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The “Secret Sauce” of Great Global Companies

Global DiversityMost companies will leverage home country operations to increase their footprint.  The better ones recognize the need to scale leadership, acknowledging the human limitations to directly touch all parts of the expanding firm.  But what separates the best from the rest is an ability to create a shared global culture that reflects both the unifying corporate DNA and the diversity of its markets and consumers.

What does this look like?

Think of the company’s various offices around the globe as the different rooms in a house.  And while a kitchen, bedroom, garage, and den are each furnished to meet specific needs, they all share a common foundation and are linked in how they reflect the owner’s personal tastes.  So it is with great global companies:  enter its most far-flung offices and one will know immediately what the firm is about, what it stands for, and how it works.  In other words, one can travel from “room” to “room” and always feel the house is a “home.”

Google Office in China

These companies also know this sense of “home” cannot be dictated by the home office.  It would be akin to requiring a dishwasher in every room or replicating the exact dimensions of the bedroom for the garage.  Using expats to “colonize” its far-flung operations may result in short-term compliance but it will come at the expense of the commitment and engagement needed for the long haul.

Ultimately, these firms have found a way to retain their authenticity and essence even as they “tweak the recipe” so that it is embraced with equal passion and relevance in every office, time zone, language, and culture.  Great global companies endure because they have discovered how to transcend the ebb and flow of market dynamics and to sustain innovation and leadership from one generation to the next.  They have cracked the code for their recipe for success:  it is their “secret sauce.”   While it is unique to each, all share some  common ingredients.

Small is All

Corp DNA picSuccessful global firms understand that the fate of their company culture (purpose, values, reputation) lies in the hands of each individual employee.  Their performance, engagement and trust is the primordial soup from which the culture will emerge and evolve.  And it is the relationships these individuals have with their immediate supervisors, peers and direct reports which will form the molecular “building blocks” upon which this culture — good or bad — will grow.

These building blocks are the battleground:  for the desired culture to prevail, front-line supervisors must be able to provide strategic context to the tasks they assign and they must behave in ways consistent with stated values.  This ripples up to the very top of the organization, as each supervisor will take his or her cues from those at the higher levels.  Knowing that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, senior management cannot give short shrift to those on the front line, especially those engaging directly with the customer.

Play Nice in the Sandbox

Unlocking the potential of the building block requires constant coordination and collaboration.  And supervisors know that this can only happen if they first get each member to commit to the success of the entire team.

Sandbox

They need to create a sense of pride and ownership, where each is prepared to place the team’s goals above their own.  In short, they must be prepared to always play “nice” in their sandbox.  And it is easier to build this trust and commitment when the team is small, co-located, and has a singular focus.  They all sit together, the “toys” are familiar, and they benefit from a sense of immediacy and transparency that makes it more likely they will “share.”

Global companies face additional challenge when teams are geographically dispersed and culturally diverse.  This is a very different “sandbox,” more virtual than physical, where “sharing” requires more effort to achieve understanding and consensus.  Great global companies are thoughtful and creative in finding ways to “bind” these virtual relationships so that they can enjoy similar levels of trust and affiliation.

department_silosHowever, these individual bonds can become too narrowly focused on their immediate sphere or, as is often the case, a specific individual.  And senior leadership cannot condone managers who disparage other parts of the firm as a means to increase loyalty and commitment to their own.   While this “us vs them” may be an expedient rallying cry in the short term, the longer-term polarizing effect can be devastating.  Left unchecked, a firm can quickly find itself sinking under the weight of massive, intractable silos, where global success is repeatedly undone by turf wars, finger-pointing, and a whole host of dysfunctional behaviors.

Global firms, especially those which utilize a matrix structure, are especially vulnerable to silos.   Limited resources and the need to prioritize inevitably leads to trade-off, compromise, and sacrifice.  Green-lighting one division’s project may mean deferring or cancelling those for others.  Deploying enterprise software may require unwinding investments and process that had been functioning successfully,  albeit on a smaller scale, in other parts of the organization.

So how do companies mitigate the inevitable disappointment arising from these tough decisions and move swiftly to implement change that is powered by broad alignment and support for the new initiative?

Go Long to Be Strong

The specific answer will depend on a variety of things:  industry, market, business model, and so forth.  But what is common to all is that each of these great global companies has found a way to infuse their building blocks with a unifying sense of purpose.  They remain sufficiently focused in the present, the task at hand, the month-end close, and the full-year result, but what gets them through the uncertain times, the tough conversations, and the difficult choices is a shared belief in the company’s mission and values.  Good companies may generate spurts of enthusiasm for a particular product or charismatic leader but it is the deep, abiding, underlying passion found in great companies that yields sustained high performance over the long haul.

Bricklayer

The parable of the two bricklayers aptly captures this sense of purpose:  a traveler encounters two bricklayers at a construction site.  Both appear to be performing their task with equal skill and diligence.  The traveler asks the first bricklayer what he is doing.  The man replies, “What does it look like I’m doing?  I am stacking bricks with a layer of cement in between to hold them together.”

st-patricks-cathedral-pictureThe traveler moves on to the second one and asks him the same question.

The man answers:  “I am helping build a place where people will come to worship God.”

He no doubt speaks with pride to family and friends that his contribution will impact people far beyond his immediate circle and that his work will form part of his legacy.  You can easily imagine him years later, a grandchild in hand, pointing to the cathedral and saying, “I helped build that.”

The connection to the broader, deeper purpose is what distinguishes the second bricklayer from the first.  It represents the difference between fulfilling a narrow requirement and engaging in a larger endeavor.  And that broader purpose is the real “cement” that binds the person with engagement and passion.

Great global companies not only project a unifying sense of home in the look and feel of its various rooms but they ensure that its occupants can clearly articulate their connection to the broader organization.  This is what fuels their individual drive to perform, their cooperative spirit to play nice in the sandbox and their sustained commitment to the long-term goals of the firm.

This is the “secret sauce” of great global companies.

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What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There

Any firm pursuing growth straddles a shifting line between stability and risk.   Entering new markets, launching new product lines, and establishing new distribution channels all require a dynamic blend of proven and experimental strategies and processes.

As such, HQ staff and their mature lines of business need to refine and recalibrate how they interact with all parts of the evolving organization.

Firms that succeed in this regard are particularly good at following two key rules of business transformation:

Rule #1:  Cull your livestock: protect the “cash cows,” purge the “sacred” ones

Cash Cows deliver the substantial profits that underpin the company’s value proposition for the foreseeable future. These are the business units that have achieved sufficient scale and maturity to produce healthy operating margins.  And it is these profit centers (vs. fresh injections of outside capital) which often fuel a firm’s expansion plans.

Yet Cash Cows often feel marginalized in the fanfare of growth initiatives, especially when management is faced with the classic resource paradox:   the need to spend disproportionate time and resource for their fledgling operations.   Executives must take care not to loosen their embrace on those delivering the major revenue streams contributing to the healthy bottom line.

It might not be sexy but the care and feeding of a firm’s Cash Cows must remain a core operating principle for the firm’s management.

But if a Cash Cow begins to “coast” on past success rather than on-going (or potential) contribution, it can quickly take on the attributes of a “Sacred” cow, where flawed thinking and sub-par performance are allowed to skew decision-making and the allocation of the firm’s time and resources.

Sacred Cows appear in all parts of the organization:  in the lower and middle ranks, they are those “pioneer” employees whose loyalty exempts them from hewing to the firm’s core values or evolving performance standards; at the top, they are those executives whose leadership deficiencies go unchallenged by virtue of their positional power or special relationship with the CEO.

Sacred Cows emerge in organizations that assume future success is simply a matter of recreating conditions that produced past glory.  This false logic can prove fatal with new customer channels, emerging markets, or evolving consumer trends.  Companies unwilling or unable to adapt to the new landscape do so at their peril.

Rule #2:  Calibrate your flight plan: fly the HQ helicopter according to the terrain

The role of the HQ in a mature organization is one of strategic governance and stewardship.  Staff in these roles tend to fly high so they can scan the horizon for competitive threats and market opportunities.  If they fail to maintain sufficient distance from the day-to-day operations, they can easily be drawn into the weeds, at once dis-empowering those tasked with regional and local leadership and, critically, taking their eyes off the big picture.

But when a company enters new territory (products, customers, consumers, or geography), it needs to adjust its altitude, especially at the onset, when it is  confronted with “unmapped” terrain.  In this initial phase, savvy companies take pains to “fly low,” acquiring the critical first-hand, on-the-ground intelligence to understand local conditions and to nurture new relationships.  Simply hiring local staff or letting an acquisition “fend for itself” may be less disruptive in the short-term but will hamstring efforts for long-term integration and the creation of a shared corporate culture.

Ultimately, successful business transformation is more art than science: each company has its own “sweet spot” that optimizes both its legacy operations and its new ventures. Executives in these companies are highly attuned to subtle changes in their “livestock,” knowing when to nurture and when to show “tough love.” They have mastered the ability to inject their company DNA in ways which resonate in the new lines of business yet fundamentally align them with the broader corporation. They remain alert to the new terrain, constantly tweaking the mix of centralized control and local autonomy, flying low to embed best practice but pulling back at the right time to allow the new venture to breathe and mature.

Michael Hobson: Never Lose Sight of the Customer

Corporate road warriors come in all shapes and sizes but most would agree that being well-rested is a key to their success.  So what do they do to ensure they get a “good night’s sleep?”  Some require foam pillows or an extra firm mattress.  Others insist on a midnight snack or swear by their pre-dawn workout.  Given the myriad of travel woes (dodgy food, lost luggage, surly customs officials, and the inevitable jet lag) is it any wonder that the strategies to combat them are just as diverse?  Mandarin Oriental Group, one of the leaders among luxury hotels, has built its reputation and success on the experience it provides for its guests.  Michael Hobson, Chief Marketing Officer for the Group, has spent his career working in the industry and offers a few thoughts on what it takes to build and maintain a brand centered on superior customer service.

Michael Hobson, Chief Marketing Officer, Mandarin Oriental

Michael Hobson is Chief Marketing Officer responsible for overseeing Mandarin Oriental’s sales and marketing strategies on a global basis. He joined Mandarin Oriental in this capacity in 1994 and is based at the Group’s Hong Kong office. Hobson has more than 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry. He began his career with Grand Metropolitan in 1978, concentrating on sales and development and was stationed in the United Kingdom, Latin America, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong.  

Prior to joining Mandarin Oriental he was Vice President of Sales and Marketing Worldwide for Omni Hotels Asia-Pacific. He also worked with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts as Group Director of Sales and Marketing. 

Hobson holds an MBA from the University of Leicester having previously studied Hotel and Catering Operations at Brighton Technical College in the United Kingdom.

What is top of mind for your clientele in 2013?

Customers are always looking for VALUE. Nobody minds paying top dollar if the actual experience is worth it. When it isn’t and a gap between the brand promise and the reality is formed, that’s when loyalty comes under scrutiny. And so at Mandarin Oriental, our hotels and their on-property teams focus on doing exceptional things for our guests, knowing their needs, wants and preferences and surprising them with our ability to anticipate them. Hopefully what’s top of mind for our Clientele in 2013 is:  “where else is Mandarin Oriental opening so we can enjoy what we do now, elsewhere?“

How has social media impacted Mandarin Oriental’s ability to cultivate and maintain its reputation for providing superior customer service?

Social Media (SM) are simply additional channels to further engage and brand build. It’s important not to focus on SM and manage it all disparately. No should we jump onto the SM bandwagon just for the sake of doing it. While we may be pleased to have X number of Followers or Y number of Likes, does this translate into tangible purchases? In Mandarin Oriental, we try to make our postings interesting and engaging and to supplement what we do through other media channels and on our properties with the actual guest experience. We monitor what’s being said about us and we measure the feedback and score ourselves against our identified competition (what gets measured gets done!). The most important thing is that social media doesn’t become a silo. They are channels which must align with the other marketing disciplines. We manage it all globally out of New York, London and Hong Kong.

What’s an example where you adjusted something in your hotels based on feedback you received? 

We are receiving feedback daily and receive around 50,000 on-line guest questionnaires annually. This is in addition to the feedback we receive verbally from the guests themselves (most General Managers are in our lobbies during busy guest interaction periods) and our colleagues are trained to provide constant feedback to their hotel executive committee members, who meet daily.

Around the world we work with world-class designers and sometimes, something has been designed that looks aesthetically pleasing but proved to be impractical. I can recall a particular hotel where we ended up changing all of the light switches because they proved to be too complicated for their own good. We often catch those things during the “mock–up“ room trial periods but on this occasion, we felt our customers would get used to it and enjoy the other, fairly complex, features. We learned that simplicity is often the best! Other examples might be restaurant and bar offerings which need adjustment after opening. It’s all about continuous improvement. We’re never shy to innovate but we’re humble enough to adjust if things are not working to the way they were intended. We listen!

How has your own role as CMO evolved?

The role of a CMO is a varied one and touches all points of the brand engagement, from awareness through to customer advocacy. I think the biggest change has been in the on-line distribution world and as a result, revenue management plays a far more significant role than it ever did before. The hotel business is possibly THE most complex web of distribution and pricing one can imagine in any business. The brand machinery needs to move in synch with price and availability in order to create a single image of the brand from all touch points. This is what builds trust in the brand and the resulting effect of that is being able to command a price premium over one’s competition as well as keeping them coming back.

What advice would you offer to someone just starting their marketing career in the hotel industry?

Don’t lose sight of the Customer as an individual and the need to stay close so as to listen first hand. It is becoming increasingly more acceptable to manage the customer engagement from behind a desk and computer screen. It’s important to get out and engage one on one – at least with one’s best customers. Sales is an important piece of the Marketing jigsaw. And don’t forget MBWA (Manage by Walking Around). Listen to the colleagues in the field who are at the sharp end and personally engage in sales calls. You’ll learn a lot. Sell with your ears!

Chris Jaques: Engaging the Asian Consumer

Most marketers are familiar with the apocryphal tale of Coke’s foray into Asia:  the Chinese characters initially used to represent Coca Cola literally translated to “Bite the wax tadpole.”  While many iconic brands have been humiliated by such hapless translations of their product names, marketing campaigns are more likely to fail because of their misconceptions of their target audience as opposed to dodgy linguistics.  Chris Jaques, Asia CEO for M&C Saatchi, shares his perspective on what it takes to reach and engage the Asian consumer.

Chris Jaques

Chris Jaques – CEO, M&C Saatchi, Asia

Chris Jaques has led some of Asia’s most successful networks, including Y&R and Wunderman, Bates, M&C Saatchi and BBDO. Since 2007, he has served as CEO of M&C Saatchi, Asia.

An expert in the Asia Pacific Region, Jaques has earned numerous accolades, including ‘Asian Advertising Network Of The Year’ on two occasions, and being twice named ‘Asia’s Advertising Person Of The Year’.

A pioneer in New Media, Jaques was behind the launch of XM Digital Marketing in the mid-1990’s and also led the Wunderman network across Asia Pacific in the 2000’s.  He was educated at the University of Cambridge and currently resides in Hong Kong.  

What is the biggest misconception western companies have of their Asian consumers?

There are many but three of the most common – and most profound – are these: 

The importance of the group over the individual. Western companies find it very difficult to adapt to Asia’s communal cultures, where the primary imperative is to blend in, not to stand out. There are no successful niche brands in any Asian market outside of Japan. Companies and brands will only succeed if they achieve genuine, broad-based group acceptance, and successful brand strategies must help consumers blend in, not stand out. This is hard for western companies to fully understand:  they understand the concept rationally, but since this principle is so alien to their own cultures, they find it hard to embrace the concept emotionally.

The irresistible force of the family. Even though traditional family units are eroding, traditional family values are not. Parental approval remains critical throughout education, career choice, marriage and child-rearing. Lifestyle and brand choices must always be acceptable to their family’s values. And there is an irrefutable responsibility for parental maintenance in their old age. Three generations still frequently share the same home. This shapes every part of business – from corporate image to recruitment strategies to employee policies to brand promotion. Western companies find it difficult to grasp the fact that they are not simply marketing to individual consumers – they are marketing to their families.

Asian consumers do not want to be Western.  Japan and Korea are clear and confident cultures, and China’s consumers genuinely believe that their country is returning to its historic position at ‘The Centre of the World’. India genuinely believes that she no longer follows the west but shapes it. As a result, Western products may still be strongly associated with quality and style, but Asian values ignite the new aspirations. Whereas Western culture has assumed for the last century or more that the world wanted to live the western dream, it comes as a perpetual shock for western companies to accept that this is no longer the case.

With the explosion of mobile, what role should TV and print play in building brand awareness? 

Mobile is changing everything, connecting media to media, consumer to consumer – and it’s connecting everything to location & action. As a result, it’s transforming the role that traditional media are playing in  people’s lives and in the media mix.

Traditional Television remains the world’s most powerful medium. While Social Media and Mobile communication are both growing at dramatic rates, good old-fashioned TV is holding firm. In the US, for example, consumers claim to spend a massive 4 hours 31 minutes a day watching TV. This beats the 2 hours 20 minutes that they claim to spend on either the internet, or on mobile. Even more amazing, however, is this: over the last 3 years, while SoLoMo has been exploding, TV viewing has actually increased. 

So TV remains the core of most consumer media consumption, and it is also the core of the communications ecosystem. A recent announcement by Twitter, for example, claimed that – during prime time television – 40% of tweets are related to…..prime time television. And Facebook and Twitter are currently selling their respective services to advertisers as TV’s ‘second screen’. Because Traditional television is being viewed in new ways. Multi-Tasking is transforming the TV experience, increasing its engagement, the power of its entertainment, and the social nature of the experience. Now, TV is going through dramatic changes of its own, and the collective visions of Intel, Google, Apple and Netflix will recreate the whole medium. But the medium will remain the primary force behind most mass-market brand building in the foreseeable future.

Traditional Print is being reborn as a new and unique digital medium that combines visual, verbal and video content, engaging and connecting in completely new ways. It is becoming a medium that will blend the best of the digital world to provide brand marketers with exciting, targeted, immersive content.

What are the most critical competencies advertising agencies seek in their new hires?

Over the last five years, the advertising industry has transformed in ways that no one could ever have imagined. The skills that were fundamental for success ten years ago are increasingly irrelevant today. Among all the capabilities that we need, none are more important than these three core competencies:

Connected Thinking – In the old days, we could survive as specialists: we would produce a TV commercial, or a Digital campaign, or a Retail Promotion, or a Social Media campaign. But, since Mobile really began to take off, everything is connecting in ways that we could never have imagined. 77% of the time we’re watching TV, we’re using another device at the same time. 79% of Smartphone users use their Smartphones in-store. Every consumer connection is connected. The people who will succeed in advertising’s future will be able to think organically, connecting touch points with customers; touch points with touch points; and consumers with consumers in new, lateral, creative ways.

Collaboration – connected thinking demands connected working. Hierarchy is crumbling throughout the industry. Corporate culture and management styles are having to adapt to a new world where great ideas come from collaboration between fluid partnerships to generate true organic thinking – no longer through a briefing and management process that is built on command and control. If you can’t collaborate in loose groups, you won’t survive.

Accountability – the “Big Data” beast grows bigger by the month, and it is rapidly becoming the core of everything we do.  All output is measurable in real time, and anyone who doesn’t embrace data and the heat of perpetual measurability needs to get out of the kitchen. In some agencies, in some parts of the world, people are still taking a year to develop a new advertising campaign that they plan to run for two years. But by the time they’re finished, they’ll be out of a job. The new generation has to be results-obsessed and fleet of foot.

The Uni App: New Model for the Undergraduate Degree

SHRM recently reported that more than 50% of business execs felt newly-hired college grads were ill-equipped for the corporate world.  They cited significant deficiencies in basic writing and communication skills as well as being generally ill-suited for work.

This is horrible math for the US economy:  on one side of the equation, legions of newly-minted graduates, the vast majority burdened with crushing debt and lacking the capability to secure a job with a wage commensurate with their ostensible career choice;  on the other, critical jobs going unfilled, forcing employers to “downgrade” with under-qualified individuals or to obtain talent via off-shoring or foreign worker sponsorship.

The result?  High youth unemployment, a corresponding drag on corporate growth and innovation, and an over-credentialed services sector of law-schooled taxi drivers and barista PhDs.

All Dollars, No Sense

The stateFeeling Unprepared For A Task of Oregon thinks it has the answer with its “Pay it Forward” program, where students are offered a generous repayment plan tied to future earnings. Unfortunately, this does nothing to close the skills gap between the credential and the job requirement.   It gets worse:  based on an analysis of 2012 ACT test scores, more than 60% of high school students are not prepared for college.  Incredibly, they were only able to demonstrate competence in two of the four tested areas:  English, math, science, and reading.  The system is seriously broken if more than half of the incoming college freshman are spending their first year in remedial courses, at a cost of $20k in public schools, $40k in private.  Oregon’s plan to fiddle with interest rates and cash flow is deck-chair arranging on the Titanic.

Many believe technology will solve this problem, pointing to MOOCs (Massive On-Line Open Courses) that deliver an Ivy-league education at a fraction of the cost.  But critics rightly point out that these virtual curricula deliver a hollowed-out experience and run the real risk of stunting the development of one’s emotional intelligence.  In today’s borderless world, acquiring knowledge (the IQ) is the easy part; how one applies it (the emotional intelligence, or “EQ”) will determine one’s ultimate effectiveness.

Applied Learning:  The Uni App

With its serendipitous blend of casual conversation and formal discourse, college life no doubt “primes the pump” of one’s EQ engine.  However, one needs to engage that EQ beyond the walls of the ivory tower to learn how to navigate and contribute in the real world.    This type of “road test” thrived centuries ago in the form of multi-year apprenticeships for a whole host of professional trades, where novices evolved under the watchful eyes of their skilled mentors.

So rather than palliative measures for the debt burden and partisan finger-pointing on the demise of the US education system, let’s consider a new template for the university degree, one which streamlines the campus experience and which reintroduces a more robust apprenticeship that forges a broad-based partnership between academia and the corporate world.

The university apprenticeship (Uni App) would last 12 months (the equivalent of a summer and one academic year)  where students would be placed in entry-level roles with participating companies.  Successful completion of the Uni App would be a graduation requirement, with most fulfilling it after having completed two years of coursework on campus.  (Those who complete a year’s service in the National Guard, the Peace Corp or the military could potentially be exempt from the Uni App.)

Uni App participants would be expected to acquire and apply the three “C”s for the workplace:

* Communication

* Computation

* Collaboration

Universities would partner with companies (ideally facilitated by the talent acquisition staff within the firm’s HR department) to tailor these programs to leverage the individual schools’ areas of academic expertise while addressing the specific business needs of their partner companies.

The workplace provides ample “content” for creating Uni Apps. Drafting press releases, participating in a client presentation, or preparing a grant proposal could all fulfill the communication component. Assisting in the preparation of a firm’s year-end close, writing code for a new software program, or monitoring clinical trials could satisfy the computation component.  Fulfilling the collaboration component would simply be a matter of embedding the participant in a team and providing feedback on the quality of their engagement and interaction. Every industry is teeming with these opportunities:  it is simply a matter of framing them in the context of an apprenticeship where the focus is on learning and development.

The business world already boasts many fine examples of the applied learning that is the DNA of an apprenticeship.  Indeed, many firms have recently ramped up and/or re-tooled their internal learning and development resources to build organization capability. And while these programs are typically geared towards middle and upper management, the infrastructure could easily be tweaked to accommodate the apprentice partnership with undergraduate programs.  (General Electric, often viewed as the gold standard for leadership development, offers a 12-week session for university students)

Funding

Coupled with a 3-year “traditional” on-campus curriculum, the Uni App would lower the total cost of the undergraduate degree and produce more graduates better prepared for the workplace. In exchange for services rendered by the Uni App participant (they will be performing real work, after all)  the sponsor company would contribute a flat amount (say, $25,000) towards the student’s university costs.  Since this is roughly the cost of an entry-level employee, the impact on the firm’s P&L would be minimal.  And since the funds are earmarked for education, the contributions would be tax-exempt for both the student and the employer.  The student who previously paid $48,000 for a 4-year public school degree now faces a 3-yr bill of $36,000, with nearly two-thirds of that subsidized by the Uni App credit.

Existing worker training programs and portions of corporate L&D budgets could be redeployed to underwrite the cost of the design, implementation and assessment of the Uni App, which would be driven at a grass-roots level among the participating universities and businesses.

Everyone Wins

Broadly embraced, the Uni App would restore considerable heft to one’s education credential.  For example:

Jane Adams  – Georgetown University – BA, Economics (Apprenticeship:  Marriott International)

Jim Sullivan –  University of Texas – Austin  – BA, English  (Apprenticeship:  Dell)

The Uni App would provide powerful incentives to all stakeholders to ensure its success:  students get real world exposure and begin building key relationships and networks to help them gain a foothold in their chosen career;  schools leverage their business partnerships to supplement their existing programs with the expertise and facilities funded by corporate budgets; and, businesses reap the benefits of a vastly superior talent pipeline that enables them to offer full-time roles to those Uni App participants who have demonstrated the strongest alignment and fit to their culture.

The Uni App becomes the pivot point between a more focused and relevant college experience and a smoother on-boarding of qualified entry-level talent in the workplace. When everyone has skin in the game, everyone wins.

Sony Music’s Miles Braffett: Singing a New Song in Corporate IT

Not so long ago, IT departments were tasked with the care and feeding of mainframes, desktops, and enterprise software.  With much of this work increasingly outsourced, and hard-wired physical offices giving way to those that are both mobile and virtual, the IT function now has a very different set of challenges: social media, big data and the “cloud.”   As Chief Information Officer for Sony Music Entertainment, Miles Braffett has had a front row seat to this remarkable transformation and he shares his views on how the IT world is continuing to evolve.

Miles Braffett, SVP and Chief Information Officer, Sony Music Entertainment

Miles Braffett is SVP and CIO for Sony Music Entertainment, with global responsibility for its information systems and technology (IS&T) organization.   He previously served as CIO for BMG Music Entertainment and played a key role in successfully integrating the systems when the company merged with Sony Music in 2003.   

Braffett holds a music degree from the University of Texas – Austin and an MBA from the University of Miami.  He also serves as a Mentor in Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education.

How are corporate IT strategies and policies keeping pace with social media? 

I think most companies are still experimenting with Social Media in the corporate world and doing so on two levels.  First, there is some desire to have “social like” technology capabilities for users in the corporate and workgroup setting.  I think the usefulness of that is still to be proven.

Second, and more important, is the focus on social media as a marketing tool for a product or service.  The effectiveness of this is pretty directly related to the type of product a company has.  For entertainment or hobbyist-related products, the amount of engagement with individuals or consumers in the social media space can be quite substantial.  For companies which make these products, this represents a very direct and immediate consumer feedback channel that could potentially be very useful.

So companies still need to figure out what to do with the feedback.

That’s right.  I think most companies now have some sort of social media presence with very good feedback and metrics available regarding user activity with the social media space.  Most are really now in the process of digesting that information and trying to figure out how it can be used to adjust real world product and marketing strategies to improve satisfaction and drive sales.

Given how quickly technology evolves, are there any core skills and competencies that you expect your IT staff to possess? 

I encourage my staff to focus on their more general IT management skills such as business analysis as well as project, financial, and technology/vendor management.  While technical skills are often the entry point to a corporate IT career, corporations increasingly rely on vendors, specialists and outsourcing companies for the bulk of their purely technical work.  What really is important to a corporation is having an IT team that truly understands the inner workings and operations of their business.  They need an aptitude for the application of technology to improve the business, recommend appropriate investments in technology, and most importantly, manage those investments through to successful implementation.

So what are the “inner workings” an IT professional needs to master at Sony Music Entertainment?

Because our recordings are digital straight from the studio we now have the ability to capture metadata about the recording that we can then distribute to outlets like Spotify and the Apple iTunes store.  We also receive an enormous volume of sales and payment information, from hundreds of distribution outlets.  This information forms the basis of the royalty payments we need to make to our artists and songwriters.

My teams need to deeply understand these complex and evolving business processes  to ensure that we properly support it with the necessary IT tools.  It really is a challenging, interesting and really fun business environment for an IT professional.

Is “big data” just a marketing ploy?

Yes and no.  There is no question that businesses are generating  a volume and granularity of data that has never been available.  Consumer products companies now have access to very rich purchase data from online consumers or very granular sentiment data about their products from social media.  Logistics companies are generating real-time operations data from their connected and GPS-enabled vehicles that can prove to be enormously useful in their business model.  Certainly there are a long list of technology companies offering products to store, transform, and report or “visualize” that data.

But you don’t feel companies have extracted the value yet.

What is probably still tripping up many corporations is not having the executives,experience and skills to control this fire hose of new data, to be able to distill important insights and actions which can be taken to increase sales or improve products.  There is definitely a shortage of people with experience and capabilities in creating meaningful business advantage out of “Big Data”.

What is your take on cloud computing? 

To me Cloud Computing really speaks to the ability to acquire computing capabilities (servers, storage etc) in a very flexible “on demand” way with an “as used” price.  In the strictest sense, this usually implies using technology pools that are shared with others, with all of the implications that come with that.    It is a very interesting concept, and to the corporate IT organization it represents one end of a continuum of operating models with the big, company-owned and operated data center occupying the other end.  In between, we will see a range of outsourced and managed services models.

The Cloud Computing hype has done a lot to force corporate IT execs to re-think the sourcing strategies and in the end, most companies will need to develop their sourcing based on their requirements for cost, predictability, service levels, flexibility and security. The “Cloud Computing” term has unfortunately become a little tired and overused because technology companies  use the term to enhance their product offerings by branding them “Cloud.”

Pat Royak: “Leaning In” for the Next Generation of Women Leaders

An instant best-seller that has been compared to Betty Friedan’s ground-breaking “Femnine Mystique”, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” has become a rallying cry for those who seek to re-engineer the workplace.  While some will approach this from a system perspective, others will seek to apply lessons on an individual level. Pat Royak shares some of her thoughts as a coach and mentor to staff who aspire to leadership roles in their own careers.

Pat Royak, SVP and Managing Director, International & Donna Karan, Maidenform

Pat Royak has spent her career building iconic lifestyle brands on a global basis, including Liz Claiborne, Calvin Klein, and Levi Strauss.  Across a variety of functional and general management roles, she has led a broad range of businesses in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific.  She currently serves as Senior Vice President & Managing Director of International and Donna Karan for Maidenform.

Royak holds a degree in business administration from Salisbury University and serves on the Advisory Board for the Purdue School of Business.

What is your take on Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”?

The book is a great reminder that in order to reach your dreams, leaning in is necessary. There is a fine line between boasting and exhibiting quiet confidence to self advocate. Many men and women are not type A’s and leaning in is not natural for them. It is also critical to have a partner who complements your weaknesses — someone who can serve as a sounding board to ensure you’re covered 360 so you do not tip over.  Many of my friends and work associates (men and women ) have read it and we agree it’s worth the read!

You no doubt serve as a role model for junior female staff. What specific “lean in” advice and counsel do you offer them?

Consider the path less traveled:  take on the challenge of a small turnaround that will help you quickly learn how to change direction to improve sales and profits.

Be collaborative and creative in your problem solving:  people want to be around a passionate brain-stormer, not a whiner. It is the EQ (emotional intelligence) that separates the leaders from the managers.

And as they rise to more senior roles?

Staying focused and even tempered is important, but being inspirational is critical to attract and retain the talent you need to win in a competitive environment.

Surround yourself with people who you enjoy being with and who share your values. If a team member is not in the boat with you, they are an anchor around your neck pulling against your drive to reach the company goals.

Evolve your leadership style and take the high road particularly as you move up. Think beyond your role and team to the greater good of the company. Put yourself in the shoes of others so you can customize your message to the audience. This will inspire trust and belief in your vision.

You’ve worked globally for many years. How have the cultural and language challenges impacted you?

Culture is more difficult than most people realize:  there are many nuances in each country, just like the regional and local difference within the US.

English-speaking cultures like New Zealand, Australia UK, Netherlands and Singapore are ones that I personally found very open to all types of people and cultures.  The language barrier and process to assimilate to English-speaking countries and schools for children is smoother to adapt and learn. In my experience, my son flourished at the British school in Den Haag (the Netherlands) way beyond our hopes.

The ability to speak face-to-face accelerates business development and builds trust. Communicating clearly and with speed is even more important in multi-cultural teams, especially when the messages must pass through a language filter, and where meaning will be absorbed at a different pace.   The reality is that many companies struggle with communication, even when everyone speaks English!

What might “leaning in” look like in a place like Japan?

The Japanese tend to build understanding of a concept by starting with the detail vs the big picture. An associate once described it to me that it was like a forest: Westerners see the big picture and start there, while the Japanese start with the vein of the leaf on the tree, work their way to the branch, then the tree, and lastly the forest.

The process and road map are critical, and you need visual metrics or milestones to keep leadership and teams aligned and focused.