S.A. Ibrahim | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

S.A. Ibrahim


S.A. Ibrahim was most recently CEO of Philadelphia-based fintech company Radian Group, where he led his team through a successful turnaround following the 2008 financial downturn that threatened the company’s $150 billion in global credit. Ibrahim retired in 2016, after more than 40 years of leadership in the tech industry. Today, he splits his time between Seattle and San Francisco.

The Mistake:

Dismissing people.

Years ago, I was working for a large bank as a product manager, where, aside from mortgages and credit cards, I was focused on all consumer products. In that role, I had created a new product called Quick Loan that used credit card scoring models for fast approvals. The loan was secured by a lien on the borrower’s house, which made the interest tax deductible, subject to the borrower meeting certain requirements. This was a cheaper alternative to taking out, say, a car loan, which wouldn’t be deductible for personal use.

At that point in my career, I thought I was smart enough to ignore the group that dealt with all the compliance and operational issues associated with the bank’s products. When I launched my product, I had all kinds of problems, and the group refused to help me fix those problems.

I initially wanted to bring the matter to the attention of the bank’s vice chairman, but overnight, I had a different idea: Instead of asking him to crack the whip, I would be very complimentary of this group and act like my product was their idea.

They loved it.

It is far more effective to give people credit than have them take the blame.

The Lesson:

It is far more effective to give people credit than have them take the blame.

By giving the compliance and operations group the credit for my product, it ended up being one of the more successful new product launches in the company.

I’ve since applied this idea many times in all my positions throughout my career. Instead of giving people directions to do something, I would engage them in a conversation to get some ideas from them. The next day, even if it wasn’t their idea, I would say to them, “That thing you were telling me about was brilliant, and as a result, I think this is something we should try to do.”

I take my idea and wrap it up as if it were theirs. I get far more from people that way, than otherwise.

Photo courtesy of S.A. Ibrahim


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