Marwa Helal

How We Work: Sherif Iskander

Regional Manager, Google Middle East and North Africa

Google in the Middle East and North Africa is responsible for the daunting task of improving the quality and quantity of Web use in the region. Sherif Iskander took time from his busy schedule to sit down with Business Today Egypt to tell us how he manages it all. Edited excerpts:

I like to make use of Sunday, as it’s the workday that does not overlap with Europe. I’ll use it to conduct lots of meetings in Cairo because there are no meetings from outside of Egypt. However, Friday is a day where Europe and the US are still operational, so I have to be available in case of any lastminute changes or meetings. That leaves the other four days in the middle of the week in which I do my best to strike a balance.

I can’t begin my day without coffee. I’m pretty particular about it: My first cup is usually fresh-ground Colombian coffee brewed at home. I try to minimize driving as much as I can by trying to schedule appointments closer to where I live in the early morning or later in the evening. My assistant, Lamya, has a tough job scheduling all my appointments to make sure I’m not going back and forth across town in the middle of Cairo’s unpredictable traffic. If I manage to make an eighthour day boil down to six-and-a-half hours of work and one and half of driving, I consider that a success. But if I need to do four hours of driving, that means I’ve just wasted half a day. That’s one of the toughest things to do.

I try to get to my meetings on time and I am pretty well connected. If I have some buffer time, I try to use it to respond to emails, phone calls and requests that are coming in. I am very picky about a lot of things, my car included. So when I go to a meeting, I usually park in a very good spot, then I walk to the meeting. This is a great way to recharge my physical and mental energy.

At night, at around 1–2am, I set aside an hour to respond to emails so that they don’t pile up. If I need to, I spend another hour early in the morning catching up.

Because I work in a very fast-paced industry, another important aspect of the work I do is setting aside some time to keep up with what’s going on in my field. I can’t just be focused on what I’m doing; I need to know the trends, what people are talking about and doing, as well as be aware of any controversial issues that may be arising. I read blogs, websites with technology news on the weekend or for an hour each day. I use email notifications, which help a lot. Keeping up with the news and being well informed is crucial because it’s what gives you an edge, extra depth and perception.

I know I need to do more when I think faster than my actions. I keep track of these ideas by recording them into my phone or scratching them down on a piece of paper. If I’m spending two hours a day driving, one of those hours is spent on the phone and the other is spent on inspiration.

The best way to manage people is to be very religious about it, so you set objectives and you have to be in agreement with the person you are dealing with. Once you get that agreement and commitment from them, then you know you have a workable set of objectives. You set the time aside to help and monitor that person and you talk to them weekly to make sure you’ve tackled all of your objectives.

Managing someone who is far away is not much different than managing someone who is close by. I don’t know why there is always an assumption that because you see that person face-to-face that you’re better off. Consider a salesperson who is usually out of the office—whether he is out in Cairo or Saudi Arabia doesn’t make a difference to me, because in either case I don’t get to see him except once a week.

The ‘Iskander System’ is chaotic but it usually means that priority takes precedence. It’s a mix of paper and electronic lists, sometimes I leave home with several scraps of papers in my pocket or I will set reminders and notifications or I will email myself a list of things to do.

Whatever has a higher priority gets done. The trick is to reach a compromise where you can do as much as you can without leaving too much out. This is what takes thought everyday. The essence is looking at the full picture and understanding the implications of each of your actions.

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