healthy Workplace Culture
This week (14th-20th June 2021) is Men’s Health Week. Physical and mental well-being have been important considerations for leaders over the past year, and it is essential this focus is maintained as we build back for the future. Here we have asked 5 experts for practical tips leaders can implement to create healthy workplace cultures.
Know the early signs of burnout
Recently it was reported by the BBC that burnout for health and social care staff had reached emergency levels.
Monkey Puzzle Training Co-Founder Karen Meager has studied the burnout recovery process in partnership with Coventry University: “The past year has seen people suffer from job-loss worries, work from home challenges, isolation, and feeling overworked. These are continuing, and all have the potential to contribute towards burnout. Healthcare workers, executives, leaders, managers and small business owners will continue to be the top people to suffer from extreme burnout.”
“At the onset of burnout, people commonly enter a phase of denial. So leaders need to be aware of those who are reluctant to take their time off, are compelled to work all hours, or have changes in their behaviour or mood, as these can all be indications of burnout taking hold. Encouraging them to take a burnout self-test provides a starting point to supporting these employees through recovery, as is role modelling healthy sustainable ways of working.” Karen suggests.
Encourage professional self-reflection
Creating an environment that encourages self-reflection is an effective tool for promoting personal development. Journaling may not be something you instantly think of for professional development; however, it is a successful technique for adults to aid mindfulness and productivity. “Journaling is a form of self-expression that can empower you to understand your feelings and ambitions and how to deal with them, therefore promoting positive well-being and a healthy workplace culture,” describes Elisa Nardi, founder of Notebook Mentor.
“Just 15-20 minutes of journaling a day over the course of four months are enough to lessen the impact of physical stressors on your health,” explains Elisa. “It can also inspire creativity, aid your memory, and help set actionable goals. It is an underused tool that can help employees manage tricky workplace situations such as conflict, illness or new leadership roles.”
Manage your stress and resilience too
As a leader or manager, often, your complete focus is on the business or protecting your team, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. Leaders should also have strategies in place to manage their own stress, so they can sustain high levels of positive energy throughout the day. “Fueled by a burning desire for success, I ignored all the warning signs of exhaustion, which eventually took its toll on me - I literally collapsed from stress, and I didn’t even see it coming.” reflects Sascha Heinemann, an expert in Performance Recovery and Stress Resilience.
“When leaders manage their energy, create healthy daily habits, and practice resilience, they are able to perform to their fullest capacity and to provide the best possible support for others.”
“Taking a break every 90 minutes or so helps you to refuel, recharge, and re-energize and ultimately allows you to get more accomplished, in less time, at a higher level of quality, and more sustainably. This role model contributes dramatically to a healthier, more engaged, sustainable, and productive workplace culture," he adds.
Instil a sense of purpose for your team
The idea that success equals working 12-15 hour days and giving everything of yourself to your workplace continues to prevail in many organisations. This is not healthy, nor is it productive for anyone involved. “The healthiest and happiest workplace cultures are the ones that are organised around purpose.” describes business and life coach Anand Kulkarni.
“Leaders should be giving meaning to the work they are doing within their business and beyond and sharing this purpose with their staff, rather than focusing on long hours, crippling workloads or someone else’s idea of ‘success’. When people understand why they are doing what they do and how this contributes to something greater, productivity and well-being is increased.” adds Anand.
Promote well-being from the top down
Leaders need to act as role models if well-being is to become embedded at the very core of the organisation. It’s very unlikely that employees will start acting in a new way that puts their own needs first if the leadership team continues to behave in an entirely different manner.
‘Many organisations have worked hard in recent months to put new policies in place that better support well-being, promote hybrid working and attempt to set clear boundaries, but many leaders seem to assume that they are exempt from it all, that’s when it all falls over’, explains leadership experts Martin Boroson and Carmel Moore, from The One Moment Company.
A recent ONS report into Homeworking in the UK revealed that people are on average working 6 hours extra per week, and many are working until late in the evening, indicating that the boundaries between work and life are more blurred than ever.
“Despite all of these wonderful opportunities for people to self-organise, if the leadership team continues to work in the office Monday to Friday, or are communicating at all hours, then it’s a clear indicator that hybrid working is simply a ‘bolt-on’ tactic rather than an integral part of the company’s approach to promoting the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.’