By Fiona Wakelin
Recognised for building high-performing global teams at leading enterprise cloud companies such as Oracle and Cisco, where he held senior roles, Abe Smith is an industry decorated technology executive.
Please tell us about the journey which led you to being appointed the Head of International for Zoom Video Communications
After graduating, I moved to Japan to immerse myself in the culture and learn the language. Living in a small fishing village, I fell in love with the way of life. But I also began to appreciate the power of international business and knew I wanted this to be a part of my career. When I moved back to the US, I found a brilliant mentor who helped me develop my passion for growing businesses around the world and helped guide me in becoming a leader.
I moved to Silicon Valley in 2000 and stumbled across a then small tech company called Webex, and it was here that I met Eric Yuan, now CEO at Zoom. During this time I built my expertise in cloud enterprise applications and the impact they can have on the world, as well as growing a multi-million dollar global business. I learnt many important lessons, and it helped shape who I am as a leader today. Fast forward some years later and the connection I made with Eric developed into a lifelong partnership as we continue to collaborate together at Zoom.
What does your role entail?
As Head of International at Zoom, my role involves taking a global view on all go-to-market strategies, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia-Pacific, Japan and Latin America. We’ve seen some incredible growth over the past couple of years, and as a result, I have had the privilege of hiring some amazingly talented people to help accelerate this growth around the world.
What excites you about your role?
I have a lot of intellectual curiosity, which I think is crucial to have in my role. I am privileged to work with so many different cultures across Asia, Europe and Latin America and to be in a position where I can constantly learn about new parts of the world.
At Zoom, we have been able to participate in people’s everyday lives in such an impactful way. For example, helping people learn and improve their education. While that’s a huge responsibility, it’s also a privilege. Of course, I also love being able to interact with hundreds of Zoomies around the world who are all equally passionate and committed to our mission.
What have been some of your major milestones?
There are lots of points in my life that I would consider to be milestones. Living in Japan at a young age stands out to me, it was an exciting time and I was able to learn so much. Having the chance to drive intense global business development while still in my twenties, and then being able to move to Silicon Valley while the internet was still taking shape and the cloud was being created meant that I was living at the heart of so much innovation. Working for some of the most prominent technology companies taught me a lot about scale and what it means to be an international business. But, the crown jewel has to be joining Zoom in 2019 and helping to take the company public and developing and maturing it through the pandemic. What’s even more exciting however is that the most amazing milestone is yet to come, and that’s the future of Zoom in 2022 and beyond.
Do you take a particular approach when building high-growth teams?
It always starts with being bold in my decisions. The market potential is endless, so I always have to think about how we can stretch ourselves, where we can go and how we can do it quickly, without overly stressing my team or the company. It’s important how we source and develop our leaders so we can scale and recognise the business’ potential. However, people always come first, so compassion is key. That’s a core value of our company and how people should live.
What is your “why”?
I have two guiding principles in everything I do. The first is my family, to ensure they are protected, have endless opportunities and enjoy my work as much as I do. The second is feeling professionally vindicated — what I’m doing now is what I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. Having a canvas like Zoom means we can impact people’s lives in so many ways, and that is what drives me every day.
With your experience of scaling operations in Asia and Latin America, what is your view on Africa’s readiness for technological innovation?
I have been interested in Africa’s technology landscape for over a decade, and this is the final frontier. The opportunity within the region is massive, but you have to be very precise when you develop into the continent. Over time and with consideration you need to figure out how to best build intelligently and intentionally as it is a very technically advanced continent. There is lots of organic interest in the product which has created spirited interest from the company internally to pursue it. Because of this innovative drive, we hope businesses within the region takes advantage of our Zoom App Fund, as we’d love to invest in companies in the region whose mission is to make communications more engaging, productive and effective
If you could invite 5 people past or present to dinner who would they be?
This dinner table would be very diverse, and would include John F. Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth, Bono and Emperor Akihito. The final seat would be reserved for my mother, Marcia Smith, as she will always have a place at the table and has offered so much insight into the world that has shaped my thinking.
What exciting plans do you have for the future?
Getting 1% better every single day and building Zoom to be the greatest SaaS company ever. We want people to look at Zoom as the video and communication operating system for their life. Once Zoom and Zoom Video is woven into every aspect of personal and professional life, that’s when we know we’ve achieved our goal.
Do you have a message for people out there struggling to survive?
Never give up. There are always opportunities out there, and even when it seems too difficult, try your best and know that people care and will help. Part of our commitment to the Zoom Cares Programme is to bring some of the best of Zoom to help people, help make the world a better place and solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges. From educational and social inequities to climate change, we deploy funding, technology and technical expertise that make a difference and help those who need it.
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