Som Seif, president and chief executive officer of Claymore Investments, Inc., started the company six years ago, and now runs a $6.5-billion asset management fund with 23 staff. He spoke with The Globe and Mail about how he got where he is and where he's going now.
How do you manage?
Because we are a high-growth organization, from a management perspective, one thing I believe you need is to motivate people. You shouldn't be micromanaging everybody. You should be giving good directions but you let them do the rest. You let them go forward on their own. That's why I need people who are self-starters, responsible and accountable.
When was the last time you were impressed?
I am impressed a lot lately. We don't do performance reviews. But what I am impressed by is the energy in the organization to really go above and beyond.
I love hearing success stories. When I see other people take the initiative and make something of it, there are a lot of examples. I love seeing the little guys win.
One good example is Porter. Bob Deluce. He's done an [admirable]job of going and saying, "I'm going to fight the big guys." I look at their business, and it's do right for your customers and you will ultimately win.
There is also Anthony Lacavera of Wind. These people motivate me. I am impressed by them.
What keeps you up at night?
The business. Ultimately, every day I am always a nervous willy. We are an organization growing dramatically. We have so many great opportunities around us and we have limited resources. It's making sure we are constantly focusing and reprioritizing the best opportunity and not missing something. I don't sleep very well. Since I started Claymore, I haven't slept very well for six years.
What skills have best served you?
Open-mindedness. The best leadership skill is open-mindedness. It allows you to make mistakes. I am not a person who regrets. I don't have a lot of regrets. I have the ability to forget and move on. It's about focusing forward as opposed to backward. It's aggressiveness. I am a big believer that there is no such thing as the answer no. Everything is possible. It's just a question of what you are willing to do to get it.
What was the best advice you ever got?
You have to be humble. There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness.
Being humble is as important as being a good person. The best skills for business is truly being accountable. When you say something your word is your bond.
That's not just in business, that's in life.
I didn't come from money. I didn't come from a family who had everything. One thing I had was support. They always pushed me. It was never just good enough to be average. You had to be great. I'd come home with a report card – let's say I got an 85 – I wasn't always the best student. I'd be proud, and the first reaction from my mom would be, "Great, where's the other 15 per cent?" That was an important message for me.
If you weren't doing what you are doing now, where would we find you?
I always had a dream of being an architect. Growing up, I loved art and design. It's an area maybe in the future I'd love to get into. I hope that one day in my life I'll be able to spend my life focused on community, charity, more civic-based duties.
What was a big moment for you?
Setting aside the birth of my two baby girls, it's been the every day of building this company. It's this kind of giddiness I get every day when I wake up coming to work. We're doing amazing things, and it's always been a company I am passionate about. It isn't one moment. It's a bunch of moments.
The Stanford business school application reads: What is the most important thing for you and why? How would you respond?
My family. My daughters and my wife. My family will be the number one priority. Everything else is a means to supporting them and keeping them happy. All the things I do with Claymore are things that make me happy and make my family happy.
I love Canada. It welcomed me when I was a young boy. I came from Iran in 1979. That has inspired me a lot. I want to do a lot of things, good things too.