Getting to know you: Gi Fernando

What do you currently do?

I’m an investor in around 30 businesses across a range of fields, including platform businesses like Citymapper, YPlan, Streetlife, Playmob, Tech Will Save Us, Car Throttle, Driftrock; style businesses like Taylor Morris Eyeware and A Suit That Fit; and space businesses like Mews of Mayfair and Timberyard. I believe that over the next 50 years, the success of any economy will depend on the intrinsic linking of profit and purpose – they must be so closely connected that one can no longer exist without the other. With this underpinning belief, I’ve founded a number of unique businesses where profit and purpose go hand in hand. One such company is Freeformers, a digital transformation company.  Freeformers helps companies fulfil the people aspect of their digital strategies through an intense set of practical, impactful, transformational activities. The profit-purpose aspect com, for every business person that goes through the programme, Freeformers helps a person under-served by education for free. Half of the staff at Freeformers are people who have been helped in this way.
What is your inspiration in business?

Muhammad Yunis, the founder of Grameen bank. I think the way he conducts business, his vision and his ability to inspire and encourage other budding entrepreneurs and businessman has to be heralded. He is without doubt one of the greatest global thinkers and he has had an influence on the way I like to operate.

Who do you admire?

I admire leaders in business, government and the third sector, who are aware enough to know that technology is driving huge change; responsible enough to know they need to think very hard about what the future of work will look like and courageous enough to make decisions based on their convictions where profit, purpose and the civic society play an equal part. People like Ashok Vaswani at Barclays, Baroness Lane-Fox, Lord Knight, Michelle Dewberry (the epitome of Digital Transformation), Sir Anthony Salz, Emma Cerrone (who is CEO of Freeformers) and also all the entrepreneurs that I back; people I have the privilege of spending time with.

Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?

I don’t usually have too many regrets, but there are definitely a number of things I could have done better. One of the biggest challenges I face is getting the balance right between vision/ideas mode and being open to everything and when to be in a more focused mind-set and adopt a ‘no’ mentality. It frequently takes me a year or so to transition, and given I often jump off the cliff before the parachute is finished, this can be quite disruptive to others following me. It’s taken me a while to be aware and confident enough to understand the power of belief and leadership has on others, and the responsibility that this comes with.

What defines your way of doing business?

A huge mantra of mine that I talk a lot about is win win; I really don’t understand in this day and age of technology democratisation, why there needs to be winners and losers in business or society. There still seems to be this comedy alpha male white guy character in business who wins at all costs – I think this is good for TV, but not particularly helpful for a business to be sustainable, the economy or growth in the next 50 years. When you work hard to make sure everyone in the ecosystem wins, you win. Looking at business being about creativity, opportunity and ecosystem, for me, seems much easier and frankly more fun. I think politicians should adopt this strategy too.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Focus on ideas that remove the friction out of things you are passionate about, to make them better. Then work out the skills you need to learn to make it happen. Make sure you do things that really matter to you.

I would say whatever you do, if you ever find yourself repetitively taking a bunch of data, applying some rules (that don’t change much) to get an answer; look immediately to automate it. Computers are much better than humans at doing this and will make these tasks and jobs obsolete in the next few years.