12 CEOs Outline Their Strategies For 2019

We debriefed CEOs grappling with the threat of disruption, a dearth of ready talent and other pressing challenges of the day about their strategies for 2019. Here’s what they had to say.

Creating Unity in a Remote Workforce

Jaja Okigwe, CEO and President, First Choice Health

Based in Seattle, the company is a health-benefits administrator that is owned by hospitals and physicians, serving nearly 600,000 members throughout the West with its 200 employees, many of whom are telecommuters.

“We made the decision a number of years ago to drive telecommuters to close to 30 percent of our workforce today, up from just a fraction. At that level, as an employer it becomes challenging to try to establish a common theme for the company. So we have online town halls, virtual meetings and other things that you might see in companies that are more dot-com. We’ve gone 100-percent Skype. We’re using technology to help people feel like they’re sitting in the next cube even though they’re not.

“But we also need them to come into the home office. So we’re making it easier for them with ‘hotel’ cubes where they can come and plug in easily. We’re also looking at setting up smaller satellite offices where they can come in for a set period of time and go out again. And when we have our annual holiday party, first we devote the whole morning to department meetings and encourage everyone to come in for them. Then we party in the afternoon. Doing both, they’re more likely to come in.”       

Nurturing a Digital Culture

Adam Warby, CEO, Avanade

This Microsoft-Accenture joint venture based in Seattle helps companies confront the digital era, growing by about 15 percent and adding 3,000 people in 2017. But digital transformation still has its challenges.

“My executive-leadership group is the top 240 people in the company. I talk with or engage them once a month over Skype. The last time we had a physical meeting was [mid-2017]. We look for simplistic ways to advance our digital culture, to encourage people to contribute and have conversations digitally.

“An example: In a digital meeting, you actually want to encourage chatter in the background because it shows engagement and encourages commentary. At a physical meeting, you’d be asking people not to chat in the front of the room because it’s distracting.

“One way that we keep people is to regularly articulate and update our vision for being the leading digital innovator for the Microsoft ecosystem. We’re clear that we have both ambition and innovation to be digital, and the tie between digital and innovation is very important.”

Humanizing the Big Data Revolution

John Fish, CEO, Suffolk Construction

The Boston-based contractor tries to be on the cutting edge of digitization of a traditional industry and is entering the second phase of a three-phase strategy for technologically transforming its workforce to spark a new era of growth.

“We’ve been able to introduce an adaptive culture in phase one, getting people to understand that leveraging technology and innovation can be a huge competitive advantage.

“Phase two is the big-data strategy we introduced [in 2017] to create a clean data ‘lake,’ and using it will be foundational to any new investment in digital technology. For instance, we can invest in software for facial recognition on construction projects that can identify unsafe behavior on the job through video, where we can rectify it fast. And we can create a virtual-reality twin of a project that is much better than the old-fashioned way of building a scale model.

“We also are leveraging our four generations in digital formulas to staff job sites. And we are reverse mentoring, where millennials help our boomers with technology skills and the boomers on staff provide them with the benefits of their construction experience. Never before have we had this thoughtful exchange of currency; it’s always gone one way.”

Connecting domain knowledge with digital possibilities

Jeff Simmons, CEO, Elanco

The former animal-health unit of Eli Lilly went public in 2018 to unleash its business from big pharma. The Greenfield, Indiana-based concern improves the health of food livestock and of pets at a time when both businesses are booming.

“We’re turning our data to knowledge. We’re holders of some of the largest databases in the world on poultry and cattle disease and productivity, and on the overall optimization of an animal’s health. We also know how to administer products. And turning to the other side of our business, we have to be more connected with the end user. It’s not just with a big food company but also using IoT to be connected to a Brazilian cattle farm and to veterinary clinics.

“So we need to be able to blend that college graduate who comes here with a love for agriculture and the animal-health space and a basic knowledge of it with someone who’s agile enough to understand that knowledge gets outdated in two years. The sweet spot is people who love our cause and can connect digital with that need and are ready to jump in.”

Read more: Why CEOs Should Put CFOs At The Helm Of Digital Transformation



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