Key Takeaways

  • A strong organizational culture and clear values are crucial for fostering growth, innovation, and employee engagement. This culture is central to scaling a company successfully.
  • The well-being and inclusion of employees are foundational for creating a productive and positive workplace. Companies need to focus on making employees feel valued and part of the company’s journey.
  • Solving critical industry problems through innovative solutions like GWI’s instant-access market research platform can drive scalability and democratize access to important data.
  • Consistent and transparent communication is essential, especially in hybrid work setups. Methods like monthly town halls, digital and in-person Q&As, and leadership accessibility help maintain a strong organizational culture.
  • Adopting flexible and hybrid working models supports employee well-being, diversity, and inclusivity, making the company more attractive to a broader talent pool.
  • Balancing high expectations and rapid changes with employee well-being is vital in a high-growth environment. Companies should provide support through workshops, leadership training, and flexible working arrangements.
  • Understanding and managing stress effectively can enhance productivity. Clear goal setting, reducing ambiguity, and ensuring role clarity can create positive stress, minimizing confusion and inefficiency.


In this engaging episode of The Leader Show with Lou Carter, Tom Smith, the founder and CEO of audience research powerhouse GWI, shares his blueprint for cultivating a Most Loved Workplace. He explores the pivotal role of organizational values and employee wellbeing, alongside the necessity for a culture rich in communication, transparency, and inclusivity for corporate success. 

Tom also tackles the dual nature of workplace stress, differentiating between its positive drive and negative impacts, and advocates for precise goal-setting to avert inefficiency. He wraps up by stressing the importance of continuously echoing the company’s purpose, mission, and values to secure employee alignment and foster lasting engagement.

Executive Summary

Hey everyone! It’s an absolute delight to welcome you to another engaging episode of The Leader Show with Lou Carter. We are joined by Tom Smith, the founder and CEO of GWI, a leading audience research company in the UK. Recognized for its workplace environment, GWI is ranked number 55 globally and number 17 in the UK’s 2023 Most Loved Workplaces lists. 

Tom attended the University of Sheffield and worked at Universal McCann, where he focused on the impact of the internet and communications technology. In 2009, he founded GWI, which offers modern, instant-access market research that represents the views, behaviors, and interests of nearly 3 billion consumers. 

In this episode, we’ll explore Tom’s journey to creating a “Most Loved Workplace®” and the importance of workplace culture and employee well-being in business success. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Scaling Innovation And Culture: How GWI Transformed Market Research

Firstly, Tom elaborates on the foundational elements contributing to GWI’s success and the critical role of organizational culture and values in fostering growth and innovation. He emphasizes the significance of people in scaling a company and how essential it is for employees to be fully engaged and committed to the company’s journey. 

According to Tom, GWI’s scalability and innovation derive from solving a critical market research problem, enabling quick and affordable access to vast global consumer data via a software platform. This solution caters not just to market researchers but to professionals across various fields, democratizing market research.

Tom recounts GWI’s journey from its inception in 2009, through bootstrapping phases, to becoming a substantial enterprise with over 500 employees. He highlights the importance of a shared vision and mission in creating a cohesive company culture that scales as the company grows. Ensuring that employees feel part of something impactful is presented as a cornerstone for success.

Further, Tom discusses how GWI maintains a positive culture at scale, focusing on clear communication of the company’s vision, mission, and strategy, inclusive share options for all employees, and the codification of core values. The team-developed values comprise “think big” to foster innovation, “voice to ask why,” to promote curiosity, and “show respect” to ensure a transparent, collaborative, and respectful environment.

These principles, according to Tom, are integral to building an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and part of the company’s journey.

Enhancing Connection And Transparency: Adapting Communication In A Hybrid Era

Next, Tom discusses the importance of consistent communication in maintaining a strong organizational culture, especially in the context of hybrid work environments brought about by COVID-19. He explains how GWI has adapted its communication strategies to ensure transparency and alignment across the enterprise. Key methods include:

#1 Monthly Town Halls 

GWI hosts monthly town hall meetings to share updates on the business, new initiatives, and strategic directions. These sessions are transparent and include Q&A segments with the management team, fostering an open dialogue between employees and leadership.

#2 Digital And In-Person Q&As 

Communication channels have expanded to include digital platforms like Slack, in addition to traditional in-person meetings, allowing for a broader reach and engagement across different locations.

#3 Leadership Accessibility 

Tom and the leadership team prioritize being visible and accessible to employees. It involves traveling to different offices, engaging with teams, and ensuring that executive presence is felt throughout the organization. Efforts are made to bring the whole company together, reinforcing a sense of unity and shared culture.

Tom emphasizes the importance of not being a “ghost” leader, especially in a remote or hybrid work setup. He advocates for management by walking around (MBWA), a tried and true principle that values direct interaction and engagement with employees. This approach is about being present, listening, and responding to employees’ needs in real time, which Tom sees as crucial for leadership in a founder-led business. 

He acknowledges the pressures of leading a company but also highlights the fun and rewarding aspects of the journey.

Fostering Well-Being And Flexibility: GWI’s Approach To Empowering Employees

In the same vein, Tom discusses the emphasis GWI places on employee well-being and how it intertwines with the company’s culture and operations. He outlines several key strategies and principles that GWI employs to support the well-being of its employees:

#1 Open And Inclusive Culture 

Creating an environment where employees feel valued and included is fundamental for well-being. It includes ensuring that the company culture is welcoming and supportive.

#3 People And Culture Team 

GWI has a dedicated team focused on employee well-being, offering various tools and services such as coaching and development opportunities.

#3 Leadership And Training 

Recognizing the challenges of leadership roles, GWI invests in leadership training to empower its employees with the skills needed to lead effectively, contributing to overall team well-being.

#4 Events And Collaboration 

The company organizes events and activities both within and outside the office to foster community, collaboration, and personal development among employees.

#5 Hybrid Working Model 

GWI values the flexibility of hybrid working, which allows employees to control their work schedules and environments. It not only supports employee well-being but also enhances diversity and inclusivity within the company by enabling the hiring of talented individuals from various backgrounds and locations.

#6 Work-Life Balance 

The flexibility offered by GWI aims to improve employees’ quality of life by helping them balance professional responsibilities with personal and family needs.

Tom highlights the significant benefits of hybrid and flexible working conditions for employee well-being and the company’s ability to attract diverse and talented individuals. He shares his experiences with rigid advertising working environments and how the shift towards flexibility and ownership of one’s work-life balance has been a personal and professional liberator. 

By adopting this approach, GWI has expanded its ability to attract global talent, becoming more competitive and innovative.

Navigating The Dynamics Of A High-Growth Environment

As the conversation draws close, the speakers delve into managing stress, flexibility, and clarity in fast-paced settings, highlighting its significance for employee well-being and positive anxiety management.

Tom acknowledges the inherent challenges and constant evolution within a growth-oriented business. He notes that while some employees thrive in this dynamic environment, others may find it challenging. GWI focuses on workshops, leadership training, and flexible working arrangements to support employees, aiming to balance high expectations and rapid changes with employee well-being.

Lou points out that many struggle with ongoing anxiety. While certain stress can motivate, it’s vital to differentiate between positive and negative stress for well-being. They discuss how perception and management of stress can influence performance and health outcomes, pointing out that understanding and navigating stress can enhance productivity.

Tom adds that creating positive stress involves setting clear goals and objectives, reducing ambiguity, and ensuring that everyone has distinct ownership of their roles and responsibilities. This clarity helps minimize overlap and confusion, which can lead to stress and inefficiency.

The conversation also touches on the importance of clear communication of the company’s purpose, mission, and goals. As GWI grew, the necessity of explicitly defining and communicating these elements became evident. Codifying and continuously reinforcing the company’s direction through onboarding and regular communication helps align employees’ efforts and reduces cognitive biases that can lead to misunderstandings.

Overall, the conversation emphasizes managing growth with an eye on employee well-being, leveraging stress constructively, and ensuring clear communication and goal-setting to tackle the challenges of scaling a business.

Thank you for your time!


Lou Carter : Tom Smith is the founder and CEO of GWI, a renowned audience research company based in the UK. GWI is currently ranked number 55 on the 2023 Global Top 100 Most Loved Workplaces and number 17 on the 2023 UK top 100 Most Loved Workplaces lists. Tom attended the University of Sheffield and worked at Universal McCann as a research manager and then head of Consumer Futures EMEA, where he focused on the impact of the internet and communications technology.

In 2009, Tom went on to found GWI, which is market research, but for the modern world, instant access to data, which represents the views, behaviors, and interests of nearly 3 billion consumers. I'm excited to talk today with Tom about how he became a Most Loved Workplace, why it's important to him, and why it's a big part of his business success.

It is awesome today to have Tom Smith on with us today, CEO of GWI. Wow, it's awesome to have him. He's brilliant, number one, so I'm really glad to have him on because he is democratizing market research to be accessible for the masses and taking this incredible amount of data, 3 billion, right?

Tom, consumer market research and making it what would cost millions of dollars to come into a SaaS product. And so he's really made this incredible for us all, and he's not only just doing this incredible thing and had massive hockey stick growth, he's now taking care of his people and culture, their wellbeing and making that a big part of his success because Tom knows, and he'll tell you this, that when people believe and understand and feel resonant with the brand and what they offer, he'll be able to serve clients even better.

So Tom, it is great to have you on here today. Welcome to the Leader Show on Newsweek.

Tom Smith : Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

LC : Can't wait to talk about this. Cause we have so much to talk about today, we could talk about AI, we could talk about all of the wonderful things around wellbeing of course, and organizational values. Of course you're here because of organizational values because a top Most Loved Workplace. So I want to hear about the growth of how you became so successful, number one, and what that is all about with your product. And then dive into a little bit about your organizational values, about wellbeing and how that's important for you. Go ahead.

Empowering Growth And Innovation Through People And Culture In The Digital Age [02:54]

TS : Yeah, there's quite a lot to unpack there. Well, I think you said now we're looking after our people, but I think people are integral to the success and you wouldn't be able to scale a company without having people really on board for the journey. That's super important. So I mean, foundationally, the business has been able to achieve level of scale because we're solving a fundamental problem for customers.

So, basically in the global digital age that we operate in, it's a huge opportunity for companies. You can build products, you can create services, you can create content, you can sell that, deliver it, serve people all over the world. It's a kind of unprecedented level of opportunity. The challenge with that is it's quite hard because you're dealing with people, customers that are not on your doorstep, you don't know. So we need more insight, more data, more understanding about people than ever, but the tools to do that have not moved with the times.

So, most companies would employ market research. They would run a survey, they go to a company, create a survey, and collect data about current and future customers now in the age that we live in. Now, to do that at scale for the people you can really sell to, it is going to take a very long time. It could take months, not years. It could cost millions of dollars. Nobody has that time or money, and the world moves very quickly. So what we're trying to do and what we're doing for customers is collecting huge volume of data.

We survey millions of people around the world that equates a 3 billion people. We put that data into a software platform and we make it immediately available to anyone regardless of skillset. It doesn't matter if they're a market researcher, and in fact, most of our users are not market researchers. That could be from any kind of background. They've got salespeople, professionals, HR, anyone that needs to use data really to help end up in their jobs and make decisions. It's the opportunity for us.

And the problem we're solving is making that mass scale data available and accessible, making it easy to use and making it cheap so you can buy access to this thing set of data will cost tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to build over time and you're getting it for the price of software. So there's a big, and you mentioned in the intro, this is all about democratizing market research and making it easy. So we're building this massive consumer research platform and that was a big problem and the reason we're here, it's taken a long time to solve that problem.

So I started the business in 2009, spent nine years bootstrapping the business, and I've been through all phases, I've worked on my own, I've had a small team, we've now raised quite a lot of money and scaled the business up substantially.

And we now have over 500 people working in GWI. It's our big company. So I've been through all stages of the experience and you don't get anywhere without having people on the journey who believe in it. So I think that's the foundation of being successful. We talked a bit about this before, is to create a good culture that is successful for the business. The main thing, the main lever for A CEO, I think the founders is setting a very clear vision of mission. People believe in that story because they're going to commit a large part of their life to the company it feels like they're part of something that's going to make a difference. It's going to grow, it's going to be something.

LC : And you talked about this Tom a little bit in that it's this culture at scale. So you've been through these four different iterations and people coming with you all the way up to the top and then making that even either sustaining or growing from there, having a Most Loved Workplace, common culture helps with that so that people can connect into that common element.

TS : Yeah, a hundred percent. And actually when you're in the early days creating a positive work culture, it's not simple, but it's very different. You're in the same room, you all know each other. It's very easy to articulate. When you get to a late stage as we are now, it's a very different situation to create a great working culture.

It's the most important thing for success, I'd say. I'll give you some kind of the things that we are doing now to really help develop that in the business. I talked about the vision and mission and strategy, so we spend a lot of time talking about that to the company, both in onboarding and training and town halls and regular communication. For me, and I think it's important everybody understands that. The other core thing we do to get that sense of ownership and feeling, part of that is we use share, everybody in the business gets share options.

So everyone should understand our mission and vision and being able to try to democratize this product in a very traditional industry, do something different and that can help change the world in a small way. Also be part of that physically and buy it through share options. And I think that's really important. Two layers to building a culture where everyone's included and everyone feels part of. Beyond that, we've done quite a lot of work to codify values. We have three core values, which I didn't write. The teams wrote. Our people around the business wrote these and been through various forms through the years. In the early years, we didn't write any values down. You just get on with it and everyone kind of gets a sense of what you're trying to do. And as you grow, you need to write this stuff down and make it integral to how you communicate to the business.

So we have three values. One is think big, which is all about being entrepreneurial, coming up with new ideas, challenging the status quo, trying to do stuff different. We have another voice to ask why. We want everyone to be inquisitive, ask questions, to understand what they're doing. And I think this is an important part of the belonging and understanding why you're on the journey. And the last one is about show respect, which sounds obvious, but it's reports say that we want to be an environment where everyone's respected and that means it's transparency from me, the top, all the teams, there's good collaboration.

People want to work in an honest and open way and actually want to work together to achieve something. So that's very important to codify that and to keep communicating that across the business. And that's something we do all the time.

LC : Yeah, Tom, that's exactly SPARK, which is aligning values and collaborating across the enterprise, keeping your vision aligned with everybody else's vision. Respect is the R in it, actually feeling and giving it and then finally achieving together, which is really the why and thinking big, so it's exactly connected to it and ensuring that everyone gets there with your communication as well consistently. You mentioned you communicate. What are your methods for consistent communication?

Navigating The Challenges Of Hybrid Work And Cultural Integration [09:57]

TS : Yeah, so I mean these have evolved through the years as companies got bigger and particularly as we went through COVID and switched to work in a hybrid format, which I think is great. And we do a lot more with town halls and we'll do a town hall monthly where we're really transparent on what's going on in the business, new initiatives reiterate what's happening with strategy and how the business is performing and we're very open and honest about that, which I think is important. We do Q&As with the management team in town halls, we've done these digitally through Slack.

We've done them in person, we've done them through video and we'll answer any question that comes. So sometimes those questions are difficult and we'll have to answer them. I think that transparency and being clear about what's happening is really important. Beyond that, we do lot as Q&As within teams. And me, myself and the rest of the leadership team spend a lot of time meeting the teams.

I travel a lot to the other offices and make sure everyone gets time with the executive team I think is really important. You don't want to be invisible somewhere. You've got to put the FaceTime in, you've got to meet the people, you've got to walk floors, say hello. It's all of that's very important. And we've brought the whole company together as well fairly recently. That was fantastic to get everyone from all different offices in one place. That was a really great thing to do and I think it felt very meaningful for me as well to see everyone in one place and the kind of commonalities between the offices and the people in different cultures, but some element of shared culture across them is great to see.

LC : Tom, you've had that experience with various cultures, EMEA, Europe throughout the world and I've seen that. So that must be of great help. I like how you mentioned don't be a ghost, right? Don't hide.

TS : Hiding has changed. You know, now, people working all over the place. You have to be visible in different ways. So, I've done lots of things like we've done interviews with different people around the business. I'm very present on their company, Slack. You just have to be out there and in front of the team. I think it's very important.

LC : And that goes back to tried and true principles management by walking around. I mean we forget about these things and leading by walking around people value that leadership principle and listening, hearing, being there and being able to do something about it in real time. Often we have a CEO of a Most Loved Workplace who actually goes, meets some people at their car door and says, I'm going to be following you today to see how you're doing.

And then actually creates action plans to help them get an even more higher performing day or a better day for them. And it sounds like that's where you're going is don't be invisible, be there, but help people get in front of 'em. Yep.

TS : Yeah, and just be open to, I want to be accessible, but I want people to be able to come and ask me just to want come and speak to me, ask me questions, talk to me about the business, get to know me. I think in a founder led business, I think that's particularly important because your imprint is on the company. So yeah, I haven't gone as far as following people around the office yet, but yeah,

LC : You're right about founder-led people. I think if find it hard to realize that it actually is coming from, I mean this is actually our investment, our belief. I mean if we go out to dinner at night, we pay for it every day. We pay to ensure that all of our dreams come true and it's an enormous responsibility we have to employees. It's enormous. And not just employees, but to the success of the company and the success of our consumers. It's a lot of pressure.

TS : Can be, could also be a lot of fun.

LC : Tell me about the fun. I want to get to the well-being aspect. Yeah. Because the wellbeing is, I like how we said that wellbeing and pressure go hand in hand typically, right? So tell me how you focus on that, what you do for wellbeing.

The Key To Unlocking Employee Potential And Driving Diversity [13:46]

TS : For wellbeing.

LC : Yeah, employee wellbeing.

TS : For employee wellbeing. So I mean I think all the stuff I talked about, creating that open inclusive culture is really important for wellbeing. We have a fantastic people and culture team who are very focused on employees and we provide a lot of tools and services for people who to only coaching or development or those things have existed in the business. We do a lot of training for the teams and leadership training has a really big impact on the company.

Getting people to really open up about how they want to run the business, how they want to be part of the business, how to operate in it, what are the values we should be operating as a leader, how do we deal with feedback, helping people to navigate that step of being a leader is being a leader is super challenging and you don't get much training for it and that creates a big knock on effect for wellbeing.

So you've got people who know how to operate in those roles, but they create happy teams and how to provide feedback. I think that's really important and I think where a lot of wellbeing comes from that feeling great about the business and feeling good about what we do. I mean we do all the things that we should be doing in terms of bringing employees, giving them space to collaborate and share. And we do events outside the business. We do events in the evening, we do lots of things in the office. We celebrate all the big marquee events through the year and we bring speakers in and all those things that help people develop and understand how to operate and feel better about work.

I think another core part of wellbeing is our operating model, and I feel very passionate about value of hybrid working and the flexibility that enables for people and the ownership of their own personal ways of working and schedules I think is very empowering. I think that's a big part of wellbeing as well. It's really empowering in terms of who you can hire for roles because if people have more flexibility about where they work and when they have a much more diverse workforce and may bring far more women back into the workforce to have far more diverse workforce in terms of age and we can hire more locations. I think this is really part of driving wellbeing through the business.

LC : You can hire some of the most talented people in the world just by virtue of having them on Slack.

TS : Yes, it's an incredible advantage. We are located in some very difficult places to live. We have an office in London and New York. They're stressful environments and you have long commutes. They're expensive to be flexible around that is a bigger unlock for people I think. And it can really help manage the work life versus personal life versus demands of family and all of those paths together. I think it goes a long way to driving a quality of life and wellbeing.

LC : And it requires a founder who understands it and values it like you value that experience that people have with family, with understanding that it's not just about at work, it's about our life in general. Right? And more and more people are saying that they value. I mean that's the thing. Their value work comes in number five, six and…

TS : Listen now. But yeah, I know. No, I just think having from personal lived experience, I worked in advertising in the days when there was no flexible working whatsoever, absolutely nothing. And it's a grind and I don't think you get the best out of people. You want people to be creative, you want to show up, you 'em to be energized. You want to have time to do quiet work. You want to do collaboration work in different environments and enable those things. And one of the things that I've really energized me to want to leave and be an entrepreneur was that kind of sense of ownership over myself and how I work and exactly where I work when I work was kind of something under my power.

And I feel like that's now we can offer everyone to a degree. And now for the business there's also good reasons to do it as well. As you said, it opens up the potential for hiring talent. It's huge if you have flexibility.

LC : And that philosophy you have around wellbeing, which it's the only way to sort of get to the forefront of everything is really that if you're always sprinting, you think about this in sprints, virtue of agile and project management, you never get a chance to look at the big picture. You never get a chance to ask why. It becomes even harder to really show respect because we're constantly running and gunning and getting what we need and we run out of steam. You can't sprint a marathon.

Balancing Flexibility, Clear Goals, and Positive Stress In A High-Growth Environment [18:31]

TS : But I think particularly a case in a growth business, and I've felt this firsthand, but I can see in employees it's like every year, two years, the business is very different. It's always moving, it's always changing. There's no sense of calm. There's constant evolution and there's a need to keep evolving to get to the next phase level. Some people will love that. Some people find it challenging.

So part of helping people to navigate that is some of the stuff we talked about, which is all around the workshops and the training and getting people to really understand how to be leaders through that experience. And a lot of it's in the ways of working and giving people the other side of that. So you have the flexibility around it, but we expect a lot and the business will constantly change and it's a challenge. That's the nature and growth business.

LC : By virtue. We have leaders who can run and sprint constantly, but the majority share 80% of people don't work well with constant anxiety. They just don't. Anxiety doesn't always produce. Sometimes it does with sprint sometimes, and that's why your values are so spot on. It gives us that chance to think big, ask why, and show respect to get to work.

TS : Yeah, there's good anxiety and bad anxiety though, so there's a little bit of stress sometimes is okay, it can drive good outcomes and it gives you a bit of energy and….

LC : It's also a relationship with anxiety. How we perceive anxiety because anxiety can drive our performance. Stress can drive our performance. If we properly look at what it is, there was a study about stress that showed that people didn't die of stress related to heart attacks. People died of the perception of stress related to heart attacks. So if we looked at stress as producing more outcomes and that we can accept it and breathe through it, through our heart, through our minds, we're actually better able to produce more.

TS : That's true. Just going to make sure it's not negative stress.

LC : Not negative stress.

TS : Another really kind of key part that creating positive stress, energy, I think it's giving everyone very clear goals and objectives. Some of the challenges we have with scaling the business are where that's not being clear. Or you get teams that have, they kind of crossover in certain areas and it's a bit of ambiguity about who's doing well and I think that can create a lot of swirl and stress and there's not a sense of ownership.

So it's very important to have clear ownership over every aspect of the business, but make sure you can try and minimize those kind of areas of crossover. You're not sure who's supposed to do X or Y.

LC : Having clear alignment exercises. It goes spin around in circles and you waste hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars by doing.

TS : Absolutely. If you look at our high level, we as bootstrap is for many years about really writing down what the purpose and the vision and the mission were. It is just something you kind of talked about and the sort understood it. As it got bigger, people get more disconnected from that. It's a big company. So we were very deliberate in terms of writing down what's the purpose, why do we exist, what's our mission, what's our goals? And really being very crystal clear on what they are. And I think that helps. You can see it filter down and into everyone's work because they're super aligned in work.

LC : In the beginning you could do that, right? More iteratively. We get in, we figured out, we look at what our customer needs and it shifts and it adapts and it's agile, but then we get big, right? And it's like, oh, we have to do this exercise of what we used to do in a very random organic way, in a more intentional way.

TS : It took a while for us to get that right. I think now we've done a really good job on that and we've codified it all. I said the teams articulating it constantly. It's in all the language. It's core part of onboarding really ramped up the onboarding. We're doing the business and you can't talk about these things enough I think. And you have to keep reiterate.

LC : Same thing over and over again. They say that people actually do not have it sink in from a very blank Tabula rasa 18 times. So that's how many nuances there are to communications in different ways of, actually, it's not language anymore that's separating us. It's our own cognitive biases. It's only way we think our perceptions.

TS : Absolutely, yeah.

LC : This is great. Well, wow. Tom Smith, this is awesome. You've been great today on The Leader Show. We've so enjoyed having you. I've enjoyed having you. You've said it so much, so much wisdom for everybody to learn from. Whether you're a founder, CEO leader or employee now you get the beginnings and where it comes from and the thinking around it and how important it is to get aligned, stay aligned, stay true to our goals, understand what the concept of stress really means to get aligned and how renew relationships with how we achieve, right?

And how it's also important to be respectful of your own time and ask those think bigs, ask why and show respect daily, which is a big part of who you are and what your culture is all about. Tom Smith, GWI, awesome founder and a great person leading his way. Wow. Wow. 3 billion consumers giving research, democratizing it for everyone today, thanks for joining us, Tom Smith.

TS : Thank you. Thanks for having me.