Top tech chief executive on the power of purpose, embracing the new and the CIO’s place at the board table

27 May 2020

Top tech chief executive on the power of purpose, embracing the new and the CIO’s place at the board table

What Bob Bailkoski, Chief Executive of Logicalis Group, has learned that will make a positive difference beyond the COVID-19 lockdown.

Bob Bailkoski

Mike Drew, Partner and Global Head of the Odgers Berndtson Executive Search’s Global Technology Practice continues his questions in a series of CEO interviews.

Mike: Let's turn to the power of purpose and how important it's been through this period, and, where have you seen that in Logicalis?

Now more than ever, it’s absolutely essential to have a purpose for your organisation.

I know, we're a technology business and too often we talk about what we do and how we do it. Rather than why we do it. What is our purpose?

Watch a ten-minute video of this ‘CEO leading through the lockdown’ interview with Bob Bailkoski, Chief Executive of Logicalis Group.

But in this COVID-19 time, we've been able to support the creation of new testing centres for COVID-19 with their wireless infrastructure requirements, we've contributed to the building of new hospitals in other parts of the world that are now repurposed as COVID-19 hospitals.

We've been called out to data-centre outages at hospitals right in the peak of this crisis to fix that critical infrastructure so that the computing power can be redeployed to the hospital. So there are some great stories internally that we publicised as much as we can because people really want to hear how we're contributing to this crisis.

We're not frontline workers, we're not right in the mix of things at the hospital. We're not doctors, we're not nurses, but we do support their activities in one way or another. So it's important to tell those stories.

We'd been thinking about that wider purpose of the Logicalis Group in the context of bringing benefits to society at large, and to trying to harness the power of our organisation.

The Logicalis Group has got six and a half thousand employees globally. We're in 26 countries with a diverse mix of cultures and employees to try to bring together.

So, we recently launched an Innovation Challenge - we were in two minds because it was something that we had planned to do in a ‘normal’ scenario. And we were planning to postpone it because we thought it's not appropriate to do in this lockdown scenario. But for a number of reasons we went ahead.

It provides us with a greater sense of purpose but also gives employees, a sort of slight distraction to their day-to-day job. It provides them with a more productive outlet for the creative juices that they've somehow locked up inside with them in their home office.

Our challenge is simple: adapt our solutions and services, that might exist in any territory globally, in a way that benefits society or the environment.

That sounds like a huge grand objective and we're not looking for the cure to COVID-19, but we're looking for little innovations that can help bring around a positive change and contribute to the world. So we launched it a few weeks ago and that's received a huge amount of positive feedback from the workforce. I'm really pleased that we did it.

That sort of initiative binds us together right now in this difficult time and we can tell the positive stories about how we contributed from a technology perspective in the fight against COVID-19.

How do you think this virtual working affects culture? I'm just curious to understand if it can improve the culture of your organisation, or will it have a detrimental effect?

Good question, Mike.

I only took over as the chief executive of Logicalis just over eight weeks ago. And I bring a new style compared to the previous leader.

There are lots of cultural changes that I was planning to make, but I was a little bit tentative about forcing some of them through. Having observed how straightforward it was to go from an office-based environment to a remote working environment, it gives me actual confidence that we can push forward and accelerate on some of those cultural changes, and they'll all be very positive.

You know, I wanted to introduce a more flexible and agile way of working. There's no other way of working right now, and the organisation's adapted very well to that.

So we'll do our best to continue that in the post-lockdown, next to the normal world. I think there are some very positive aspects that this lockdown period can drive through from a cultural perspective for an organisation like ours.

The one thing I would say though is that you've got to work especially hard to maintain whatever cultural changes that have been implemented or whatever culture you want overall because you don't have the ability to get your people together.

A good example of that is, I was planning to do a tour around all of our businesses in my first few months to attend many of the sales kick-offs that we have at the start of the financial year. I wasn't able to do that.

So I've had to work super hard to communicate more to our people about what they should expect from me.

And that has just required even more effort, using a variety of communication tools to make sure those messages get across clearly so that we can start to adapt our culture in a positive fashion.

Almost overnight virtual working has been enforced and it has proven the business case for modernising the workplace, to even the most sceptical. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to embrace a new way of working post-lockdown?

I think the success of this lockdown, in a sense, is clear proof to organisations and in particular, CIOs and CEOs, they've got to have confidence about their own business transformation.

If you'd have said to a CIO, look, we've got six months to go from an office-based environment to a remote work environment, they probably would have been doubtful they could make it happen. And yet we now see this transformation happen almost overnight and it has been very successful.

I think organisations now need to think about what's going to happen for them and their business in the next normal. And this remote working experiment, as it could be called, is like a beta version of that effort.

You know, it’s been largely successful, but there may well have been some problems along the way. Employee access was problematic because of bandwidth issues at home, or security may have been a concern or the organisation didn't have the right devices to enable remote working.

Whatever those issues were during this lockdown period, the CIO and the CEO need to think about it before the next period and plan properly for what is almost an inevitable feature of the next normal - periodic lockdowns and working from home.

We've got to think about new business models too because this remote working experiment has been largely successful. I think there will be other benefits to embracing the flexibility that working from home can bring. For example, within the Logicalis Group, we’re looking at reducing the footprint of our office space. We're not saying we're going to go completely remote, because there is a need for people to get together physically, but we don't need as much office space.

There's also the environmental aspects with a lower carbon footprint with fewer people travelling in and out of an office environment and battling through the daily commute.

So I think there are some real advantages to remote working. Whilst this current lockdown period has gone relatively well from a working perspective, there are no doubt lots of improvements that can be made. So my advice to anybody that is thinking about embracing it is to engage with an organisation like Logicalis to plan properly before it's actually imposed on you like this one was

Moving to the broader digital transformation question. Do you think that after this period we'll see the acceleration of digital change in the market? And will the CIO hold an even more important strategic position on the C- Suite than they ever had before?

No doubt in my mind about that. First of all, I've got to say a huge congratulations to all of the CIOs and IT leaders out there that have led this remote working transformation so quickly. And it's been relatively smooth. I don't think anyone would have expected that, so a huge round of applause and a big congratulations to the people that have delivered this.

You know without the technology and without the leadership from the CIO and IT management community, we wouldn’t be where we are today, in terms of being able to conduct business in this remote working environment. But the key thing is that it has taught businesses a lesson.

Transformation can happen in a relatively short space of time with commitment, authentic leadership, and with a clear focus on what the outcome should be.

So often transformations fail because they don't have one or some of those components.

I’d also argue there's no need these days for long-term roadmaps for transformation. You know, many organisations in the past used to sell three- to five-year roadmaps for an organisation's digital transformation. That should be torn up and thrown out because every transformation now has to become agile.

Digital transformation has to accelerate because there's now very clearly a lot at stake. And if you don't have a digital strategy at this moment you'd be lost in this lockdown environment.

Many customers I speak to recognize this and now truly understand what the power of digital can do for their organisation. Most CIOs know digital is an enabler.

While CIOs are clearly critical in enabling the vision and strategy of their CEO, it is the CEO themselves who have ultimate responsibility. But the CIO definitely has to have a strong position on the C-suite.

In the past, CIOs have complained about not having a seat at the transformation table. I would expect that to change dramatically going forward.

Bob, thank you. On behalf of Odgers Berndtson Executive Search, thank you so much for investing the time and giving your insights and perspective on what you have faced during this very disruptive period. I wish you well and be safe, and hopefully, we'll see each other, face-to-face, soon.