A few years ago, working with Faisal on one of our own projects, a team member of mine remarked, “Faisal is one of those people who has an aura around him, and people follow wherever he goes.”

So when I was thinking of who would be a great guest for Y in the Valley, Faisal was a no-brainer.

He’s an insightful, life-long learner who enjoys risk-taking and doesn’t know how to be comfortable.

When he says he’s always looking for ways to disrupt himself, he isn’t kidding. Faisal has relentlessly worked his way up the career ladder, taking on risk after risk.

From raising close to $400 million at Kozmo.com, Inc in 1999, to building new businesses at Amazon, eBay and Groupon, Faisal is now leading a technology-first revolution at Staples as the CTO.

Here are my show notes:

On Being Comfortable

Faisal is no stranger to taking risk. He’s proven that you can move up the career ladder without focusing on one specific piece of industry knowledge or technology.

Over the span of his career, he’s lead many different types of teams. From supply chain to inventory, private label, reverse logistics, shipping, GM, e-commerce, customer service and now technology, he’s done it all.

Though coming from a family bewildered by his frequent employment shifts, Faisal recognizes this as key to his development and success. “I never really settled. As soon as I got bored with something, I moved on. I didn’t really let any of these barriers stand in the way.”

He recognizes the value of growing and learning and is always on the lookout for somebody he can trust, learn from, and respect. “I just kept going for the next bigger, better. For me, it was all about, ‘Am I learning?’”

For the young execs hoping to follow in Faisal’s footsteps, particularly with aspirations to influence the retail space, Faisal believes that self-awareness is incredibly important. You have to know what you’re capable of, and then you’ve got to do it. He also recognizes that he never walked away from risk. “If it was risky, I was more attracted to it.”

Getting comfortable is never a good idea, because risk means the opportunity to differentiate. Additionally, the value of an executive sponsor should never be overlooked; having someone who believes in you and has the necessary influence is priceless.

On Finding New Talent

When searching for talent on his own teams, Faisal tends to rely on a network built through the years. Trust and respect are key ingredients for any relationship, and for Staples specifically Faisal values people who aren’t looking for comfort, but instead value innovation and transformation.

Knowing that your contribution is going to mean something, that you’re not just another cog in the wheel, can be highly motivating, and so Faisal focuses on decoupling small initiatives that are extremely interesting to entice recruits. Though Staples has a plethora of vendors, they are also a proponent of doing it themselves, and this makes room for new talent to build and grow.

On The Future of Retail

With such transformation, including the progressive command tech companies hold, I questioned where Faisal sees the future of the retail industry, and though he believes online teams will be managing stores in years to come, he doesn’t see a complete landscape revolution.

People are social creatures, and there are still many categories where product testing will play a significant role in purchasing. Though there will likely be fewer stores, Faisal expects stores will become multi-purpose – fulfillment centers, pick-up points, service providers, and perhaps even remote offices.

The evolution that’s taking place is good and important, but Faisal recognizes that one of the biggest challenges he faces is convincing leadership to keep on transforming to meet future outlooks.

Staples’ recent investment in Managed By Q is one example of such vision, essentially an office manager app that provides everything from yoga to carpet cleaning all at the click of a button. Successful companies are always looking for the next opportunity.

Says Faisal, “If there’s a big challenge, you feel like you can’t do it, there’s always an answer… Believe in yourself and make sure you surround yourself with people who are much smarter than you.”