Zero to CTO – Márcio Azevedo is in the spotlight

Name: Márcio Azevedo

Current position: Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

Bio: Márcio serves as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at, a direct-to-consumer fashion brand based in Gothenburg, Sweden. Although based in Portugal, he spends his time between Portugal and Sweden. He’s a husband and a father of two, and he loves to spend quality time with his family. Outside work, Márcio has many different personal interests like playing the guitar, reading, cooking, and photography. He also finds great joy in engaging in sports activities like running and hiking.

Tell us about your life before leadership – what kind of roles and projects did you work on?

I started my career as a software engineer, more precisely, as a full-stack engineer. I worked mostly on web development projects for businesses (except for a project about a mobile app that allowed telecom customers to report radio network issues—2G/3G/4G—through the iOS and Android apps). 

Despite this, I always enjoyed more the backend work and less the frontend work; these were the days with the initial versions of jQuery, and there weren’t a lot of javascript frameworks around. Also, Internet Explorer (aka IE, the previous Microsoft’s web browser) had a considerable market share, especially in the business sector, and supporting all of the main browsers at the time was a big challenge, even between IE versions – jQuery helped a lot with that. 

I also remember some frameworks that acted as 3rd-party plugins to tackle this, like Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight, which attempted to provide a different way to develop web applications. Soon enough, the iPhone and Apple would change this forever. I was fortunate to work on many different projects for different industries (Healthcare, Media, Telecom, and Finance/Accounting), and with that, I was always learning new technologies and new things that would serve me later in my career.

How did your first leadership position come about, and was it intentional on your part?

After some years developing software, my first leadership position came as a tech lead – this was an informal role and it was a natural step for me, as I was driving most of the tech decisions of the project. This was intentional and something that reflected my life as a student and as a person – I was always keen on taking responsibility, trying to present solutions, and supporting others (either coaching them or even helping them out with some tasks), so right after my first months as a software engineer, I knew this would eventually happen.

How did you manage the transition? What came easily / what was difficult?

At the time, I struggled with the transition. From spending most of my work time coding or thinking/drawing solutions, I suddenly had to spend a lot of time on communication (meetings, answering emails, preparing presentations), and with that came a feeling of not being as productive as before when I was ‘building’ something. That was probably the most difficult part. 

I also had some challenges with leading people due to my lack of experience and not having anyone to coach me on how to do it. Typically, people are ‘sent out’ to a leadership role, and there’s no manager around to teach you on how to do it. Despite this, I was fortunate enough to get some good books/articles out there and good mentors who guided me on how to improve my people management skills. On top of it, dealing with people was something I was good at and felt natural to me.

What was your biggest failure in that first leadership role?

My biggest failure was trying to be everywhere and on top of everything in my first leadership role, ending up not being anywhere. I was very bad at delegation and had a wrong perception of what it meant to be a manager and how important it is to support and empower the team by coaching them and delegating effectively.

What made you keep doing it?

Surprisingly, I took a step ‘back’ and went to a different company as a software engineer. That allowed me to reflect and see the leadership role from a team’s perspective again. It didn’t take long until I was asked to take a leadership role again. 

Thai gave me two very distinct examples in different organisations with different people and different contexts where people were asking me to lead. The second opportunity was the reason I kept doing it and was the encouragement I needed after my first failed experience. 

With better tools and having learned from my previous mistakes, I felt more motivated to keep doing it.

Can you tell us a fun fact that nobody knows about you?

I learned how to play the guitar because of Kurt Cobain (former lead singer of Nirvana). When I was a teenager, I was inspired by him and I was even considering a music career before I went to university, studying Computer Science. Even though my music taste evolved immensely since then, I owe to him knowing how to play the guitar and how to see music in a different and better way.

What are the three key skills you think every lead needs?

The three skills I believe every lead needs are:

  1. Good listener—Being a good listener is fundamental to effective leadership. If you want to build trust and rapport with your team, you need to actively listen to diverse perspectives and their ongoing challenges, respect and value their ideas and concerns, and ultimately promote a positive work environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves openly and honestly. This is also key to improving decision-making since it will allow you to have a more comprehensive understanding of the situation.
  2. Effective communication—As a leader, you will spend a great part of your time communicating with many different audiences within and outside your team. Your ability to communicate effectively will dictate your success in pretty much every aspect of your work. A core function of communication is ensuring your message is understood exactly as you intend it. Effective leaders can clearly articulate their vision, goals, and expectations. Also, miscommunication is a major source of conflict and by having effective communication skills, conflicts will be reduced. Finally, it will help you build stronger relationships in and outside the team increasing your influence, essential for driving change and achieving success.
  3. Decision-making and problem-solving—These are like the dynamic duo of leadership. They work together to navigate challenges, identify opportunities, and steer your team towards success. Inevitably, your team will encounter obstacles and unforeseen circumstances. Having strong decision-making allows you to analyse the situation, weigh options, and make timely choices that minimise negative impacts. 

The world is constantly changing, and so are the challenges that organisations face. These skills allow you to adapt to new situations that will happen sooner or later. When a leader can make well-thought-out decisions and solve problems effectively, it instils confidence in the team.  People feel secure knowing their leader is capable of handling challenges and leading them through difficult situations. This fosters a more resilient and adaptable team environment.

A leader with these skills will have a higher chance of being successful.

What have you learned about acquiring and retaining talent?

Acquiring and retaining talent is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership and one that can be hard to get right, even for experienced leaders. The organisation’s culture also influences it, and every hiring manager needs to take that into consideration.

From my experience, it all starts with a deep understanding of what you/the organisation needs. Sounds like a no-brainer, but I have seen many organisations starting hiring processes without a clear understanding of what profile they are looking for. It’s like going to a shopping mall without knowing what you want to buy. Chances are you’ll get home with products you didn’t need. Once you have identified the right profile, you should provide the best candidate experience by setting the right processes and avoiding becoming lengthy. This makes all the difference when you get to the offer stage. Finally, no matter how great your company is, make sure you put enough effort into employer branding. This should be an ongoing investment that will rip the benefits once you need to hire someone (as an example, just think of Netflix and the famous deck presentation about the company’s culture and how that contributed to attracting a specific type of profile).

When it comes to retaining talent, the most important thing I’ve learned is to provide people with the right conditions to do great work and to make them feel that they are using their full potential to contribute to the organisation. Many studies emphasise the importance of autonomy, craftsmanship, and purpose as the main factors in keeping people motivated in their workplace. On top of that, having a safe and inclusive environment where individuals can be their authentic selves is super important.

Overall, it’s important to be proactive and adaptable to the ongoing challenges of acquiring and retaining talent, which are often driven by new startups that set a new standard and are always willing to innovate in these areas.

How do you motivate your team and manage their stress levels?

I believe motivation is partly driven by working on the things you’re good at/interested in and partly by doing meaningful/impactful work, and this is something I always take into consideration to keep my team motivated. It’s important to understand, though, that people are individuals, and what motivates one might not motivate another, so it’s really important to know them and their interests before you consider your approach. 

Building a trustful environment with the team is key. Sometimes, they will work on things that motivate less, and that’s okay if this is a temporary thing (from time to time, we all have to deal with these tasks). Instead of motivating them, I try to listen in these situations and see how this type of work can be minimised (realistically speaking). With that said, I do believe that a leader should focus on motivation as much as removing demotivation.

Regarding stress levels, just like motivation, my usual approach is to take it case-by-case, understand the root cause, and try to work together to address it. The things I find important to manage their stress levels are:

  • Clear communication and expectations because uncertainty and confusion are major stress causes;
  • Clear prioritisation – feeling overwhelmed by work is a recipe for stress. Having clear priorities will help;
  • Boundaries and work-life balance – I encourage my team members to take breaks, use their vacation time, and maintain healthy habits and boundaries between work and personal life;
  • Open communication and psychological safety – as mentioned above, building a trustful and open environment is key for people to express their feelings and address them before they become a bigger problem;
  • Focus on solutions, no blame – I find this extremely important. When mistakes happen, the focus should be on finding a solution and improving so that it doesn’t happen again. We all make mistakes; that’s one of the best ways to learn, and as long as avoid making the same mistakes, we will be better equipped for future challenges;
  • Be flexible and adaptable – the ability to adapt to change is key in today’s ever-evolving world. Helping my team develop coping mechanisms for dealing with unexpected challenges and disruptions will give them better tools to handle the stress that arises from those situations.

I consider motivating and managing my team’s stress levels a big part of my role. Leaders are only as good as their team, and just like a ship’s captain relies on their crew to navigate the seas, a leader relies on their team to achieve their goals. Any successful manager I’ve met with knows how important this is.

How do you manage your own stress levels and productivity?

I have learned a lot from stoicism (focusing on the things I can control and not on the things I can’t control) to manage my stress levels. On top of it, there are a few hacks that I recommend that have helped me a lot, like:

  • Doing regular exercise – I love to go out for a run at the end of a workday;
  • Taking some mindful walks – this helps clear my mind, organise my thoughts, or even refresh my ideas;
  • Prioritise, always prioritise – there’s always a huge backlog of things to do, but there’s so little I can focus on, and focusing on the most impactful tasks is key. I find Eisenhower’s matrix a good framework to help out with this.

In terms of productivity, besides effective prioritisation, as mentioned above, I believe scheduling long periods to address a certain task and keep focus is key. Schedule time for reading, investigating, and thinking about problems because decision-making is about making informed decisions and assessing risks, acknowledging the resource limitations that will always be part of the process. 

People underestimate the importance of scheduling time, but most great leaders do this. You don’t need to make more decisions as you progress in your career and have more responsibility. Instead, you need to make fewer and better decisions, which usually are more impactful ones.

How do you stay in sync with other parts of the business?

I regularly have one-on-one meetings with my peers and people in different parts of the business. I bring curiosity to the meetings and listen to all of their challenges and how, in some cases, technology can help. I also attend regular business review meetings and participate in weekly senior management meetings, where we get a regular business update and discuss strategic decisions or, in some cases, operational challenges.

I believe this is a core responsibility of any tech leader in any business, making sure he/she establishes a bridge to the rest of the organisation, leading by example to avoid silos between the tech team and the other departments, and ensuring the right context to the tech team about the ongoing business challenges and that the rest of the business understands tech. I often see this relegated to a second plan by tech leaders which usually comes at a cost for their teams.

What product do you wish you’d invented?

I’m a big fan of Spotify; it’s one of the apps I use every day. While I’m working, reading, or running, I listen to music or podcasts. It’s part of my daily life, and it’s an amazing product. The recommendation engine allows me to explore and find new music and expand my music taste, reaching more and different artists. I’d have a very different and limited music knowledge if it hadn’t been for Spotify. Since I’m a big music fan and an okay guitar player, I couldn’t think of a better product that I wished I had invented.


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