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Leadership one-to-ones: catching up with Harry Kounougakis

The fifth interview in this series is with Harry Kounougakis, EVP of IT and Business Assurance. Read about Harry's journey from his beginnings in a research call centre to spearheading AI initiatives and handling all IT matters globally at Savanta.

Charles Rason Senior Consultant 11/03/2024
If both the employees care and you care, it pushes everyone to be a bit better and even pushes the company to as well - that energy flows in and outside of the business.

About the series: I’ve always found leadership to be an interesting element of the business workforce – they are there to provide direction, inspiration, and guide the growth of a business, all while maintaining a strong financial position in an increasingly volatile world. I love hearing the stories that sit behind the leaders, about their career so far and what led them to be in the position they are in. In this blog, I speak with Savanta’s leaders to find out how they’ve shaped the unique culture at Savanta, what it is that makes them tick and, hopefully, to glean some pearls of wisdom which we can all incorporate into our professional lives.

The fifth interview in this series is with Harry Kounougakis, EVP, IT and Business Assurance. Harry occupies a comprehensive role, overseeing both Savanta’s core business systems and ensuring adherence to quality standards across the board. Pragmatic and solution-oriented, follow Harry’s story from starting in a research call centre through to leading the charge on AI and being responsible for all things IT at Savanta globally.

Charles: “What do you do at Savanta …. and how have you gotten here?”

Harry: “There’s an ongoing joke that if it runs on electricity, it falls under IT, and that’s one of my big areas of remit, so it’s all things IT”. Harry is responsible for the IT systems and general compliance at Savanta, excluding tech development. His journey started in a market research CATI call centre, where he learnt the foundations of market research. “I started with weekend work on the phones, which led to a full-time position in the IT department. From there, connections in the industry meant I stayed in research and ultimately joined HPI, one of the founding companies of Savanta.”

Charles: “What gets you out of bed in the morning?”

Harry: “This might not sound very tangible, but I hate seeing wasted effort and I just want to do a good job every time I wake up – you know, I always want to do a good job in terms of what I bring to the table”. Harry’s driving force mirrors the Savanta values, looking to be bold and confident and that we’re doing the best job possible, he says “this is what makes Savanta special, we all share that sentiment.

Charles: “What’s the project you’ve worked on at Savanta you’re most proud of?”

Harry: “I might not be the most popular person for saying this, only because it was a complete shift in our business, but the implementation of the Kimble system.” Despite being a challenging project, it marked a major step forward in how Savanta reports and looks at numbers, reflecting the company’s growth and expanding international operations. “It didn’t matter if you were back office or front frontline, it underpinned and still underpins everything that we do, so that for me was project I am most proud of because while it required being hard but fair in places, while also being incredibly collaborative with lots of stakeholders. A good sign is that the system is still being used today.”

Charles: “What energizes you at work?”

Harry: “Similar to what gets me out of bed, I am energised by reducing wasted effort and generally doing a good job. It can be challenging, as you want to do everything but actually there’s a lot of value in focusing on the higher value items, that could have a far-reaching impact across the company.” Seeing the impact he can have in helping someone streamlining a process gives him satisfaction. He also values accountability and the empowering effect it has on individuals and teams. “The thing that energises me with AI advances more than anything is knowing how much time is gonna give back to people if it’s used in the right way. I’ve just given you back 10 hours of your life that you can now spend not just finishing your work, but hopefully having a nice meal at the end of the day with your family too.”

Charles: “Is there a life/ work hack that you swear by?”

Harry: A work-life hack that Kounougakis swears by is accountability. He believes in writing down tasks and making someone accountable for them. This practice not only ensures that tasks get done but also empowers individuals to own their work. “I think first it’s about being adaptable, being able to change for both people and technology, but then to take that further, I think assigning accountability is what drives work forwards efficiently. If two people are accountable, it often means neither feel responsible, which can lead to challenges down the line.”

Charles: “What’s your superpower?”

Harry: Harry would consider his superpower to be his ability to figure out how to get things done. He believes in adapting to situations and changing with them. He views rigidity as a hindrance to progress and encourages flexibility in the face of challenges. “I’ve always been quite good at figuring out how to get things done. I think it’s about asking the right questions to help advance what you’re working on and working out what needs to change to get something over the line.”

Charles: “What’s a skill you’re currently working on?”

Harry: A skill that Harry is currently working on is focusing his attention in areas where he can add the most value. “The one skill I’m trying to work on work on is focusing my efforts in the areas where I’m gonna add the most value and maybe not trying to be everywhere all at once. It’s very easy to spread yourself too thin, meaning you don’t leave enough time for yourself, so it’s about leaving buffer for yourself to prioritise where efforts are best spent.”

Charles: “Have you made any mistakes in your career? What have you learnt from them?”

Harry: Making mistakes is a natural part of anyone’s career journey. I’ve made loads of mistakes along the way but you start to realise that the harder times are when you learn the most.” Harry thinks that when you make a mistake, it’s about learning from it and trying not to make the same mistake again – “it doesn’t mean that thing won’t happen again but at least you know why it happened and can try to improve in future.”

Charles: “If you could give your 25-year-old self a piece of advice what would that be?”

Harry: The advice that Harry would give to his 25-year-old self would be to “work smarter, not harder.” He believes in focusing attention on the most important things is more fruitful. “Hard work is incredibly important, but one of the things is that sometimes is you spend all that time doing things and people just don’t care about it or notice.” So before you go down a path to something, sit back and evaluate how much value or impact the task will add, prioritising if it is worth investing your time.

Charles: “For you, what makes Savanta a special place to work?”

Harry: Harry noted that Savanta’s supportive environment makes it a special place to work. The company backs its employees, encourages them to take on challenges and responsibilities, and empowers them to own their work and make a difference. “If the employee’s care and you care, it kind of pushes everyone to be a bit better and even pushes the company to as well – that energy flows in and outside of the business.”

Charles: “I wanted to ask one final question, given you are responsible for IT. Of all the public AI developments across the company right now, which one are you most excited about?”

Harry: He is most excited about the potential of AI to give time back to people. He mentioned several tools in development that could streamline work processes, make tasks more efficient, and ultimately give people more control over their time. “I want to provide something that can impact every member of staff, globally. If I can save you 5 to 10 hours a month, just by slightly changing the way you work by using AI rather than doing it yourself, then I’m doing my job right.”

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