Tim Cook once shared his philosophy for growth in technology, “You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change.” I have enormous respect for Tim Cook. Imagine when your job is to continue the growth after your predecessor – who happens to be Steve Jobs. As we know, Cook has driven Apple to continue its dominant growth and ‘create the ripple for change’.
In thinking about our future, it’s clear that digital is the engine driving business, the economy and society. So I thought it would be of value to ask four of the CEOs who are in the driver’s seat of the changing technology landscape to describe their technology breakthrough as well as their advice for building a great technology company. They are:
– Bill Ruh, CEO, GE Digital
– Gary Smith, CEO, Ciena
– Mike Tuchen, CEO, Talend
– Chris Young, CEO, McAfee
Robert Reiss: What technology breakthrough has your organization led?
Bill Ruh: The proliferation of digital technology has given IT the ability to directly impact an organization’s bottom line by increasing productivity – an important economic indicator that’s continued to stagnate over the last decade – with software and analytics. At GE Digital, we’ve unlocked the power of the Industrial Internet. We’ve reimagined industry infrastructure by connecting software, apps and analytics to industrial businesses enabling them to operate smarter, faster and more efficiently. Our customers are able to gain mastery of their assets through our unique industrial platform, Predix, which connects an organization’s physical and digital worlds, allowing companies to quickly and securely connect their assets and collect data to drive outcomes and productivity. Currently, 10% of the world’s power generation runs through Predix. These numbers mean real change and real progress.
Chris Young: McAfee has created the most advanced cybersecurity architecture required for the future, spanning endpoint and cloud control points, linked by the security operations center with actionable threat intelligence, analytics and orchestration, and enabled by an open ecosystem.
Gary Smith: In a network industry that has arguably innovated at a pace outstripping the chip industry’s fabled Moore’s Law, Ciena is regarded as one of the most innovative companies. Still, twenty-five years young as a company, our first innovation is still considered one of the most important breakthroughs in telecom. In the late 90s, we introduced Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) technology as a means to split light across fiber optic lines, thereby enabling the efficient transport of far greater volumes of information such as voice, video, and data across communications networks. This technology radically changed the economics of the network and catapulted the industry onto a path of extraordinary capacity and speed advancements. Out of the gate, we powered nationwide telecom networks for the likes of Sprint and MCI WorldCom, who at the time were leading the charge into the Internet era. Even today, our optical innovations continue to push scientific limits as we aim to support the cloud, internet of things and other on demand applications.
Mike Tuchen: Talend reinvented the data integration market by making the fundamental bet that there is more innovation happening in the industry as a whole than in any one company by itself. Based on that premise, we came up with the concept of developing an open platform that allows users to run their data integration solutions anywhere. That approach allows companies to take full advantage of the very latest and best big data and cloud technologies, and to connect and process data at full speed and scale from a wide range of sources, with native security. As a result unlike proprietary approaches, Talend’s offerings allow users to meet the constantly evolving demands of modern business.
Reiss: What leadership advice do you have on building a talented aligned culture and in a technology company?
Tuchen: I’d advise anyone who wants to attract great talent to focus on building a learning culture. That’s good advice in any industry, but especially in the technology arena where the market is continually growing and changing, and there’s ample opportunity for people to try new things, make mistakes, and learn and develop. I’m also a big believer in building a culture that embraces teamwork and a sense of collective ownership. You can create that type of environment by fostering transparency and honesty, communicating a strong vision, and providing clear-cut goals with understandable metrics. When employees share a common purpose, they feel emotionally invested in the team; those connections are the foundation of success.
Smith: A very wise HR leader once told me that you hire people for what they know, and fire them for who they are. It took me a while, but I’ve come to really understand the importance of the softer skills such as communication style, conflict management, positive attitude. You can teach someone a skill or give them information, but you really can’t teach them to be a good person or to treat others with respect, and so on and so forth. I believe that at the end of the day, business is all about the people you are working with and the relationships formed across your team, customers and stakeholders. If you get the people right, the technology will follow.
For me, a primary responsibility of any leader is to pull together the right group of people and nurture their talent. IQ and functional specialties are important (and presumably screened prior to the interviewing process), but their engagement and social aspects are much more critical in ensuring success.
Young: In the cyberthreat era that is our current reality, business leaders have to build security into their cultures in order to protect their businesses from — and prepare their businesses for — cyberattacks. Leaders must make security a core tenet of the vision of their companies, one that is embedded in the consciousness and language of their executive teams. They should make it a core value, if it isn’t already one, and should consider how each of their other values can be achieved securely. Then leaders must make sure security protocols and security technologies support their vision and enable employees to work productively. And they need to start thinking security first and inspiring their employees to think security first, too. That means, from the earliest stages of product design, to selecting vendor partners to writing job descriptions — security needs to be top of mind for every critical decision, every new process, every rule. The future of their businesses depends on it.
Ruh: The best leadership advice I can give is to surround yourself with the right people and empower your internal leaders. If you ensure your leaders are all aligned with the common business goal at hand, then you’ll foster a prosperous culture and retain crucial talent. In the early stages of our digital transformation at GE Digital, we made the mistake of trying to have digital be too separate from the existing business. Our leaders were essential in helping course correct to re-shape our internal talent and culture to wholly embrace digital. We then encouraged leaders to bring along our “digital migrants,” or traditional industrial employees, and integrate them with “digital natives,” traditional tech talent, to help seamlessly shift company culture and mindsets to continue through the transformation journey.
… In summary, of these many important quotes, I’m thinking about one from Chris Young on the idea of elevating elements of technology to the most esteemed level of core value. I think we know that technology will continue to drive our economy and we need to think through how to become that powerful pebble in the pond.