There is a big difference between understanding a technology’s functions and understanding a technology’s business purpose. No one appreciates that more than Xerox President and Chief Operations Officer Steve Bandrowczak, who has taken on number of high-level IT and general management positions throughout his career.
As he puts it, technology leaders can walk into a CEO’s office and talk about how robotics will revolutionize a company’s back-office functions, but Bandrowczak says the CEO won’t care unless they understand how it can save money. “You have to have the translation between technology and P&L. For CIOs looking to take a step up to the general management and CEO level, you need to be fluent in technology and how you transition that to business value,” he says.
Bandrowczak, who has held executive roles at HP, Alight Solutions, Avaya, Nortel, Lenovo, DHL and Avnet, gets it. That’s why, even with his background, he decided to take Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies Executive MS in Tech Management program. In the high-tech industry, notorious for genius-minded inventors who don’t have an operational bone in their body, this kind of program is geared towards helping executives learn the business side of growing a company. For instance, Bandrowczak says it teaches you how to build a P&L statement.
Beyond learning the business side of disruptive technologies, these programs also challenge him to think of their larger societal impact. Bandrowczak, who teaches courses for the program and mentors other students, says he’s challenged daily to think about tech’s influence in the world.
“We talk about things like GDPR and data privacy. It’s amazing, sitting at the C-level of a large company, you have one view of data privacy. Then you’ve got students that are sitting in Europe and they’ve got a totally different view of corporation’s role in that scenario. It’s not just the technical aspects of robotics or AI, it’s understanding the social impact of those [technologies] and the diverse opinions around that.”
Xerox’s changing ways
This is sure to help Bandrowczak lead Xerox as he enters his second year at the 113-year old company. He says Xerox is undergoing a massive evolution from a printer-focused enterprise to one that’s creating connected, IoT-enabled devices supporting digital workflows. This isn’t your grandfather’s Xerox—this company is investing in sensor and 3D technology and developing a software strategy. Although it does continue to rely on its Palo Alto Research Center, a staple of the company since the 1970s.
“We spend $400 million in R&D on an annual basis. We don’t have to apologize for that. We have tremendous assets driving innovation. We have some of the smartest people in sciences anywhere in the world and we can stack them up against anywhere.”
To Bandrowczak’s point earlier, the company is tasked with taking those innovations to market and creating a product. In the past, he says, the company’s massive R&D engine would let an idea flourish just enough for them to give it to someone else. There are technologies from Xerox embedded in other company’s products that haven’t been monetized. He says the company needs to take advantage of its tremendous breadth, not just in terms of R&D, but its 11 million connected devices out there in the world.
“We are dramatically shifting the swagger of the company, focusing on innovation, being in software and services, and more importantly, being relevant going forward.”
From a stock perspective, Xerox is headed in the right direction—it has been one of the year’s top performing stocks and is up nearly 70% in 2019. Bandrowczak credits this stock resurgence to the company having the mission and vision to succeed going forward.
Running a marathon
With 55 M&A activities in his background, Bandrowczak says he thrives in leading during transformations—such as the one Xerox is going through. While those transformations were historically around integrations and spinouts of companies, it has given him the confidence to lead big teams through a lot of uncertainty and turnaround.
“Today is the slowest technology will ever be in our lifetime. The pace of change will accelerate and leadership skills and leading through that change is going to create a tremendous amount of winners and losers. For C-level executives…you must have continuously work on your skills, you’ve got to continuously improve because the world is creating opportunities for disruptors, but it also creates incredible challenges for companies who don’t constantly change.”
His advice to CEOs? “Figure out what you need to work on.” He says leadership, whether it’s through transformations or just in general, is akin to running a marathon.
“You don’t just put on a pair of shoes and run 26 miles. You have a plan. You have training sessions. You have milestones you get through. It’s the same thing with leadership. Every day I try to work on something in my leadership. Whether it’s getting better at understanding competition, understanding the market, understanding how to read P&Ls, whatever it is…you’re constantly learning.”