Technological disruption has become the most decisive force in business. Digital determinism now transforms industries. It upends lofty corporate legacies and creates new entrepreneurial ones. It opens and closes markets. It drives capital investment. It dictates workforce strategies. And insistent digital technologies have practically swallowed innovation whole.
“The pace of technological disruption is accelerating,” says Roger Park, EY’s innovation & strategy lead for financial services. “You don’t have a three- to five-year horizon to plan against it, as in the past. And now it’s not just one or two technologies at a time. It’s a whole list, and all of these disruptors are starting to stack on top of each other.” In this scenario, how does a CEO become a legend and not a goat?
Consider the bipolar outcomes for two big-company CEOs in metro Detroit: J. Patrick Doyle Jr., chief of Domino’s Pizza, and Mark Fields, former CEO of Ford Motor Company.
Digitizing Dominos. Operating in a low-slung, Frank Lloyd Wright-style headquarters building on the fringes of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Doyle was a Domino’s lifer who seemed as square as a deep-dish pizza. A self-described people person, he was no tech guru. But in 2009, while still president of Domino’s U.S. business, Doyle and his predecessor as CEO, Dave Brandon, decided they had to leverage technology, somehow, to spark growth.
“Domino’s is working on ways to use AI to recognize people when they walk into the store and greet them by name. We can take things dramatically further than today. It’s still early.”
“We didn’t know what it would look like yet, but we had to be in the center of [technology], understanding what was going on and creating a competitive advantage by being ahead of the curve,” says Doyle, who became CEO in 2010.
The result was employing digital technology to optimize every aspect of the business, especially the online ordering and delivery transactions that are its lifeblood. Recruiting hundreds of tech-savvy employees to its skunkworks project, Domino’s created an app and easy ways to order pizza, including via text message, voice recognition, emojis and the Sync system of a Ford. It turned to global franchisees to help with tech-focused delivery methods; Domino’s in New Zealand was first to test drone and robot deliveries, for instance.
Now, more than half of Domino’s orders are handled digitally, and its tech savvy has rocketed the company’s performance to the top of the beleaguered fast-food business. Domino’s has consistently logged spectacular 8% to 10% increases quarterly in same-store sales and has also chomped market share against archrivals Pizza Hut and Papa John’s, now followers in the technology race.
“Other chains won’t be able to succeed in the same way just by mirroring Domino’s activities,” asserts Erik Thoresen, principal at the food service consulting firm Technomic. Domino’s is now working on ways to use AI to “recognize people when they walk into the store and greet them by name,” reports Doyle. “We can take things dramatically further than today. It’s still early.”
Fumbling at Ford. At Ford’s iconic Dearborn, Michigan headquarters, Fields’s story turned out differently. He was ousted abruptly in May after Executive Chairman William Ford Jr. decided that Fields had misplayed the technologies transforming the auto industry. Over Fields’s three-year tenure following former CEO Alan Mulally, Ford’s stock price had deteriorated by nearly 40%.
While Fields recently touted Ford’s commitment to self-driving technologies, he was less enthusiastic early on. In mid-2015, Fields told an interviewer that being first in autonomous vehicles “isn’t necessarily the No. 1 thing that drives us.” Rather than leading the charge, he said, “we’re going to… push ourselves to make sure [self-driving] is accessible and affordable.”
To replace Fields, Ford Jr. has tapped James Hackett, who had led a tech-fueled transformation at office furniture maker Steelcase but had never been a “car guy” until they brought him out of semiretirement to head Ford’s nascent mobility services unit last year. Testifying to his tech-visionary bona fides, Hackett had been a TED member for 30 years.
“You need to be able to create ‘new,’” says Jeff Wong, global chief innovation officer for EY. “There’s not just the worry that comes from change but the massive opportunity that comes from it. So, it’s important for CEOs to be able to take advantage of the fact that things are changing.”