Succeeding a popular, long-term CEO is never easy, but it’s especially hazardous in the IT services industry where even the slightest change can disrupt a firm’s delicate equilibrium. But then again, the industry really hadn’t seen the likes of Tony Doye. He’s the charismatic leader of CompuCom Systems Inc. who was hired as divisional CEO and heir apparent to veteran CEO Jim Dixon in November 2012.
Historically, sloppy leadership transitions in the tech world have led to the mass exodus of scarce professionals, customer defections and shareholder revolts, and as Doye says, there is always nervousness when a new leader comes in from outside the company.
“In addition, our styles and approach to the business are totally different,” he says. “Jim comes from the sales side, and I’m operationally-driven, so I’m sure people were concerned about how I might impact the company’s growth and future.”
Even CompuCom’s board was anxious, and for good reason. Research has found that when companies fail to effectively integrate senior executives, they face lost opportunity costs of about 10 to 20 percent of the executive’s salary. Worse yet, failures can lead to public distrust, resulting in loss of productivity and social costs of about $14 billion per year. Hewlett-Packard’s infamous botched succession sent the high-powered brand spiraling into decline, and its leaders are still struggling to right the ship.
Although CompuCom’s board initially wanted a longer transition period, the ex-IBM’er with a dry sense of humor and beguiling British accent quelled their fears, ascending to the helm of the $2.3 billion firm last May.
Here’s an in-depth look at Doye’s well-thought-out and expertly executed transition strategy.
Get off on the right foot
Transitions are a critical time for outsiders who haven’t established trust or credibility with the staff or the board. Missteps made during the crucial first three months can jeopardize a CEO’s success and career.
To avoid a fumbled handoff, Dixon branded Doye as a capable successor who could take CompuCom to the next level by winning major clients and the attention of industry analysts. Moreover, he touted Doye’s operational expertise as a much-needed resource for creating sustainable growth including the firm’s expansion into emerging areas such as mobile device management and cloud services.
“No one could deny the facts about what the company needed,” Doye says. “But the emotional, cultural side of a transition is difficult to navigate because it’s not straightforward.”
Offering value instead of criticism is the best way to get off the ground with tenured employees, especially when you’re taking over a healthy operation where change is needed but the staff is content with the status quo.
“I didn’t brand myself as a replacement or someone who was coming in to make a lot of changes, although both Jim and I knew that some things needed to be changed,” he says. “Instead, I presented myself as someone with unique strengths who could add value to the organization, especially in the marketing and operations area.”
Doye did a lot of listening during the first 30 days and used Dixon as a barometer to gauge workers’ reactions and his progress while attending meetings and strategy sessions.
“You don’t want to come off as a know-it-all or someone who has all the answers,” he says. “You have to listen and understand the situation and the culture before offering your opinion.”
After waiting patiently for 45 days, Doye finally got a chance to strut his operational stuff when he immersed himself in the delinquent budgeting process and got things back on track by sharing his insights and recommendations.
“I got a sense of the company’s structure and political landscape by participating in the budgeting process and used the umbrella of naïveté to offer my two cents,” says Doye. “Immersing yourself in a major process or sales effort is a good way to get a feel for an organization because you have a chance to view things from the ground level.”
Build credibility and mindshare for your ideas
After achieving fame as a budget rescuer, Doye sensed that it was time to seize control. He created a SWOT analysis and presented his assessment of CompuCom’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the board and members of the executive team.
“A SWOT analysis is a safe and palatable format for showcasing your ideas because it highlights the good things that should be preserved and frames shortcomings as opportunities,” he says. “I wanted to present my ideas before I became imbued in the culture and was viewed as part of the problem instead of part of the solution.”
He socialized his ideas, solicited feedback from the staff while cementing a list of initial priorities and an action plan. Even reluctant staffers gave credence to Doye’s recommended changes after hearing his on-point assessment of the company’s strengths.
“If the company is struggling, then you can start calling the shots immediately because the staff tends to fall in line,” Doye says. “When you come in as part of a succession plan, then I think you need to build support for your ideas before taking action or challenging the way things are done because employees aren’t expecting a lot of change.
“I used the SWOT analysis as a way to stimulate a dialogue at a very high level about change without firing a rifle shot across the bow,” he says. “Even though CompuCom is a billion dollar company, you need to respect its history and family-oriented culture.”
Within 60 days, Doye had moved from socialization to action by launching a series of initiatives. By prioritizing programs that address widely accepted needs, you can avoid friction.
“Everyone agreed that we needed to clarify our message and get it out there, so we launched a new marketing communications plan and worked on portfolio management,” he says. “Meanwhile, I gathered evidence and continued to engage people in ongoing discussions.”
Conquer fear with facts
It’s difficult for an outsider to inspire change when the staff doesn’t share your view or recognize the problems.
“The challenge is trying to convince people to change when they don’t know what they don’t know,” Doye says.
So Doye referenced data and insight collected from one-on-one dialogues with customers to validate the opportunities in his SWOT analysis while slowly garnering support for his seemingly renegade ideas.
“I wanted to remove the emotion of change by engaging our staff in fact-based discussions, so I reiterated what I heard during customer visits because their opinions aren’t disputable,” Doye says. “At the same time I collected data to highlight our operational shortfalls.”
For example, he wanted to rationalize the company’s portfolio by discontinuing one-off services that weren’t scalable and squandered valuable resources. In addition, he sought to streamline the assimilation of new customers by aligning delivery and sales, adopting new guidelines and approval processes for pending deals and deploying uniform performance and customer service measures across all service lines.
While he says he didn’t want to create a bureaucracy, he continued to link the need for structure, clear decision-making processes and greater visibility into the company’s performance to sustained growth and attainment of CompuCom’s long-term goals.
“It’s easier to invoke change if you adjust your strategy to leverage the culture,” he says. “In our case, the customer is king, so the staff was more likely to support my ideas if they improved the customer experience.”
When Doye encountered resistance, he kept his cool, reiterated his goals and kept listening.
“It may take a little longer, but if you listen to people and continue to lay out your case, most of them will eventually come around,” Doye says. “If they don’t, then you have to have a conversation, and if that doesn’t resolve the issue, you have to move on.”
Doye refers to his ascension to the helm of CompuCom as a journey, not a destination, as he continues to muster support for his strategies.
“I’ve succeeded by being smooth, calm and persistent,” he says. “I wasn’t perfect but I did enough to convince Jim, the board, the shareholders and the employees that I’m the right person to lead CompuCom.” ●
- Get off on the right foot.
- Build credibility and mindshare for your ideas.
- Conquer fear with facts.
The Doye File
Name: Tony Doye
Company: CompuCom Systems Inc.
Birthplace: Doye refers to himself as Cockney, because he was born near St. Paul’s Cathedral in the center of London.
Education: Doye become a telecom apprentice at 16 and joined IBM at 20. He completed the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Executive Program and post-graduate work at The Open University and Cambridge University’s management program for executives.
How did your early days at IBM prepare you to become a CEO? IBM had great management training in those days. I made a number of lateral moves, working in everything from customer-facing roles, sales and engineering and got my first exposure to outsourcing there.
What was the best business advice you ever received? I learned several key lessons from my managers during my 10 years at IBM. First, stay in touch with the business when you become a manager, otherwise you won’t be able to keep up with technology changes. Second, you’re always on when you move from manager to leader, so keep your guard up at all times.
Who do you admire most in business and why? Mike Laphen, the former CEO of CSC, mentored and coached me, but most importantly, he taught me to take chances when it comes to people. He taught me to avoid ‘group think’ by mixing people and diversifying teams and having the courage to stand by your decisions.
What is your definition of business success? IT services is second only to the retail industry in terms of difficulty. It’s competitive, margins are slim, things commoditize quickly and the employee value proposition is difficult. You’re successful when attrition is reasonable, shareholders are happy, customers are happy, margins are reasonable and morale is good. It sounds easy, but it’s not easy to achieve.
What are your tips for a successful leadership succession? Don’t hide in your office; get out there and talk to people. Fix easy problems right away while you build support for the more difficult items on your agenda. Avoid the appearance of picking favorites. Give every one equal time. Don’t react too quickly. Count to 10, keep listening and keep your game face on.
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How to reach: CompuCom (972) 856-3600 or www.compucom.com