Critical Software: On Leadership and the Next Chapter
Following the announcement that Critical Software’s founders, Gonçalo Quadros and João Carreira, have switched their leadership roles, we caught up with both of them to understand why and to find out more about what’s next for Critical Software.
Following the recent news announcement - Gonçalo, you’re now Chairman. João, you’re now CEO. Why the switch?
GQ: Well, we’ve had incredible growth over the past few years, particularly in 2018, and we’ve decided to make some tweaks to the company management structure to build on that success - to adapt and prepare ourselves for new challenges.
JC: What we’re doing is essentially refreshing and refocusing roles and responsibilities within our existing management area, whilst keep the same core team that has worked successfully over the last few years.
GQ: Over the course of last year, we grew from around 400 to over 800 people and this year we’re set to hit 1000 employees. If we factor in the other companies in the Critical ecosystem, we’ll be close to 1500 employees.
JC: We’ve also hit the €45m turnover mark in 2018 and we’re set to reach €50m in 2019. We want to further accelerate our growth as we move into the future and we’re exploring a number of exciting options, for which we need to be well-prepared.
GQ: All of his growth generates new challenges, both in terms of looking after our people, adapting our infrastructure and maintaining the strength of our community and culture. And – at the same time – we want to keep our innovative and entrepreneurial spirit alive. So, we believe that now is the time to address these exciting opportunities by renewing our leadership roles and responsibilities.
JC: We also believe that it is healthy to periodically refresh roles within the company, not only at the level of the Management Board, but across the whole company. We encourage this with our training and career mobility opportunities. We actually have many good examples inside the company of people changing roles and responsibilities: it keeps things fresh, it creates opportunities for growth, it takes us out of our comfort zones and it allows us to more fully understand our business. This is very important, and we believe a key part of building a healthy company environment.
How will your new roles change your responsibilities?
GQ: Well, I’ll be more focused on all of the aspects related with our culture, our people and our wider community. We want to preserve our culture as we grow because that’s part of our foundation. And we want to make our community even stronger. This an area that I am truly passionate about and where I can make a big difference.
We’re proud of what we’ve achieved but there’s so much more to do and so many challenges created by our growth. For example, today we have several generations of engineers working at the company side-by-side who graduated in 1988, working with engineers who graduated in 2018. That’s a 30-year gap! This creates an incredibly rich work environment that we can tap into. And that’s just one example. We have a lot of interesting ideas that we’re maturing that we’d like to introduce in the near future.
JC: I’ll be more focused on all of the aspects related with running and growing the business. We have made tremendous progress over the last four years, not only growing and expanding, but in terms of our financial health. Things have not always been like this and so the hard work of everyone really feels worth it.
We want to continue this, and we want to put our financial strength to good use, investing in consolidating our position in the market and funding intelligent expansions. We’ve already seen some of that, with the opening of new offices and the development of our existing offices. And, in our increasing investment in strategic geographies such as the UK and Germany, focusing our efforts on the markets that make most sense. These things are what I will focus on, what I am passionate about and where I feel I can add most value.
GQ: Needless to say for those who know us, these are our areas of strength but we’ll continue to work closely together, with the Management Board and the wider teams.
JC: Yeah, we’ve never been strict about job titles, and we work together in a very fluid way. We’ve known each other for so long and we know instinctively where one or the other should step in.
João Carreira and Gonçalo Quadros at Critical Software's headquarters in Coimbra
What about the wider leadership team?
GQ: The Board of Directors and the Executive Team will essentially be composed of the same people: myself, Joao C, Pedro M, Matt B, Joao B, Yiannaki L, Neil A, Paulo F, Jorge R, Luis G and Joao Paulo.
JC: Then we’ll have a new structure, actually required for a company of our size, which is called the “Audit Committee”. This is an independent structure responsible for monitoring and auditing the activity of the Executive Team and has three additional members.
What are the plans for Critical Software over the coming years?
JC: We have an ambitious roadmap for growth. We believe that as a company we have arrived at a place where we have created differentiation from the competition, built a reputation based on quality and innovation, and with the critical mass to now play in a different league and address challenges from customers of a different order of magnitude. This is very exciting and strengthens our competitive position even further.
GQ: With this comes new opportunities for professional career development for everybody in the company. The Critical TechWorks spinoff with BMW last year is a good example of creating unique opportunities for individual growth at both companies, taking Critical’s spirit and culture as a starting point. This shows the vitality of our model. As we grow, we’ll have even more opportunities to work with customers of significant magnitude.
You’ve both been Chairman and CEO for many years now. What’s changed?
GQ: Almost everything has changed, not only because we’ve grown from 3 to 1000 people, but also because our wider business ecosystem and the world around us are completely different today from what they were 20 years ago. The types of challenges, their complexity and multidisciplinary nature, the importance of agility and flexibility, and new management styles that are highly-distributed and adaptive as never before have all changed how we do things. One important aspect hasn't changed though: the fundamentals of our culture. The unity and solidarity among our teams, our collective ambition, our humility and the importance we attach to our community are long-lasting characteristics of who and what we are.
You founded Critical Software over 20 years ago. What keeps you motivated?
JC: What keeps me motivated is the excitement and thrill of overcoming challenge after challenge as we become bigger and better at what we do. And the pride of being part of such an amazing team and the belief that we're building something that will leave a positive mark on the world.
GQ: Our people and their growth is my main source of motivation. To see people who trust in us go on to become the people we then trust with highly-complex projects - to see our talented people in the frontline facing the most pressing challenges we face - is really rewarding. We have bright people across the Critical family. Their light is a powerful source of motivation. There’s a lot for us still to achieve and conquer but they are the most powerful reason to trust in our future.
What are you most proud of at Critical Software?
JC: I’m definitely very proud of our teams and our community of extraordinary people that make things happen and accomplish so much!
I’m also proud of collectively being able to grow a company to the scale we currently have today without compromising our core values. It’s a long journey and there’s obviously lots of difficult moments where shortcuts could have been taken but where we did things the right way. We’re very proud of keeping our values strong and intact throughout our journey.
GQ: Our ability to grow great people, extraordinary leaders - both from a management and technical perspective - is what makes me proudest. For example, Critical TechWorks was set up by people that grew up at Critical. What we had to collectively overcome in 2018, with so many people moving to Critical TechWorks and yet both companies still achieving great things, shows that we have extraordinary people in the Critical family. We are indeed a great school of engineering.