CEOs: Disrupt your Business or Get Disrupted

CEOs share their perspectives on new business models and strategies for the digital economy.

The need for access to both top talent, academia and potential business partners factored heavily in Roche Innovation’s decision to open a research facility in Manhattan, where the company would be able to engage with medical professionals from the city’s teaching hospitals and medical schools, as well as attract and retain top talent. The new research center is located near the city’s East Side medical
corridor in the state-of-the-art Alexandria Center for Life Science building, joining tenants like Eli Lilly and Pfizer.

5. COMPANIES MUST LOOK FOR WAYS TO BRIDGE THE DIGITAL TALENT GAP. One of the biggest challenges to digital transformation is finding the employees with the skills to work with the tools and technologies being adopted by companies, agreed many CEOs attending the summit. “It is no longer blue collar or white collar, it’s ‘new collar,’” quipped Dow’s Liveris, discussing the need to reskill or replace today’s workers. “We have a 19th-century education system turning out a workforce attuned to two ends of the spectrum: higher education and people who don’t make it through high school [educated] for assembly lines. There’s a big piece in the middle—at places like our infrastructure and materials companies—that our education system doesn’t support.”

Addressing the dearth of technically skilled workers will require changes in the nation’s educational system. However, companies can’t afford to wait for that shift to happen organically, argued Liveris, who has been tapped to lead President Trump’s manufacturing council. “The big opportunity is how to collaborate [and] rebuild the public education system around that new workforce,” he said. In the meantime, Dow is working with community colleges to design curriculums tailored to its needs. “Our ecosystem—we have 50,000 Dow employees but my ecosystem also includes all the high-tech firms in our supply chain—will require more jobs, but of a different skill set,” he said.


AT&T is also taking a proactive approach to bringing its workforce up to speed. Recognizing that its digital talent gap will only continue to widen, the company worked with educational institutions to design relevant coursework and then focused on incenting its employees to voluntarily re-educate themselves for the jobs of the future.

“We tried not to inhibit ourselves by looking at what we already had; we said, ‘Five years from now, what will we need?’” explained John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president. “Then we gave every employee a view not only of where they are today but where we expected them to be on the internal path five years from now. We also took a very important step: We allowed them to look at any future
[career] they wanted and build a curriculum that would get them there, whether that be 80 hours to meet expectations or 800 hours to go out and become a new person.”

While developing and funding a massive educational initiative will help workers adapt to the evolving job market, it was also a pragmatic solution for AT&T, he noted. “We did the math,” he said. “We looked at how many of the 160,000 people in our technology and operation system had a STEM education and the answer was half,” Donovan said. “Projecting forward five years, we need that number to be 95 percent. If you do the math, you simply can’t hire your way into solving this problem.”

Workers initially balked at the concept, but many have since been won over by the opportunity for advancement, and today the buy-in continues to build. Since launching the effort, AT&T employees have completed 2.4 million courses. “Once you hit a tipping point, the demand becomes overwhelming,” Donovan reported. “I don’t have to sit and preach anymore. The success stories speak volumes and people push each other.”

6. IN THE DIGITAL AGE, FACETIME IS JUST AS CRITICAL AS EVER. Even as technology enables us to connect with geographically dispersed colleagues on team endeavors, there’s no substitute for the energy and enthusiasm that a face-to-face, real-time gathering can offer. “There are certain aspects of the human relationship that machines can’t do,” noted Dean T. Stamoulis, head of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Center for Leadership Insight.

At 1-800-Flowers, McCann fosters an atmosphere of innovation by dining with team members regularly. “I run monthly dinners with 10 to 15 people,” he explained. “I ask core talent folks to invite younger newer people and we ask them to bring ideas, anything they do that is new and creative. We have wonderful dialogues. In fact, being early to Facebook was because of a lady sitting next to me who told me how she used Facebook. The next morning I was there with two cups of tea, saying, “Show me what you do on Facebook.”

In fact, facetime with a CEO time is becoming currency, noted Liveris, who has adopted an “inclusive model” of leadership that involves traveling the globe to engage personally with constituents, customers, owners, employees and partners. “It’s very demanding,” he said, adding that how CEOs allocate their time can be a competitive differentiator. “Your time is the only thing left that is discretionary. Everyone else has everything else you have. I’m away from headquarters 250 days a year; I slept on an airplane 90 nights last year. That’s what modern technology has done.”

You might also like:
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