Carlo Tortora Brayda di Belvedere’s journey as a leader has been profoundly shaped by the painful experiences he endured during his childhood. His family went through tumultuous times when they became the target of a political coup that rocked Ethiopia in the mid-seventies. From a young age, Carlo was resolute in his determination to be part of the solution, not only for the people of Ethiopia but also for the betterment of the world.
During his teenage years, Carlo took his initial steps toward contributing to the solution by volunteering in the Office of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid in Geneva, Switzerland. This opportunity allowed him to meet distinguished world leaders, including former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali, and later, Kofi Annan. These encounters enlightened him about the vital role of Public-Private Partnerships and Entrepreneurship in international development, fostering an entrepreneurial mindset.
Rather than seeking employment after graduating as an Information Systems Engineer, Carlo founded a company at the remarkably young age of 23. He understood that achieving his goals required taking a leap, not merely a casual stroll or a run.
His entrepreneurial journey involved founding and successfully leading Gorilla Corporation, a prominent provider of services and technologies in IT channel and partnership management. Committed to the spirit of Public to Private Partnerships, Carlo’s company became a Sector D Member of the United Nations International Telecommunication Union, playing a vital role in internet policy-making and standardization.
In addition to this, he established Alchemy World Projects, an Ethiopian-based Non-Governmental Organization with a focus on poverty alleviation through entrepreneurship and collaboration with the government on private sector development. This program proved highly successful, uplifting thousands of people out of poverty, enhancing employability, and promoting the development of small-medium enterprises.
Currently, Carlo serves as the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Tortora Brayda Institute, a California nonprofit dedicated to fostering multi-stakeholder dialogues in the fields of AI, Cyber Resilience, and Cloud. The organization partners with AI for Good, the United Nations platform for Artificial Intelligence. Furthermore, he served as a special constituent member of the World Economic Forum for a decade and co-founded the U.S. National Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity ISAO, engaging in threat intelligence, sharing best practices, and facilitating cyber diplomacy within the NATO Community.
These ventures represent just a few among many others that have earned Carlo significant recognition. He is a proven leader whose numerous initiatives have played a pivotal role in transforming societies for the better. I am both excited and privileged to share Carlo’s remarkable leadership saga with you.
Describe your career progression from the start to where you are and what were pivotal decisions, moves you made, circumstances, and other facts that facilitated your growth.
Tragedy can bring about purpose, conviction, tenacity, and the bold ambition to create change. Here’s my story. I was born of mixed heritage Italian and Ethiopian and was brought up in Italy during the great change in Ethiopia from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties. It was quite literally a revolutionary change. The Soviet Union had sponsored a coup d’état in Ethiopia that led to the imprisonment or execution of the late Emperor Haile Selassie and his family and government. My family was part of that targeted group, and there was much suffering and despair. The nation fell into a long period of cultural revolution, followed by repressive years of fear and social injustice, which only started to come to an end when the Berlin Wall was taken down following Glasnost.
Although I was growing up far away, in the relative safety of Italy, the backdrop was so dramatic that anyone would have been propelled into action. It became clear to me that I would want to be part of a solution to address and redress these issues of social injustice, economic collapse, and widespread poverty in Ethiopia and worldwide.
In my late teens, I volunteered to support the Office of the United Nations Chief of the Anti-Apartheid Special Committee. I was lucky as I lived in Geneva, and the United Nations building was a short train ride from my home. That job, if you can call it that, only increased my sense of purpose.
I realized then that I needed the means and freedom to be a game changer. The wherewithal to create impact and I felt that this could only be accomplished by choosing the entrepreneurial path. I thought that I might become too boxed into a role as an employee.
After graduating as an Information Systems Engineer (with a focus on AI) in the UK, I chose to start a company at the age of 23.
I was hungry for success, as I always had my greater mission at the back of my mind. I put in all the energy and creativity that youth bestow, learned from my mistakes, and strove for excellence, burning the midnight oil. Over the years that followed, the initial hard work paid off, and the company eventually grew to become quite sizeable and very international, with several offices around the world.
The company was a combination of a services business, building distribution channels for major vendors, and a software company with a partner management product. This was a SaaS business before the SaaS acronym had been coined. The SaaS business failed to gain traction. I mistimed it. I was too early. The world wanted on-premise, and partner management had not yet been identified as a pain point needing investment. The PRM (Partner Relationship Management) industry subsequently grew to become a multi-billion-dollar sector.
The services side of the business boomed and fueled further growth. We were consulting and supporting industry giants like IBM, AWS, VMware, and Microsoft.
To my great satisfaction, last year, I acquired and integrated a SaaS business, Partner Pulse.
These few paragraphs summarize a three-decade career. The middle ten years of which were rewarding in a different way. I was able to partly fulfill my original plan and purpose, having exited my first business.
I was about 33 when I took my first trip to Ethiopia, a truly magical land still in the grip of post-communist poverty. I realized that one of the major problems was the lack of a private sector devoid of B2B SMBs. So, I set about to create one. I imagined a nonprofit “company factory” that would produce thousands of new businesses that could generate employment.
With the original backing of Microsoft, and within a few years, my team had created 11 entrepreneurship learning centers across the nation geared at empowering the most vulnerable groups and lifting them and their communities out of abject poverty through their own ingenuity and hard work.
The World Economic Forum felt that my work was impactful and invited me to become a Special Constituent Member, as did the United Nations, where I became a subject matter expert on applying innovative technology in emerging economies.
These experiences finally led me to appreciate the power of Public-Private partnerships in technology and eventually to form a US Think Tank on Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity.
What are the key skills and qualifications that aspiring tech executives in the tech industry should focus on developing to enhance their career prospects?
There is a huge skills shortage in AI and Cybersecurity skills. The FBI recently revealed that China outguns the United States 50 to 1 in terms of hackers. The numbers in terms of AI are perhaps more significant. It is a matter of National Security to fill the vacuum in both of these converging disciplines. I would like to see a greater influx of certified individuals in these fields.
What are some key milestones or achievements that tech executives should aim for at various stages of their career to demonstrate their growth and readiness for higher-level roles?
I think there is a moment of realization in the career of each maturing technical executive when it becomes evident that in order to effect change or improvements in one’s organization, it becomes essential to engage non-technical stakeholders on their turf and in their language. Counter-intuitively, your point of inflection comes when you can simplify, clarify, and demystify technology and make it accessible to business management.
How important is it for tech executives to actively seek out mentorship or coaching opportunities to advance their careers? What benefits can they derive from such relationships?
Mentorships are fundamental. I have had the chance to be on both ends of mentorship. Periodic mentorship creates a powerful dynamic that often fills the individual with the courage and confidence to dare. In truth, these moments can lift one to aspire to greater things and fulfill those aspirations.
In your experience, what role does professional networking play in the career progression of tech executives? How can tech executives effectively build and leverage their networks?
Yes. You have to get out. Networking is just fantastic and there are so many ways to further it. Attending conferences on the themes of interest to you is a great start. Meeting people who are as eager to learn as you might be. Talking to the speakers after the events. Putting their suggestions into practice, staying in touch. I’m also a great advocate of trade associations and Think Tanks. Many of these can be followed on social media, and participating in virtual and physical events is always great. I find LinkedIn outreach a wonderful way to meet precisely the right kind of people you are aligned with. I would recommend using the tool and not being shy.
Are there any specific certifications, advanced degrees, or executive education programs that can significantly enhance the career prospects of tech executives in the tech industry? Which ones would you recommend?
I would absolutely recommend taking multiple executive education programs with Ivy League Universities. People often think of long-term courses when considering University education, but short-term professional education courses are highly regarded and can give you the extra knowledge and confidence to achieve the breakthroughs you wish for. Stanford, for instance, has some wonderful professional learning programs associated with AI and Cybersecurity. Also, these courses can be more affordable than you might at first assume.
Can you share any examples of notable tech executives who have successfully transitioned from one role (e.g., CIO) to another (e.g., CEO) within the same organization or industry? What factors contributed to their success?
Adaptability is the reason species do not go extinct. I think that a great tech executive must have the maturity, professional and social skills to be adaptable, and every new incarnation will bring about the benefits of the breadth of experience accumulated in adjacent roles. A person I know well and have high regard for, who has shown me exactly this, is Tarkan Maner. He moved from a senior business development role at CA to become the CEO of Wyse Technologies, grew that business spectacularly, and then got acquired by Dell, became its GM of Cloud, migrated to become CEO of Nexenta, and is now Chief Commercial Officer at Nutanix, on top of holding a spectacular array of Board positions in great companies. He has always been a source of inspiration and energy for me.
How important is it for tech executives to cultivate a personal brand and establish thought leadership within the industry? What are some effective ways for tech executives to showcase their expertise and gain visibility?
It is imperative to build and cultivate a personal brand. Not only does that help open doors for business and growth, but it also helps your broader team to rally behind your flag. To believe in you as a leader and support your directives.
Public speaking will help you achieve this goal, as well as taking leadership roles within working groups of professional bodies such as the IEEE. Producing thought leadership content and deploying that through video, podcast, and publishing channels is very helpful to this end. You may wish to engage a personal branding and PR consultant at a certain point.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring tech executives who are looking to accelerate their career progression and make a lasting impact in the tech industry?
The most beautiful success awaits those who are humble, respectful, and generous. Supporting others to be successful will make you successful. Sure, people can achieve great lasting impact without these qualities, but it is only a pyrrhic victory, as you may sit on a throne of success, power, and money but remain empty within. Ultimately, your success and your legacy are defined by your humanity.
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