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Change or Die—and This Challenge Starts with You

Matthew Stockwin, Manufacturing Director, Coats
Matthew Stockwin, Manufacturing Director, Coats

Matthew Stockwin, Manufacturing Director, Coats

I was uprooted from my position in Munich to run the Operations team in Region Europe South, based in Rotterdam. It was January 2015. The brief up-turn years of country-based rules and beliefs and managing France, NL, Spain, Portugal and North Africa as one Country. Apart from the cultural differences that were obvious, bringing systems and processes together was a huge challenge. By the end of 2017, the team had delivered on safety, quality, service, and efficiency targets. Yet there were only two of the original six members of the management team left. Why?

Now it’s September 2019. I have just read about the inexorable rise of Artificial Intelligence that it will wipe out large percentages of white collar jobs. The author asserts that the cutting of positions will happen rather quickly, whilst the refilling of positions with different skill sets will take time as it will not be immediately obvious to companies. What does this have in common with my first paragraph?

I figure that most people reading this, who are in management roles, have positons that span geographies, cultures and systems. I am sure, most companies are not as far along the digital path as they want to be or even present themselves as being. Most are dabbling with building connectivity, yet are not yet at the point where this covers a large enough segment of their operation to become truly meaningful. I wonder how many have top management with a clear strategic vision and will be unperturbed by some business cases that are more a matter of faith than of fact.

 AI will come and digitisation is an unstoppable trend, but my view is that its penetration into the deep bowels of manufacturing will take more time than we think 

The reason only two managers “survived” the three-year movement from six countries to one was that they failed to learn, and to adapt. They lacked basic curiosity, some lacked effort, and others found themselves uncomfortable in a leadership role. They could not develop the people in their teams. They were not able to convincingly explain their performance and looked at delivering bad news as a weakness.

AI will come and digitisation is an unstoppable trend, but my view is that its penetration into the deep bowels of manufacturing will take more time than we think. The reason is simple: most companies cannot afford replacement capital for which there is no business case other than to be able to connect it, and are not willing to make the investment purely on the grounds of long term strategy. We have all seen the digital development curve that starts with connectivity and ends in the prediction power of systems to see problems before they occur.

Necessity is the mother of invention and it will happen in markets with prevailing low GM percent, faster than in relatively higher return models. Yet all of us need to examine our own skill sets and our own ability to learn. This starts with our own curiosity and is helped by our own beliefs that skills are not ordained but can be learned.

So, Change or Die. Put yourself out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Be humble and grateful for experiences and what they teach you. Give freedom to your people to make mistakes and to learn from them. Don’t be one of the four that didn’t make it because you couldn’t adapt.

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