Lessons from business leaders on constant innovation.
According to Jeff Bezos, “My view is there’s no bad time to innovate.” This practice of constant innovation has helped Amazon quickly capture market share in many seemingly unconnected industries.
As Amazon has taught us, the winners in today’s economy have one thing in common: They are always willing to innovate and transform themselves to capture new opportunities.
To explore best practices in transforming business, on June 20 in Atlanta, I met with five leaders from great companies — each intentionally with a different executive function.
Dan Amos, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Aflac
Greg Bradley, Global Head of Transformation, North Highland
Kate Gutmann, Chief Sales and Solutions Officer, UPS
Barry McCarthy, Executive Vice President, First Data
Steve Smith, Chief Financial Officer, Veritiv
Robert Reiss: What advice do you have to executives undergoing a transformation?
Kate Gutmann: Transformation needs to be impactful, growth-oriented and ongoing given the pace of change in the market. Disrupt or be disrupted is the rule of the day so out-think the known and unknown competitors.
Part of change management is analyzing the behavior of your leaders. Leadership at the top must first adapt and support in the formal and informal discussions.
We cultivate a strong culture at UPS so ensuring understanding of the vision at all levels helps all to be successful. Where are we going, for what outcome and how do I contribute – each are examples of what you need to address.
Dan Amos: Set a plan and stay with it until someone makes you adapt. Only trade if you know it is a better deal.
For example, when we wanted to transition to OneDay Pay, I was told it would take 18 months. I knew this was a game changer, especially to a policyholder who needed the money from us immediately.
So I told our IT team I would remove most of the 200 projects that they had on the burner and we would put a laser focus on One Day Pay.
The exciting news is we were able to accomplish it within six months, and last year we paid 1.7 million people in one day, and this year we’re on target to pay 2 million people in one day.
Steve Smith: Focus on steering your employees toward a common goal. It’s like rowing … CFOs need to ensure that the team rows the boat at a steady pace and communicate the pace of change to the employees.
You know that you’ve had success when people want to row the boat with you.
Barry McCarthy: First, you must have courage to act boldly and the will to conquer whatever obstacles are ahead. Second, you must be publicly passionate about your vision and commitment to the transformation.
This is the only way to inspire your team to deliver what they may have previously thought was impossible. Finally, you must quickly begin executing with intensity and urgency.
Action is essential — delay is your enemy and crushes momentum.
Greg Bradley: For large companies responding to disruption, it is important to fundamentally understand what needs to change to be successful.
Then socialize your plan and be flexible to adapting it.
Reiss: Talk about your organization’s transformation and what you learned from it.
Smith: When Veritiv became a public company, it was like going through a divorce, an arranged marriage and having a baby all at once.
The lesson we learned is that great things can happen if you are highly focused and organized and understand the discipline of change management.
McCarthy: First Data’s issuing business suffered 20-plus consecutive declining quarters until 2013 and had eight different leaders in 10 years.
Immediately after assuming the leadership role, we put in a bold plan, communicated passionately and executed with intensity and urgency.
In just six quarters, revenue growth moved from -4 percent to + 7 percent, profit increased 39 percent and margin expanded an impressive 1100 basis points.
Similarly we worked with Apple during the historic Apply Pay launch. Under a deep NDA ensuring a shroud of secrecy, we had to figure out how to alter the payments ecosystem supporting billions of cards and millions of merchants in just 120 days.
Again, we acted boldly with courage, passion and a huge sense of urgency. As a result, First Data was the first global processor to enable Apple Pay.
Amos: In 1990, when I became CEO of Aflac, we had a low level of name recognition.
We tested two television ads, and the duck scored exceptionally high – but was new and risky. Now we are in the business of taking risks. The question we asked is how much risk were we willing to take?
We analyzed the risk by following these three rules:
1. Don’t risk a lot for a little.
2. Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.
3. Consider the odds.
Based on these rules, we went with the duck over another potential commercial with Ray Romano from the hit TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which scored really well. The result was that the advertising campaign with the Aflac Duck helped grow our name recognition from 10 percent to a figure that is hovering at 93 percent today.
Gutmann: Given change in the market, largely from the global B2C macro trend, we have seen a significant shift in our business.
The increase in single-piece residential stops increases significantly due to online shopping.
This is a significant characteristic change and one we have adapted to through things like innovative technology and creative solutions powered by the team at UPS.
Header image (l to r): Greg Bradley; Barry McCarthy; Steve Smith; Kate Gutmann; Dan Amos; Robert Reiss.
To listen to more CEO interviews go to: www.ceoforum.ceo.
This story originally appeared on Forbes.com.
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