My name is Steve Leonard, and I have the privilege of joining the Singularity University team. I wish I could begin working with all of you right away, but I have a contractual and moral commitment to Singapore Government to first complete my remaining term as the Founding CEO of the company I have worked for four years to build. I am a believer in keeping commitments, and these will be completed in May, at which point I will be 100% committed to build SU together with you.
I accepted the invitation to join SU as CEO because I have long held the core belief that although humanity faces some obvious and urgent challenges (climate, food, and health to name just a few) it is also true that humanity has more capabilities and capacities to address these challenges than ever before. Accelerating advances in technology, many pushed forward by entrepreneurial scientists in amazing startups, are making possible big leaps ahead today that are likely to be seen as ‘outdated’ in just a few years.
More than ever, the world needs ambitious and courageous people around the globe to embrace exponential thinking. I want to be part of pursuing this challenge directly with the SU team, its global community, and its many customers and partners. I look forward to working with Erik, the board and investors to ensure SU remains at the forefront of that challenge. Working with people who ‘dream big’ and inspire others to become part of that journey is what motivates and energises me. This is what SU does, and has done, since its founding more than a decade ago.
Not coincidentally, of the 300+ events at which I have spoken the past few years through my current team, one of the points I always make is ‘the mindset’ with which we approach hard problems is a key factor determining our ability to solve it. Peter, Ray and many of you have long called out the power of ‘exponential thinking’ and overcoming our natural inclination to be worried about the future. As a result, I know the SU team will be a group in which I am among ‘fellow believers’ who want to approach the challenges of the world with a sense of optimism, and a belief that we can play a meaningful part in turning ‘scarcity into abundance’ as Peter often says to audiences.
In addition, I believe that as important and powerful as building an engaged community is to any cause, the building of ambitious companies that have sustainable value, both in economic and social terms, is equally critical. In my own world view, an engaged, focused and energised community is like the brain of a system, and companies built by ambitious and capable people – often entrepreneurially-minded scientists – are like the muscles that drive outcomes imagined by the brain. A person who visualises winning a race, but never trains their body to do what is needed to execute the vision, will never be good enough to even enter the race, let alone win it.
I spent more than 20 years (which I think of as 80+ quarters!) of my life as an executive in various public technology companies running on the ‘meet, beat and raise’ treadmill of Wall Street expectations. I empathise with corporate executives when they speak sincerely about knowing the importance of encouraging action and innovation, but then struggle with the risk of pursuing uncertain new directions and opportunities. I believe SU can strengthen the brains, as well as the muscles, of companies of all sizes and in many countries. We will work on this together.
More recently, for the past seven years I have worked on nation-building priorities with Singapore Government, sitting with Government Ministers and their staffs discussing decade-long economic-growth and industry-development plans. My team and I helped bring these plans to life through entrepreneurship, deeply engaged with hundreds of founders and dozens of VCs. Contributing to the future of one country is a real honour, but through this work, my team and I have been part of similar discussions in multiple countries in Asia and Europe. Again, my belief is that SU has the credibility, community and ‘calling’ to be a major player in these national-agenda discussions all around the world. We will work on this together as well.
In fact, I believe SU has many areas of potential growth, leveraging the great brand and reputation it has painstakingly built over the past decade. The ‘innovation-mindset’ market SU helped create and lead some years ago has now become crowded. Creating differentiation and leadership in new areas, while expanding on SU’s established strengths, will be our shared goal. In my view, the addressable market for what SU can bring is literally 10X (or more) what it was when Peter and Ray launched the group. The great news is the SU brand is a strong one in large part because of the world-class talent it has in its community.
I have many ideas about where the strengths of SU can be a perfect match with the evolving needs of individuals and enterprises. However, it would be wrong of me to start my time with you by leaping to conclusions on what needs to happen or not happen. I will instead start by listening to, and learning from, all of you as my future teammates, and from our many partners and customers around the world. Taking time to validate assumptions, test ideas, and adopt market feedback, and then strongly and confidently execute without being distracted by outside noise might sound a bit ‘old school’, but that is how sustainable, high-value companies can be built while remaining true to their mission.
I’m really looking forward to this adventure, and to learning new things along with all of you as we do good work at the intersection of exponential thinking and exponential outcomes.