Meet the MD: Gavin Tweedie, Global Surface Intelligence

"You need a pool of talented people around you who share your vision and are fully invested and engaged in what you are doing" - Gavin Tweedie, CEO at GSI, shares his expert advice on maximising staff productivity and leading a successful business.

What is it the company does?

Global Surface Intelligence (GSI) is an earth observation analytics company based in Edinburgh. We provide near real-time information on the condition and performance of natural resources and man-made assets – from forests to quarries. Our AI platform generates analysis-ready data assets, crunching through enormous amounts of data in just a few days that would ordinarily take weeks or months to complete. It transforms raw satellite, drone and other big data sets into business asset intelligence, enabling our clients to make better informed business decisions.

We utilise the data supplied by satellite providers, who have traditionally concentrated on serving government and military contracts, to provide our B2B clients with an almost real-time service platform. Our products can assess the value, performance, health and risk of land use, forestry, agriculture and infrastructure assets, and describe how they are impacted by change. They can actively help global companies better understand their sustainable supply chains and minimise environmental impact from critical infrastructure asset damage and pollution.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

I provide strategic direction and leadership in GSI. It’s my responsibility to ensure we are fully exploiting the commercial opportunity while maximising productivity and efficiency, as well as delivering innovation in our solutions. I’m also focused on transforming our products from project-based to becoming fully automated. Having the right balance of people and innovative technology is equally as important and considered by clients to be of great benefit and value. Ultimately, it’s my role to ensure GSI is taking full advantage of the market, is always one-step ahead and anticipating our clients’ needs.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

Over the last 20 years, I’ve been in the founding teams of six EMEA-based start-up operations. Achieving exits and mergers with Sun Microsystems, IBM, HP and Virtual Instruments. Previously, I’ve held roles in technical, sales, services, product and leadership, which has enabled me to take on the role of CEO at GSI. I have experience in growing businesses and creating market-leading products and services with a focus in providing valuable decision support systems and business intelligence.

I’m pleased to say that we have been able to continue that trend at GSI - achieving 500% growth in 2018, strong growth in early 2019, and several Forbes 2000 listed world’s largest companies as customers. Winning a place in the Seraphim Space Camp mission #1 in 2018 is another highlight. These successes combined with the continued commitment from Par Equity and Scottish Investment Bank supported our fundraising in summer 2018. This led to a 55% expansion in the team in the latter part of 2018. We’ll continue to expand our team with more talent to create solutions of significant global impact.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

I’ve been fortunate to work with some great leaders and it’s important that they have unlimited amounts of energy, passion and belief in what they are doing, as well as an ability to bounce back from failure and rejection, which many leaders will experience more than once. A great leader is also able to recognise when a strategy is not working and is prepared to change and pivot the business in a new direction if required.

What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?

I could say the steep learning curve involved in working at the cutting edge of environmental science, AI and remote sensing; three domains I don’t have a history in. But that’s not it. Since we are working at the innovation frontier of space, the real challenge is figuring out which problems we can solve, who we can do it for, and whether that has a sustainable revenue stream associated with it. We have focused the company on providing business outcomes and solutions and we’ve not concerned ourselves as much with the fact the data comes from space, as our clients don’t care. They care about better control and visibility of their assets, their footprint, and how they affect and are affected by the environment globally, and that’s what we’re aiming to do for them.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I spend a lot of time outdoors; wild swimming, walking the dog and enjoying nature. I never grow tired of the amazing scenery and landscapes we are fortunate to have in Scotland.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Like my dad, I wanted to run my own business. He ran the family construction company for many years and had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way. I think I have my work ethic to thank him for.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I actively discourage negative thinking, talking and writing in the workplace. Unless you have something constructive to offer then don’t say it or write it. I also think people heavily rely on electronic communications, hiding behind email too much and don’t use traditional communication methods enough. If something is genuinely important it should be discussed and not confined to electronic mediums.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

We expect to see some consolidation in the earth observation market, which will be a key growth driver for us. As a result, solutions currently offered by the growing number of upstream and downstream technology companies will need to be integrated to provide true value to the customer. We also expect to see increased synergy between land- and space-based imagery, where data will drive more relevant and valuable customer solutions.

I would like to see us concentrate more on automating earth observation workflows that can influence the complete supply chain, from data acquisition in space, aerial, and IoT sensors through to remote sensor processing inside and outside the asset, predictive analytics, publishing and digital content syndication.

In addition, we plan to support our partnerships and alliances strategy by expanding the presence of our platform – scaling up to billions of hectares of land use – and change detection applications.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

You need a pool of talented people around you who share your vision and are fully invested and engaged in what you are doing. Don’t go into a new venture without having the essential pillars identified: your team, a well-defined problem to solve and product offering, your target customers, and how you’re going to reach them.

Don’t be driven by the technology or how cool it is. Focus on the outcomes. What are they for? Who will use them? Can you make money and grow from that idea? Be led by clients, not by ideas.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

I believe you make your own success in life and that only comes with the experience of failure and mistakes. We are better informed today because of the journey we have been on. That said, if we could have known where to apply effort earlier, focusing on which problems we’re going to solve and for whom, it would certainly have saved us some time and effort. Maybe I would have had more vacation time as a result!

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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