Avnet is one of the world’s largest technology distributors, shipping more than 30,000 line items every day, with 15,700 global employees who serve more than 2 million customers in more than 125 countries. Needless to say, its CEO Bill Amelio needs to stay on top a lot of moving pieces each day.
Amelio’s past experience includes serving as CEO and president of global helicopter services provider CHC Group; president and CEO of Lenovo Group Limited; senior vice president/president for the Asia-Pacific/Japan region of Dell; and leadership roles at NCR Corporation, Honeywell International and IBM. He told Chief Executive that he leverages all of that experience in his role at Avnet.
“I had the opportunity to be in operations, finance, sales, marketing, essentially across all functions and I think each of those experiences fine tune one of those functional expertises a little bit better. So, it gave me a well-rounded look,” Amelio says. “It also helped me figure out where are my talents, strengths, and areas that I’ve got to watch out for on a regular basis. The key thing is then to surround yourself with people that can help the areas where you’re not the best at, which I think is important.”
Amelio spoke with Chief Executive about why navigating change in the business landscape is so critical, what traits he looks for in leaders within his organization, and what CEOs should keep their eyes peeled for in the tech space moving forward. Here’s what he had to say:
The importance of navigating change
We had a slow burn happen in the company, and that’s why it was a little bit more difficult at times to actually see it coming, which necessitated really change at the top. So I like to characterize it as over the last 10 years we saw a close margin slide in the entire industry of about 400 basis points, which is huge. And it’s kind of like the proverbial frog in the hot water with the temperature on, and somebody’s turning it up and you don’t know it’s getting hotter until it boils you and you’re done.
We fortunately found out quick enough before the poor frog got in trouble. We got him out of there to make the right changes. Because it was clear the marketplace was changing faster than we were internally to deal with the changing environment. Part of it was for buyer consolidation and part of it was the advent of all these new technologies that are hitting the forefront now, whether it’s artificial intelligence, IoT. You name it, there’s things that are changing very, very rapidly, all of which were embodied now in the strategy at Avnet.
The value of being a board member at Avnet for two years before taking over as CEO
You get a running start because you’ve got a good sense of the talent in the organization, you’ve got a good sense of the business management system, and you’ve got a good sense of what the strategy is. So you’re much more prepared, obviously, to walk in than if you were walking in cold.
“the predictive capability that comes out of AI is going to be second to none and it’s going to help all of us improve the way we operate in our businesses.”
The common traits he looks for when adding to his leadership team
Three things: Top one is the most important, and that’s integrity. That’s the most important thing. Second one is real passion and energy. And the third one is intellectual horsepower.
I’ll tell you something else that’s really important is the idea that while strategy is important to work it out, you have a little bit more time on strategy than you do on execution. Meaning that if there’s a playbook that’s in place, even if you can make sure that you’re executing that with the utmost accuracy and precision, you’ll still win. I’ve seen not-so-good strategies executed well win and I’ve seen brilliant strategies not executed well and lose.
Emerging tech topics that CEOs should be focusing on
Well, first and foremost, IoT’s here and it’s now accelerating. I think the reason a company is not thinking about doing something and some of them don’t have electronics departments and that’s when having it can really help them with their IoT deployments, because technology is not easy and it’s been said that you need 10-12 partners pulled together. And that’s what we do in order to really pull off a world-class IoT deployment, meaning that you’re not only talking about the devices, but you’re talking about the gateway, the network, the cloud, the analytics that you’ve got to take out of the cloud, the data management and the applications.
Think about your phone for a second. That’s a glorified IoT device and you can change the class warning by changing the applications on it. Similarly, we’re going to be going out with tens of thousands and millions of sensors and devices that are endpoint devices that are all around the world. So I think IoT is a clear-cut trend that everyone’s working on.
The second one that you’ll see having a profound effect on everything we do is AI. And I’m not saying AI where it’s going to match human intelligence. I’m saying AI that augments what we do and makes us more efficient and productive. We have several AI experiments going on in the company regarding process automation tools that sit in the background and start taking up mundane tasks that workers do and make them more productive so they can focus on the value-add steps as opposed to getting bogged down on things that are routine and rote in nature.
Similarly, we got AI tools helping us with pricing. It’s being able to figure out at a moment’s notice what the appropriate price is by looking at all sorts of data and making the right prediction of what we should do with respect to pricing. So the predictive capability that comes out of AI is going to be second to none and it’s going to help all of us improve the way we operate in our businesses.
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