Posts Tagged ‘Chief executive officer’

6th September
2011
written by Sarah Lafferty
Image representing Tim Cook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

This is completely speculative because I’m not sure yet what I think of Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO.  But as someone working with keen interest in the supply chain industry, I like the idea of his appointment and I hope it is part of a nascent, positive trend to promote supply chain professionals into to the director’s chair.

More traditionally in the tech industry, we witness either ruthless sales guys like Larry Ellison and Tom Siebel as CEO or visionary engineers like Steve Jobs and Diane Greene.   Tech industry CFOs rarely get promoted into CEO roles unless the company is struggling financially or operationally (think Iris Software) or there’s recently been a catastrophic breach of governance.

I can understand why first stage CEOs come from sales or engineering.   These are the more natural evangelists, driven either by the prospect of making lots of money or their passionate convictions about technology innovation and design.  But people in these roles can become less capable of continuing the journey when their companies mature unless they actively work to widen their fields of vision.  Relentless emphasis on recognizing revenue can lead to customer satisfaction disasters, product recalls and class action lawsuits, all of which have taken huge chunks out of many an enterprise technology vendor in the boom years including my old company i2 Technologies.  Emphasis on engineering excellence at the expense of usability can result in very cool, sophisticated products that have no practical use in society or yield low or non profit margins.  This discontinued fabric peripheral keyboard by erstwhile British tech start-up Eleksen is an example of the former and was once the company’s flagship product.

The most talented supply chain professionals must, by nature of their roles, view their companies in a joined-up way and therefore cannot make decisions that rob Peter in customer service to pay Paul in sales, if that doesn’t benefit the company as a whole.  They are much more likely to explore ‘what if’ scenarios like: “if we reduce our inventory at the Omaha warehouse to save money this quarter, what will be the impact on our ability to fulfil customer demand over the Christmas holiday?” or “If we source raw materials for our handsets from the Congo, will enough women in Australia still want to buy them?”  The ability to answer these types of questions in order to minimize operational risk and maximize profits is exactly what the modern, organization with all its inherent complexity needs in order to thrive and sustain.

That and enough personal charisma to be able to move people on from the occasional ‘bad hair day‘.

I will be following Tim Cook’s progress with great interest to see how his supply chain expertise contributes to the next stage of the company’s growth.

As ever, I welcome your comments on this topic and would particularly like to hear anecdotes and examples of supply chain professionals in positions of executive leadership.

24th November
2010
written by Sarah Lafferty
Novozymes CEO Steen Riisgaard at a board meeti...

Image via Wikipedia

In this post I’m going to step out on a limb and take a chance on profiling a CEO who I know little about but instinctively believe is a Round Earth Leader.  His name is Steen Riisgaard and he’s the CEO of Novozymes, one of the world’s largest producers of industrial enzymes.  Compared to other CEOs, Steen doesn’t blow his own horn very loudly in the mainstream press and chances are high that you’ve never heard of him before.  Maybe it’s a Danish thing

I became curious about Novozymes’ leader because a business contact and friend kept sending me enthusiastic updates about the joys of working for the company.  She’s been there since 2008, so if there had been a honeymoon period it surely would be over by now. Quoting directly from her last personal e-mail to me, “our company wants to change the world by challenging the convention, continue evolving by rethinking tomorrow and making the world a better place for its employees and customers!” Fair readers, be honest: have you ever felt the urge to spontaneously gush about your company with such lucid, articulate rapture?  Anyone, anyone?  I simply had to find out more.

Steen has been working for Novozymes for more than 20 years, which is pretty remarkable on its own.  In the company’s 2009 annual report Steen commented, “I can’t imagine ever working for another company.  This company was founded by a family with some strong values. Values that I appreciate deeply after working for years with Mads Øvlisen (the former CEO). Values that I will continue to support, not least in the way I work with our Board of Directors.”  By speaking in the first person with honest, almost childlike candour he comes across as sincerely committed to the cause, accountable and entirely trustworthy.

My efforts to learn more about Steen by reading articles yielded a only a few random tidbits, most of which I read through the drunken lens of Google Translate (from Danish) and weren’t very revealing.  On YouTube though, I hit paydirt.  It turns out Steen passionately campaigns for the transition from an oil-based to a bio-based global society and has spoken at a number of high-profile public events to raise people’s awareness about this.  Naturally, it’s in his company’s interest, but publicly and personally challenging the world’s most powerful industry, oil, takes more than a little chutzpah – and he’s an engaging storyteller.  He started his talk at Techonomy 2010 with a quote from my favourite author the late Kurt Vonnegut: “We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey”.  You can watch Steen’s talk and subsequent interview here and here in two parts.

I’ll wrap up with a final statement from Steen from the 2009 annual report that beautifully summarises the Round Earth Leadership philosophy: “I’m a believer – I believe that enzymes can solve many problems, and that we can be a profitable company and a decent corporate citizen at the same time. We have to do all three. Being a good corporate citizen is actually a requirement in today’s society. Companies must act decently or, in the long run, they won’t be allowed to stay in business by consumer groups, investors, the media, the Internet chat groups, or customers.” Right on!

Is this guy as amazing as he seems, or am I drunk on the corporate ‘Kool-Aid’? If you know or have worked with Steen Riisgaard, I’d love to hear from you!

16th November
2010
written by Sarah Lafferty
Vineet Nayar - World Economic Forum Annual Mee...

Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

I’ve dedicated my first post to the man who inspired the concept for my blog, Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies.  Vineet Nayar turned conventional thinking and indeed his company’s management hierarchy upside down through his now-celebrated ‘Employees first, customers second’ programme. In doing so, he proposed a radically different role for the modern CEO’s role: to enable ideas that come from the people at the bottom of the management hierarchy.  Here’s why I think Mr Nayar is a ‘Round Earth Leader’:

  • He is not afraid to confront ‘uncomfortable truths’ in the name of progress.  As a first step in diagnosing the company’s sluggish growth, Nayar met with thousands of HCL’s employees in large and small groups. He kicked off each meeting by openly speaking about what many had been reluctant to admit – that the company was slowly becoming irrelevant with each point of lost market share. Nayar’s “Mirror Mirror” exercise involved his holding up a virtual mirror to the company, forcing people to see the reality of the company’s situation in order to provoke change. In this way it became impossible for employees to accept the status quo and become complacent.
  • He adopted the controversial position that employees come first before customers.  According to Nayar’s logic, listening to, learning from and empowering the workforce leads directly to the highest possible levels of customer satisfaction and ultimately shareholder value.
  • HCL wasn’t in crisis when Nayar decided to transform the company.  Although the company was losing marketshare to faster growing competitors, HCL’s revenues were growing by about 30% a year.  Nayar could have easily taken the path of least resistance and led a safe, ‘good enough’ effort and still hung on to his job.
  • He communicated to his staff with honesty, humility and humour.  During one now-famous staff meeting, Nayar danced on stage and in the aisles to Bollywood music in order to break the ice so that people would not be afraid to ask questions.  Most importantly Nayar listened a lot more than he talked.
  • He was right. Thanks to Nayar’s courageous leadership, HCL’s sales and operating income have tripled over four years. As of 2009, the company had five times the number of lucrative IT contracts than it did in 2005 and the stock has outperformed that of its rivals.

One final note: if you Google the exact phrase “our employees are our greatest asset” you get a staggering 2.1 million responses.  Nayar doesn’t pay lip service to this tired cliché, he boldly applied it to transform HCL Technologies into one of the world’s most successful global IT outsourcing companies with an outstanding reputation with customers and employees.

What do you think about Vineet Nayal’s management principles? Perhaps you know more about HCL’s story and would like to contribute a personal anecdote.  In the spirit of this blog, I eagerly welcome your feedback on this post and also your nominations for inspiring and transformative Round Earth Leaders. Thanks for reading and joining the debate.