CEO at MBC Group
Sam Barnett joined MBC Group in 2002 and became CEO in 2011.
MBC Group’s portfolio of satellite TV stations reaches a daily audience of 140 million people and leads the market in the GCC, Egypt, Iraq, and North Africa. The group also owns Shahid VIP – the premium, subscription-based service of Arabic streaming platform Shahid. Shahid is home to highly rated original productions from the Arab world, a wide range of exclusive movies and premieres, as well as the top watched live Arab TV channels. Both outlets broadcast thousands of hours of original content each year, as well as regional versions of global hit shows.
Barnett previously worked in management consulting and spent his early career in East Africa and the United Kingdom. He has a degree in History and Economics from Cambridge University, and an MBA from INSEAD Business School. He also sits on the boards of Zacu Entertainment – a production company in Rwanda – and Pawame Holdings, a solar home system company in Kenya.
How would you define leadership today?
I doubt it’s changed since yesterday or will be different tomorrow. People will follow if they see competence, feel integrity, and can succeed. Otherwise, they find alternatives.
What’s the most important decision you have taken as a leader?
The next one. Companies are loyal going forward, so it’s a mistake to trade on your past. Few people care much about your history.
What’s the one decision you wish you hadn’t made as a leader?
Not firing toxic people quickly enough.
In your opinion, who’s the most powerful leader globally today?
Many people can play a strong hand. For me, a powerful leader is someone who makes a strong impact with a weak hand. It’s why presidents fear protesters and emperors with no clothes dislike small children. [Ukrainian President] Zelensky may well be remembered for the power of his leadership. His opponent less so.
Who’s your role model?
Ernest Shackleton. He brought his entire crew back alive after two years of disasters, sinking, strandings, hunger, and extreme cold in the Antarctic in 1914.
What’s the most important quality that every leader should possess?
I imagine most of us hope to be led by people who can think straight, talk simply, engage people, and make decisions. Some of us are lucky enough to be led by distinctive people who can capture hearts and brains. Thank you, Sheikh Waleed.
What’s the one mistake that leaders most commonly make?
The people around you congratulate you on your fantastic ideas, they start to applaud and even put you in magazine lists of ‘top leaders’ – and you believe it all. Leaders need dissonance and disagreement – otherwise, madness quickly ensues.
What’s the most critical threat that every leader in our industry should pay attention to today?
Leaders should be ready for black swans. There isn’t one critical threat – there’s a myriad and you can’t see most of them most of the time. Constructive paranoia tinged with optimism and a dash of hope is what has kept me above water (so far).
What’s the most important risk you took?
On the personal front, moving with my wife to Tanzania after my MBA rather than following a more trodden path in Europe. And then asking her again to leave a dream job when I had a chance to work for MBC in Dubai.
On the professional front, asking people to leave their jobs and move their families so they can join one of our new ventures.
What resources would you recommend to someone looking to become a better leader?
Your family. They know your faults and aren’t afraid to tell you about them bluntly
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow as a leader?
I took up boxing eight months ago. Not only do you have to be fit, you have to eat fit and sleep fit too. Your technique should be flawless and you need to stay calm when people hit you in the face. A boxing round is a three-minute course in management.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Notice how your jokes get funnier as you get promoted – and then remember not to confuse yourself with the position you’ve been entrusted with.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever given?
Genuinely give out credit. It’s motivating and it demonstrates confidence. Hoarding credit signals insecurity and most clever people can spot hoarders. They are rarely impressed.
You can see the full ranking and methodology here.