Hello David, you are the CEO of Glasford International Deutschland, former member of the Board and former leader of the practice Technology. One of your focus areas is finding extraordinary leaders in the field of IT and Telecommunications. These days a lot of disruptive changes and innovations are coming up in IT. We hear a lot about Cloud, IoT, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual/Augmented Reality. Taking our focus away from these technological trends to the human element – the business leaders -, can you tell us what does it mean to be a leader who is confronted with this challenging environment? In what ways do you expect new stage IT to fundamentally change the nature of business?

First of all, I would like to emphasize how important it is to align the relationship between technological change and necessary human actions. Being a successful leader in old IT structures does not necessarily mean being good in new IT times. But we also should not hysterically question everything. The nature of business itself will not be affected. It will further on be about making money, being better than the competition and delivering utility for the customer (B2B or B2C). But even if the nature of business will not change, there are three major changes you have to tackle if you want to stay successful in those times: the relevant skillset of leaders, the organizational structure of companies and the nature of relationships between companies in a competitive market.

What exactly do you mean with changes in organizational structures?

Speaking very prospectively about IT, in 10-15 years, being firm at a computer like device and being able to speak a computer language (know how to code) will be more or less basic education. In foreseeable future IT will have such an extraordinary importance and impact, that this fact will be mirrored in the organizational framework of every company. An increasing number of comprehensive set of different Director and C-Roles all with regard to IT will appear. Even the small and middle-sized businesses will need a CIO/CTO as well as a Chief Security Officer. Furthermore, business success will largely depend on the goodness of the IT backbone of a company. Hence, a very IT affine CGO (Chief Growth Officer) will be a widespread role in the future. Aligning various IT-related roles with the other more or less online driven functions in a company will be a major task, not to speak about aligning the C-Roles of new IT among themselves. Another demanding task will be integration of the rift between IT C-Suite level and the IT “ground-work-force”. Successful companies will be those ones, which really understand that they need a company-wide comprehensive and integrated IT strategy. In such an environment, all new-stage IT solutions must have a value generating place e.g. VR for marketing, Artificial Intelligence for development, Cloud for data, knowledge and infrastructure, IoT for development, marketing etc.

In your view, how will these changes alter the required talent profile for future IT and business leaders?

There are two major changes that future leaders’ skillset have to experience. Both changes look contradictory at the first sight, but they are not, they complement each other. The first one is to stay up to date on competition, technological advancements, market developments, etc. In the near future, learning agility and adaptability will be the key for success. If you want to stay successful in such a dynamic environment, you need leaders that are willing to learn all the time, everyday and are willing to transform what they have learned into new action.

Parallel there will be an increasing need for leaders, who are willing to stick to their goals even in times of short-term flops. You will not be successful, if you have unstable decision-makers changing strategy and direction every time the market capitalization declines. In those cases, you will get grinded up among companies that are able to act in a stable and confident manner. Hence, there will be a need for leaders who act as entrepreneurs and visionaries.

New IT is changing leadership roles’ within organizations — with no position being more affected than that of the chief information officer. In your opinion, what are the biggest changes the CIO needs to adapt to?

Todays’ CIOs often act in a very operative role. Related to what I have said about the general company structure, the role of the classical CIO has to shift from IT strategy provider to the facilitator of change. The CIO has to focus on helping all IT related employees performing their job in the course of the overall IT strategy the best way they could do. In addition, the mindset of the CIO will increasingly have to change to sales and marketing oriented, as online sales will depend on the IT equipment and its’ usage in a company.

Are there any major differences across markets or regions with regards to new IT trends?

Of course, there are multiple differences between regions. If we look at Europe or more specifically Germany, the concern for security and data protection is especially strong. Not only business leaders, but also their customers want to have their data and knowledge secure. Hence, cloud security, security of interconnected devices and also security of AI (aiming at the question how intelligent should machines be?), should be the utmost concern of leaders in this specific field – in particular if they want to get their products into everyday life as everyday solutions – be it B2B or B2C.

You have pointed out that relationships between companies in markets will change. How will this change look like?

In the near future differences between products and markets will continuously diminish. The amount of connections between them will experience rapid growth. The internet of things (internet of everything) will lead to interfaces of many products. Therefore strategic partnerships between companies will be a central issue executives have to tackle. Products will be not just products but complex solutions. We can already observe such a development within online market (with regard to cloud platforms and ecosystems).

What is the greatest challenge for executive search in such an environment?

In today´s dynamic and complex environment it will definitely be the ability to separate between necessary actions and unnecessary ones. Locating future growth potentials and the willingness to learn constantly will be the key to lasting success. With increasing competition within executive search market, there will be a constant need to find a new way how to discover, reach and attract future talent. On the one hand, it will largely depend on implementation of new and innovative sourcing strategies, as well as on outstanding candidate experience. Therefore, each successful executive search company will need to find their own way how to stand out of the crowd and offer unique services both for candidates and clients. On the other hand, large network of personal contacts will continue to play an extremely important role, especially in an environment overflowed with a large number of recruiters looking for top talent. 

Furthermore, in such a rapidly changing field executive search itself has to be very agile in learning to always deliver the most relevant and excellent results. In IT business for example, where things change very quickly and new development reshapes the field on a daily basis, it would be misleading to focus exclusively on past performance of your candidates. Any aspiring executive search company will have to develop hiring and selection methods, which are able to take into account potential and future growth of the candidates.

Thank you for your time David, have a nice day. 

This Interview was conducted by Glasford International Deutschland Research. GID Research is the German office’ research & analytics Think-Tank.  The interview is the first in a series of Glasford International expert statements on current specific business developments and trends.

About Glasford International

Glasford International is a global (retained) executive search firm with offices throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, North and South Americas. Established in 1998, we support clients in executive search and selection, leadership and personality assessments at an international, cross-border and local level.