Advisor Insights with Mohamed Amer

Advisor Insights

Published 15 August 2022

For the past three decades, Los Angeles-based Mohamed Amer has become a revered strategic communicator and leader within multiple fields. With a major portion of his career so far taking place with software juggernaut, SAP, Mohamed served as a corporate executive, where he later worked his way up to the Global Head of Strategic Communications and Vice President. Within these roles, he navigated both the German and American retail markets, becoming a ‘global solutions owner’. Scaling market trends and turning customer needs into product requirements, Mohamed always has his hand on the pulse of market trends and changing business environments.

Before transitioning to a board portfolio career, Mohamed was serving in advisory-based roles in-house at SAP. Coupled with his experience as a global solutions leader and his ability to sense market changes, he saw the inevitability of digital transformation within organisations. Mohamed has gone on to aid organisations in their digital strategy, simultaneously educating advisory and governance boards about the necessity of this snowballing market evolution.

Mohamed encourages a viral lesson for corporate leaders to adopt a strategy that is based on flexibility, in order to navigate the pace at which business environments shift.

With a corporation or a company, no matter what it is, you need to be constantly dynamically changing, moving, and learning in order to thrive. Otherwise, you’re not. Sometimes it takes an external voice to help you see that.


In this Advisor Insights interview with Advisory Board Centre’s General Manager, Penny Ellenger, Mohamed expands on the necessity of possessing a flexible strategy and how advisory boards and organisational leaders need to have unanimous expectations. While advisory boards remain independent of the organisation, the meeting of minds between the two is reflective of best practice – the bread and butter of advisory board conduct.



The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the Advisor ecosystem.

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Penny Ellenger: Hello everybody, and welcome to this edition of Advisor Insights. I’m delighted today to be joined by one of our amazing Certified Chairs based all the way over in California, Mohamed Ahed. Hi, Mohamed. How are you?

Mohamed Amer: Hello, Penny. How are you?

Penny Ellenger: Really good. Thank you. Thanks so much for joining us. And what I’d like to do over the next little while is just spend a little bit of time finding out about, about Mohamed, about you, about your career. What’s brought you to the advisory board space and just a few key elements of the experiences that you’ve had in your advisory journey so far. And I, I’m sure that there’s plenty that you have to share, and I really look forward to our conversation. So thanks again for joining me. We might start Mohamed with if I can ask you just to please give us a bit of a snapshot on your career so far, what’s brought you to this point and a little bit of a snapshot on the advisory roles that you currently hold or, or, or have held.

Mohamed Amer: Great. well, first of all, thank you, Penny. It, it’s great to be here with you and having this conversation. I’ll just start off with kind of the roles that I have, and then I’ll kind of back into how I got here, so to speak. Awesome. So currently I’m on several advisory boards for startup companies. One of those, two of those are actually in, in Israel. One is in the services sector. The other is in manufacturing and then the third one that’s here in the US in Chicago. So those are the, the current ones. And basically from two of ’em from 2020 and one of those I started last year in 2021. I’ve also had three corporatized experiences when I was at SAP and right before I got to SAP one of ’em was on the point of sale advisory council.

Another was another advisory council in the food, retailing and fashion. So parts of retail and another was around the supply chain. So so really spanning almost 20 years or so of of advisory roles. So when I, when I think about what kind of fueled all these opportunities, I just see digital transformation, even before we called it digital transformation, you know, there’s rising customer expectations, abundance of data, rapid technological advances, and all those are driving unprecedented dynamics in every single business sector and even in our own personal lives. And, and that’s what really excuse me, I, I think makes things that interesting because change is constant.

Penny Ellenger: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And, and, you know, very often we see that change is the principle reason for establishing an advisory structure of any kind to support that kind of change that movement, that progress, that transformation, whatever it may be, wherever the end goal is set. It’s, it’s often the reason for, for, for establishing those advisory boards.

Mohamed Amer: Maybe I should, maybe I should bring in like how I got here.

Penny Ellenger: Oh, absolutely. Thank you.

Mohamed Amer:  I kind of only answered like half of it there. So my formal education kind of spanned life sciences, international relations business, and human organizational systems. So my career moved from being an officer in the United States Navy as navigator and intelligence officer to general management consulting, technology and entrepreneurship, where I actually had a successful M&A exit a number of years ago, but the core area would be at SAP where I scale global solutions across multiple regional markets. I was a global solution owner for an entire retail segment. And I really turned market trends and customer needs into product requirements and go to market motions, which I led for the Americas in the retail industry. And then the last few years I headed internal strategic and executive communications for consumer industries and for the entire industry segment. So those communication roles really gave me an unexpected outcome and, and where I discovered and lived the power of the word and stories and narratives and the importance of intentionality which by the way, helped me inform my doctoral dissertation on the power of narratives and political discourse in the aftermath of the Arab spring.

Penny Ellenger: Wow!

Mohamed Amer: Thinking a hundred years ago, the American novelist F Scott Gerald once said that genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind. And maybe he was thinking about writing novels, but I’m looking at it from, you know, business communication is often ignored weapon and the resources for an executive and leader. So I think we can all agree that progress doesn’t happen until and only when you, we can propel an idea from abstraction to reality and leaders need to orchestrate all those actions and practices, words, and symbols, and be consistent with their understanding and capabilities, operational context, and also the time dynamics. So you know, I look at all this, all these experiences and the collective experiences and the current advisory roles they’ve, they’ve really afforded me a unique engagement and perspective with senior executives and boards where you need to be a good listener to probe in multiple functions, offer, you know, objective insights, explore, challenge, support, communicate, reframe, simplify, the complex and all those all those things I think are really important. And how, what made me who I am today and who I am able to look at advisory boards as a way to continue to develop myself and to contribute in the space.

Penny Ellenger: Yeah. Excellent. Thanks Mohamed. And, you know, after such a, a diverse series of series of careers not just one, one career, but a, a diverse range of careers, that’s, that’s really provided you with a wealth of expertise, advice, knowledge, and experiences that you can draw on in your advisory engagements. And you’ve, you mentioned that obviously you’ve, you’ve been involved in both the startup space you know, supporting young, growing, you know, organizations, which are barely organizations when you first probably start to get to know them as well as in the very large multinational corporatized model. What’s your, what, what are your reflections about these two different types of, of sector and advisory board model? What are the, the comparisons and the combining features yeah. Of those two, but also what are what’s different about each, each sector?

Mohamed Amer: Yeah, I, I think some commonality across is really aligning on expectations as early as possible establishing trust. It’s always an ongoing effort. And realizing that tension is, is a natural element in any organizational construct. And it doesn’t matter whether you are a two-person startup or you’re several thousand people type of organization. And you’ve gotta always find ways to collab, you know, a collaboration where it’s a win, win situation. It, it sounds like an old hat, but it’s really important to, to establish and making sure that everyone involved understands the kind of resources and commitment that are required to succeed. And, and that everybody’s aligned as to what success is. Mm. When I think about startups specifically it’s really all about change. You’re busting paradigms, you’re changing the status quo. You’re challenging the existing power relationships and structures.

You’re trying to differentiate on dimensions that you believe that the incumbents cannot or possibly realistically compete on. And it’s all about speed agility, experimenting quick cycles, and where you’re able to, to pivot at any point. So that, that’s how I view the opportunities around startups and to understand the mindset of, of a startup company and the founders established companies on the other hand and they run the continuum from the smaller companies you know, a few business owners to large companies, corporations, and for them, it tends to be all about keeping the status quo, maintaining that, and they really look for external assistance or help or advise advisory services, if you will, when the businesses at an inflection point, startups are always at inflection. Yeah. It’s, it’s the nature of the game. Yeah. Nature of it.

And they’re looking for that as, as an opportunity for them. But an established company tends like, okay, we did the work, we got, we got sales going, we got our cost structure in place, the market. We understand it, everything is good. And all of a sudden something changes, something happened. And there’s que, there are question marks, you know, what worked in the past, isn’t working today. So coming to an inflection point and, you know, it could be internal where you’re looking at a different kind of labor issues, labor content rising rates access to a market access to dollars. The demand is, is changing something going on with the way your systems are no longer keeping up with what needs to be or how you need to run your, your system, your business and your processes, or it could be an external pressures, macro, the interest rates, inflation, unemployment you know different changes in trends.

And also the rate of change in the trends. A lot of people look at things you know, increasing but decreasing, but they don’t necessarily look at the rate of change itself. It’s like taking the second derivative. So that’s where your, your, your college calculus thinking can come into play into play <laugh> competition, you know, existing comp competitors, new ones maybe needing to compete on an ecosystem level, not just on a, you know, business to business, changes the technology, understanding the, the implications over time and how you can leverage that. It sort of it becoming a pain point. And then the whole social aspects, network effects needing to be transparent. It’s a, it’s a different business environment today than it was not even 10 years ago. So those, those are some of the kind of way differences I see between the two.

Penny Ellenger: Yeah, that’s really, that’s really interesting. Obviously, summarizing that the startup space is all about change and it’s about being resilient to that change and being comfortable working, operating in that kind of environment. What I’m hearing from you in the much larger organization space is about, I guess, balancing or regaining some kind of status quo or back on the path. One was headed in, in spite of, or even in the presence of these changes, these situational impacts and changes whether internal, external that might I guess take, take the organization off its course a little bit. So that’s really, it’s an interesting way of thinking.

Mohamed Amer: Yeah. And, and, and one of the, the really big problems and the bias that a larger organization has, is to think of the world as a state of equilibrium or that the status quo is, is a status quo <laugh> but instead of thinking of life and businesses constantly changing, and that you have to constantly think of it more dynamic in biology, if an organism doesn’t change, it’s dead. Yeah. Same thing with a, with a corporation or a company, or no matter what it is, you need to be constantly dynamically changing, moving, learning in order to, to thrive. Otherwise…

Penny Ellenger: That that’s right. Yeah, you’re, you’re not at all. Yeah. Thank you.

Mohamed Amer: You found, it takes an external voice to help you see that.

Penny Ellenger: Yes. Oftentimes I think it’s very useful. You know, the larger an organization becomes the more it can look inward and believe or, or take to quickly to respond to the, the internal voices. It’s really important to have that external perspective

Mohamed Amer: Drinking the Kool-Aid.

Penny Ellenger: Yeah. <laugh> that’s right. That’s right. Mohamed I’m really interested to know what sort of advice you might have for, for business owners, perhaps contemplating an advisory structure, but also for, for advisors. Have you got some, some, some key, I guess principles that have really stood well, the test of time for you and your advisory work. Yeah.

Mohamed Amer: Yes. for the business owners make sure that you are prepared to change and to be challenged. Okay. don’t focus on the, how so much, but be open on new methods and approaches make sure that the advisor fit is right for you and your culture, even though I’ve said about being able to be open and change, but you’ve got, you’ve got to have the chemistry work because if the chemistry doesn’t work, you’re not gonna listen anyways.

Penny Ellenger: Yeah. Yeah.

Mohamed Amer: And, and you know, be honest on what you need and understand the, your own internal dynamics and what the hurdles that might be in, in place. So, and I covered some things around trust and ethics, but those, those are really paramount and it covers any type of engagement cuz if you don’t live it or don’t expect it, then your advisory board will fail you at the, at the worst possible time.

Penny Ellenger: And I think that goes for both sides of the equation, doesn’t it for the, the business, the organization itself. And for those advising you know, having a foundation of trust and ethical engagement I think is, is paramount.

Mohamed Amer: Yeah. On the advisor side, I think, you know, you’ve gotta be curious, have that curiosity and you’ve really gotta listen. Well, you don’t go in there with a preconceived notion about what it is that it will take to, to turn it around or to be successful. Yeah. so you’ve gotta, you’ve gotta, each, each situation is unique and you have to do the, the listening and remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the client’s success. And, and, and that it should be the guiding light, the north star. Yeah. And kind of to the last point I had made with for the business owners, it’s, you know, your character and integrity are on the line, so know yourself well, and don’t over promise or over commit and love it. Probably the, the last thing maybe, you know, consciously bring in on the personal side, you know, bring your prior experiences into play in each and every subsequent engagement that you do, you know, you build on your past, you connect the dots. You’re always learning from the abstract to the concrete and you’ve gotta always, you know, be pushing the envelope. So you know, it it’s each, each situation is unique, but at the same time, there are things that you can bring from one to the next and and be, give your, give yourself time to reflect and be able to, to see those things in abstract and as well as in the concrete actions that need to be taken.

Penny Ellenger: Yeah. Yeah. I, I really like that. I think there, there could be a sort of a preconceived notion that as advisors, you know, we need to come ready as, as those who know, you know, those who’ve experienced, those who’ve seen, and those who are are there to bring that wisdom to, to the table. I think it’s really important to reflect on the need to always be learning and always be challenging oneself and to build on one’s experience. I think that’s a really healthy dynamic. It also creates I guess as well, that level playing field between advisor and, and, and business or business owner, engaging business where it’s, it’s about, you know, a peer support mechanism rather than just a solution that’s being provided.

Mohamed Amer: Right. It’s, it’s a relationship it’s not transactional plug and play takeout. It’s modular, you know, it’s, it’s a relationship. And that’s, that’s really where the value comes through

Penny Ellenger: Hundred percent. Look, I have a final question for you Mohamed, which I would love. I’d love if you’d be happy to share you know, on the importance of being able, to reflect yourself on your own work and your, your passions and your aspirations. What, what really, what really inspires you? What animates you and infuses you? Yeah.

Mohamed Amer: You know, you when I, when I was looking at joining the advisory council and just going through that, and it kind of forces you to look back on what you’ve done in the past and where you wanna go. And so I was really thankful that I had that opportunity to, to, to do that contemplation. So I’ve, I’ve kind of come, you know, my work and my travels have taken me to nearly, you know, two dozen countries across all the continents. I have not been to Australia one day, one day. And, and all that was feeding kind of my natural sense of curiosity and, and wonder at the wide variety of the human experience and applying that interest and to cross-cultural awareness to multiple disciplines and industries has just been thrilling and more fulfilling than I realized. So I’m really keenly interested in just exploring how we can create new models of engagement that cut across disciplines and, and break boundaries, traditional boundaries, and, and work towards enhancing human understanding, you know, improving organizational performance and, and just creating more social outcomes. So that, that’s what I’m discovering that really,

Penny Ellenger: Really drives you.

Mohamed Amer: Yeah. Yeah.

Penny Ellenger: Yep. Yeah. And motivates you. I, I love it Mohamed it’s been a delight to spend some time with you this morning and, and listen to a little bit of your experience. And, and what, what both you bring to the advisory board space, but also the value that you, that you obtain from being engaged in this area. I thank you on behalf of the center, on behalf of Louise and the team, very much Mohamed for spending time with this, this morning and advisors within the network and shares within the network. If you’d like to connect with Mohamed please feel free to reach out to him through the advisory board world or connect with me. And I will be very happy to put you in touch with Mohamed. Thank you again for joining me today.

Mohamed Amer: Thank you, Penny. Take care. Cheers.