Digital Disruption is commonplace these days. It occurs so frequently that when it happens it’s not as impressive as it once was. However, it’s an incessant reminder to the C-suite of many traditional organizations of the need to transform in order to keep pace with a market that is unpredictable and in an environment that is far from stable.
Alfredo C. Tan, the newly-minted Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at WestJet, has been tasked with driving this new direction for the Canadian airline as it moves to become a global success story. In just two decades, WestJet established more than 13,000 employees, over 100 destinations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe and an additional 175 destinations in over 20 countries through partnerships.
As with almost all industries, the global tourism and travel landscape has witnessed significant changes. This $7.6 trillion sector has seen a pronounced shift in its business model, in part because of disruptors like Airbnb and Uber. The airline industry will not be immune. Crippled by legacy operations and heavy regulation, the desire to transform is not a feat that is surmountable in a short period of time.
This 2017 report published by the Centre for Aviation acknowledged these changes:
Above any other industry, airlines are captured within an arcane regulatory framework designed 70 years ago, and whose purpose was to achieve little else than protect against new entry. It is a capital intensive heavily unionized industry, and it is dominated by legacy models still focused on buying and flying expensive metal. But at its heart the airline offering is just another consumer retail product. As such, it is just as susceptible to upheaval… The airline industry as we know it will be unrecognizable by 2025, as fundamental features are uprooted. The process will be accelerated because of the confluence of disruption in each of the key aspects of commercial aviation: flying and selling.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Alfredo C. Tan to explore his journey to WestJet and his vision to instigate some necessary upheaval in an already accomplished organization.
Obsessed to Join the Movement to Empower the Internet Generation
Alfredo remembers Cisco Systems “Empowering the Internet Generation” commercials. The powerful message depicted a world transformed by this eventual connectivity across networks and markets. As a student of forensic science and biology at the time, he felt he had missed the opportunity to be part of this incredible wave of dot.com companies being born.
When he graduated, he read an article in Fortune Magazine about top business school graduates turning down blue chip companies to go chase the new Gold Rush in Silicon Valley. Not one to let another opportunity go by, Alfredo learned how to code and immersed himself in computer and technical courses. Soon he landed at Bell Nexia in Systems Engineering and Design where he eventually led a team of engineers to help restore connectivity between telcos in NYC and Toronto during the World Trade Centre disaster. Along the way, Alfredo had looked to mentors willing to teach him:
Most things in the professional world you can excel at without a formal education in that field. With enough mentorship, intellectual curiosity, aptitude, grit and passion you can find success almost anywhere.
Whether it was Bell Canada where he learned to build large scale strategic alliances, enterprise marketing and strategy, or at MSN.ca where he was introduced to the disruptive world of online advertising, media sales and internet marketing, or at Yahoo! Inc. working on Mobile, Search, and corporate partnerships, Alfredo’s journey exemplified this learning mantra throughout his career.
Facebook: The Platform that Changed Everything
If you could see the future and know within a decade your company has just entered the S&P500, you would not hesitate to join. In 2008, this was hardly evident, and Alfredo grappled with the decision to leave an amazing job with endless opportunities within a company that was still an internet powerhouse for a social network that was perceived to be overvalued, had no clear monetization strategy, no real market differentiator and one that could have easily gone by the wayside like MySpace or Friendster. The defining moment for him came when he returned from a trip in 2008. As he remembers,
Before I returned from a trip in 2007, I exchanged email addresses among those I had just met. And by the time I went on a trip in 2008, everyone exchanged ONLY Facebook IDs. Within 12 months the movement from email to Facebook was unreal. What Facebook was really building was identity at scale. What it really has is people – 2.2 billion people. And as it continues to grow, it continues to be unassailable.
He chose to venture to Facebook despite all the guidance and advice otherwise. He remained there for 8 years, where he spent the last two years working with the leadership teams in the high growth markets of South East Asia and Latin America. The learnings were life changing and career defining.
Why Can’t Traditional Businesses Adapt to Market Changes?
For all the gains Facebook and social networks have made globally, business has still not fully embraced the changes required to keep pace with the dynamic market.
Alfredo points to disruptors like Google, Netflix, Facebook, Microsoft, Uber, Apple and Amazon. These companies have a different way of building their innovation culture. What’s common among them?
- They move with a sense of urgency
- They worship velocity
- They are unafraid of change
This is a polarized view of how traditional companies operate.
As the Chief Digital and Innovation Officer of WestJet, Alfredo’s experiences make him ripe for the challenge ahead. WestJet recognizes the need for change and a culture that supports the changes required. As a traditional company, it behaves much differently than the environments Alfredo was used to. Coming from the tech space, there is a common understanding, a common way of thinking because technology isn’t something you need to convince people to invest in.
It’s hard-coded in the DNA of the company.
In most traditional companies digital is not foundational to the success of the company. Success comes from other practices within the organization. The challenge becomes convincing a group of people in a company to invest in what you believe to be true.
Alfredo would argue the majority of leaders and employees understand the world has dramatically changed but it’s not clear how digital could be a competitive advantage. There’s a process in education and winning the hearts and minds of people to “believe it before they see it”. The executives were sold on change as the new normal at WestJet. Alfredo was inspired by the genuine interest and motivation by the employees to make this a reality.
WestJet’s First Ever Hackathon
Thinking differently takes time. You can’t make the assumption that people understand simply by saying. Just as he continues to learn about an infinitely complex industry, Alfredo and his team, in turn, need to educate and tell the story in a way that helps the entire company understand the impact of digital and innovation on the business, without the jargon and without the hype.
This came to fruition soon enough. WestJet’s VP of Loyalty, d’Arcy Monaghan and Rhonda Reynolds, Product Development Manager, approached Alfredo about developing solutions for the premium traveler, which could then trickle down to all of WestJet’s guests. Alfredo had only been in the job a few weeks and didn’t feel he and his already-constrained team were in a position to solve the problem on their own.
While the original idea was to hold a brainstorm among a group of people from various departments, it quickly morphed to include some of Alfredo’s friends from the tech industry. As more people heard about it, the more they wanted to participate. The kernel grew into this idea of a full day hackathon, a competition to develop a seamless premium guest experience and #HackInTheHangar was born.
Alfredo invited some of the biggest tech companies and systems integrators like Adobe, Facebook, Amazon, Deloitte Digital, Google, Panasonic Avionics, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Hootsuite, IBM, Salesforce, Huge Inc. In all, 17 companies and their 120 people from technical, creative and design backgrounds were paired with 37 WestJetters and a dozen of WestJet’s premium travelers to participate in this one-day event. As Alfredo points out:
The initial, very simple idea gave birth to this movement in the company which aimed to answer a few key questions:
- How can we show 13,000 people that we can solve problems in a different way and co-create new experiences?
- More importantly, at a greater velocity:
- How do we get non-technical people to solve problems in a hack culture?
- How do we gain the respect of the global tech community to be be inspired and partner with us in our digital and innovation mandate and co-create the future of travel?
- How do I win the support from key executives in the organization who I would need in order to succeed?
The judges for the event were chosen with care and purpose. The objective was to demonstrate the amazing thinking and solutions that were developed within one day, and to have them understand and evangelize Alfredo’s vision for the company.
The Digital Company that Just Happens to Fly Planes
By the end of the day, the executives at WestJet needed little convincing. Louis Saint-Cyr, the Vice President of Guest Experience indicated that airlines with legacy behaviors limit what they can do for the customer. The hackathon revealed WestJet’s need to align with what will be an increasingly digital guest journey. He validated the industry’s current push and pull between innovation and regulation which has produced operating limitations. Despite this, Louis saw huge possibilities:
This hackathon revealed how we can innovate around these structural limitations. How do we digitally empower the front lines and augment soft skills WestJetters are known for with technology to tailor guest experiences?
…Think of the hurdles that go into a customer’s travel journey: the time to get to the airport, the waiting times for bags, the check-in – things that can add stress. By leveraging the emotional framework of social media and aligning it to the guest journey, we can address these hurdles in a direct way to transform air travel for guests.
…Overall, by amalgamating guest profiles with their expectations to what they’re experiencing on board, on the website, and in the airport we can make significant strides in the guest experience.
CEO of WestJet, Ed Sims closed the day and declared that in 24 months, WestJet will be a digital company that happens to fly planes. It sent a signal to the tech community and the leadership team that this hackathon wasn’t just a side project; this will literally be the future of the company.
WestJet’s first hackathon represents a cultural shift toward more innovative thinking at WestJet. We will move fast, learn fast and build fast. We now have an opportunity to do things differently and to innovate in the travel space like has never been done before. Our goal is to have products way ahead of guests’ expectations.” ~Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO
Alfredo’s next steps?
The hackathon and the thinking it surfaced are all theatre and theory until you start to build. We have to build the capabilities that we saw were compelling plus other capabilities we will investigate in the future. Innovation is a cultural mindset more than anything else but it comes from building.
These brilliant ideas will lay the groundwork for developing those capabilities over the next five years. In addition, given the incredible demand to repeat more events after the hackathon WestJet is planning to host an annual event with different themes.
In a short period, the acceptance the hackathon generated, instilled an idea to embed the hack culture into the company as a way of addressing problems and empowering cross-functional groups to self-organize and invent solutions in a confined period of time.
We’ll find a way to make it pervasive in the organization so a flight crew member who wants to fix a process can gather a group of people to create a solution then present that for budget approval in a matter of days. It’s bringing the hackathon to smaller scale, smaller team sizes, with less fanfare. Hopefully, that will influence 13,000 people to start to think this way.
We are just getting started… In the end, I would have failed in my job if I was the only one responsible for the digital and innovation culture. It’s for all WestJetters to embrace it and the future.
For someone whose mantra is to be curious and continue learning, Alfredo C. Tan, in the first 90 days, has pushed the organization to think differently, learn new ways of doing things, and challenge the limits of their imagination.
#ScaleStrategy Q&A: Managing the Growth Bandwidth
Tech veteran Dean Hopkins on what it takes to scaleup — and down — in both startups and enterprise organizations
#ScaleStrategy is produced by DX Journal and OneEleven. This editorial series delivers insights, advice, and practical recommendations to innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Read the first part of the interview with Dean Hopkins here.
While working at McKinsey in the 1990s, tech veteran Dean Hopkins first stepped into the world of the internet.
“This was 1993. No internet existed as we know it,” says Hopkins, now the Chief Growth Officer at OneEleven, recalling how he discovered the work of Marc Andreessen. “At that point in time, he was demonstrating his early browser concept and talking about how the future of the internet was going to be huge. I caught the bug and decided I would leave McKinsey and start my first company called Cyberplex.”
After a bit of a bumpy start, Cyberplex scaled quickly. “Cyberplex tripled every year and grew to 500 people with $50 million in revenue and $975 million market cap,” he says.
Then 2001 hit. “That was the peak of the cycle followed by a trough. It was the biggest learning experience of my career. I had to descale the company to survive,” he says. Over seven quarters, Hopkins took the team from 500 to 50 and brought the company back to profitability. He then transitioned Cyberplex to new leadership and moved on to his next challenge.
For the next 12 years, Hopkins worked as a management consultant with his own boutique firm that was focused on driving global transformation initiatives for companies such as Thomson Reuters and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board.
With both entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial expertise, Hopkins is now applying his global growth skills to transform OneEleven’s unique scaleup model into a worldwide Scale-as-a-Service model.
We recently spoke to Hopkins about tough lessons he learned at Cyberplex, how enterprise growth is different than startup growth, and how he’s applying these lessons to expanding the OneEleven model globally.
DX Journal: When you think back to your time when Cyberplex hit its inflection point, what did you learn about scaling?
Dean Hopkins: Culture and people were the two things that allowed us to handle both the steep trajectory both up and down. Those things got us through the crazy knee in the curve and probably more importantly, helped us when we needed to descale.
Attracting amazing people that became my partners in growth was the reason we were able to scale. I couldn’t have done it alone.
Secondly, we built a culture that was accustomed to scaling and had an appetite for growth. Our culture was about resilience, and scaling, and picking yourself up and dusting yourself off. We made it okay to make mistakes, then march on.
DX Journal: Why people and culture? Why isn’t it all of the other things?
Hopkins: It’s a great question. In a culture where the decision-making takes a long, protracted time, where risk-taking isn’t there, and where people have to analyze things to death before they can make a decision, scaling is impossible. People would crumble under the weight of scale because the number of things coming at them.
To scale, it’s important to trust that people are all working toward the same goals and are empowered to make decisions.
That’s where culture comes in. It becomes a culture that can tolerate the bandwidth of needs that come with growth. If I didn’t have both of those things — good people ready to make decisions and a culture where I allow them to do it — I would have failed to scale.
The other things like technology, offices, infrastructure, are secondary when you distill it down. Companies that are successful across different geographies, industries, offices, become that way through empowering their people and building a culture that tolerates growth.
DX Journal: When you moved out of Cyberplex and into Thomson Reuters and you were managing a large-scale transformation. How did you manage scale within an environment as big and complex as Thomson Reuters?
Hopkins: The first thing I noticed was pace slowed down dramatically. What used to take me a week or a month now took 6 to 8 or 12 months. Large organizations only have the capacity for so much change. Once I did get the ship to turn in a new direction, I moved a lot of people, revenue, cost, and dollars. I had to be patient enough to let it take hold. The experience was much more of a marathon where I had to think multiple chess moves ahead and let the game play out.
DX Journal: How do you know when to modify your approach or give up when dealing with transformation in a large organization?
Hopkins: I didn’t do a great job of it at the beginning. I pushed an entrepreneurial agenda at an entrepreneurial pace, and very quickly ran headlong into blockers. I had to adapt and use an experimentation model. I tried different levels of throttle until I got to a point where the organization was willing to accept it. I learned to read the frustration on peoples’ faces saying “okay, no more, Dean. I can’t take any more of this” and built relationships with people where they were able to tell me that.
I was able to adapt and adjust my own style to better reflect the environment. Then over 12 years, I gradually increased the tolerance for risk-taking and for change within the organization. I would work with specific people to help them increase their ability to drive change. What was first gear early on, became second and third gear closer to the end of my tenure. Ultimately, the organization became much more comfortable with making change at a higher rate.
DX Journal: What’s a scale lesson you learned the hard way?
Hopkins: I learned to hire slowly and fire quickly based on fit. One rotten apple really can spoil the bunch. As part of this, I learned to listen very closely to my people. The people on my team knew about someone that didn’t fit long before I did. By listening, and taking quick action, I saw the immediate positive impact on culture.
Finally, I learned the value of getting out of the way. By fully trusting people, providing them good direction and support when needed, it activates them to reach their full potential. All of these were learned through many failed attempts, and I have the scar tissue to prove it.
DX Journal: What signals do you use to know you’re on the right path when you start to scale something and you’re trying to measure if it’s working?
Hopkins: One of the reasons we were able to survive at Cyberplex — both the growth and the decline — is that we had very good leading indicators of the business. We had invested heavily to try and understand what our funnel looked like, what our planned capacity was, and we had the metrics dialed in. Every month and every quarter, we constantly refined our ratios so we had a really good sense of what was coming. When things started falling off the cliff, we trusted our instruments and started acting accordingly.
Read more about Dean Hopkin’s plans for expanding OneEleven globally.
DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.
#ScaleStrategy Q&A: OneEleven’s Chief Growth Officer on Building a Global Scaleup Knowledge Base
Dean Hopkins’ is aiming to build and deploy a Scale-as-a-Service model worldwide
#ScaleStrategy is produced by DX Journal and OneEleven. This editorial series delivers insights, advice, and practical recommendations to innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Read the second part of the interview with Dean Hopkins here.
“We’re being ambitious. We want to show scaling companies that we can scale, too,” said OneEleven’s Chief Growth Officer, Dean Hopkins, when the Toronto-based scaleup hub announced its plans to expand to Ottawa, Vancouver, London and Berlin in late 2018 and into 2019.
It’s an opportune time to expand globally as a scaleup hub.
According to CB Insights, total annual venture capital global funding “increased nearly 50% in 2017, as over $164B was invested across 11,042 deals. Deal activity was up by 11%, with both deal and dollar figures representing annual highs.”
As for 2018 so far, KPMG’s Venture Pulse Report says “for the fourth consecutive quarter, VC invested has exceeded $45 billion, and in the most recent quarter, just barely fallen shy of $50 billion once more.”
Hopkins is excited to walk the scaleup talk once again.
A tech scene veteran, Hopkins was the CEO & Co-founder of Cyberplex for more than a decade where he grew the organization from a startup to a public company with nearly $1 billion in market capitalization. During his career at Cyberplex, he also successfully managed the company through a major downsizing as the tech bubble collapsed and transitioned it to new leadership where the company enjoyed another round of growth.
Prior to joining OneEleven as Chief Growth Officer, Hopkins ran a boutique management consulting firm he founded in 2006 to drive transformation initiatives on a global basis for clients such as Thomson Reuters and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board.
We caught up with Hopkins to talk about scaling lessons, OneEleven’s growth plans and developing the world’s leading source of scaleup knowledge.
DX Journal: You have extensive experience scaling from both an entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial perspective. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned?
Dean Hopkins: First off, it’s all about people. Attracting amazing people that became my partners in growth was the reason we were able to scale. I couldn’t have done it alone. ‘Hire great people and get out of their way’ became my mantra — even to this day.
The second ingredient to scale was culture. We had built a culture that was accustomed to scaling and had an appetite for growth. Our culture was about resilience, and scaling, and picking yourself up and dusting yourself off. We made it okay to make mistakes, then march on.
DX Journal: What have you learned about scaling at OneEleven?
Hopkins: Early on after I joined OneEleven, I sat in on a community lunch with about 300 people from all the member companies. At this lunch, new members are brought up in front of the crowd to say a little about their company. Then 300 people welcome them with cheers — a lot of love goes their way. After that, others come up to talk about their big wins, like raising money, landing a big customer or completing a big launch. And again, 300 people applaud and celebrate them. Well, I remember sitting there thinking, ‘where was this when I was building Cyberplex?’ I was in a hovel by myself toiling away with no community other than people that I would lean on as advisors. I never had the kind of kudos, support, warmth, love, resources that these companies have at OneEleven, and that’s when things clicked for me. This is what community is. A lot of people talk about community, but to actually see it viscerally done, made me realize I needed to recreate it in other geographies.
What we’re trying to do is get a group of companies — all individually pursuing their dreams, but collectively working together — to make sure that each other are successful.
DX Journal: You’re focused taking this OneEleven scaleup initiative global. How do you assess where you need to be?
Hopkins: A big aha moment for me around OneEleven was getting the Startup Genome report. I looked at our success in Toronto and yet our city was number 14 or 15 on their list. I said, ‘wait a minute, OneEleven is working incredibly well in the 15th best market?! What if we took OneEleven and built it out to some of the top 10 markets? That’s what led to the business plan we’re currently executing.
From there, I overlaid our partner Oxford Properties into the mix. As a large global real estate firm, this gave me the first 4 markets to go after — London, Berlin, Boston, Vancouver. We’re studying each market, mapping the ecosystem, understanding who the players are, comparing it to Toronto, figuring out what the differences and similarities are and then plotting our entry. Over the next year, we’ll be in each of those markets.
The approach to entering each of these markets will be subtly different depending on character of the market. We’ve invested a lot in meeting the community, understanding who does what to whom and how we can add value. By the time we launch in those markets, we’ll already have a reputation built up because we’ll have spent some money to support the local ecosystem. We’ll have brought some value to some of the companies there by helping them maybe come to Canada or come to one of our other markets. I view it as kind of putting some karma in the bank before we even launch in each.
DX Journal: When OneEleven enters a geography, what’s the benefit to companies and communities located there?
Hopkins: From our perspective, there are 3 key benefits to having OneEleven in your city.
The first is that we’re building the global knowledge base of scale. Each community we add is bringing a new rich set of perspectives on how to scaleup businesses. We then make that available to everybody in the peer community.
The second benefit is for the companies in each geography is an easier path into other markets through our growing global ecosystem. If a company in Toronto wants to go to London, they can access continental Europe because we have assets and relationships in Berlin.
Lastly, we are building what we call Scale-as-a-Service. This is a set of capabilities — much like you’d find on Amazon but only dedicated to scaling — that help people with the common challenges of scaling. This only gets richer and more pressure-tested the more markets we serve. We’ll have the best set of Scale-as-a-Service capabilities of anybody out there because we’re activating across companies in multiple markets.
DX Journal: Speaking of a scaleup knowledge base, as a company grows are there one or two things that really become important?
Hopkins: Entrepreneurs 100% need to think about getting away from the technical, engineering-focused orientation of their early stages. They should focus their time disproportionately on building their channel to market, building their go-to market, building their customer base, building their way in which revenue is going to come to them. Build protected paths to market that are defendable, because that’s really where the source of competitive advantage is. An entrepreneur could have the best product in the world, but if he or she can’t get it to market the company is dead. The companies that figure out how to build proprietary go-to market or protected go-to market are the ones that end up winning.
The second thing is not to underestimate the complexity of the people equation. Most founders who have reached the scaleup phase realize they need to think about organizational design, career paths for employees and what the organization will look like in 3 years. If they don’t, they will have a churn problem, which is very expensive and disruptive for the business.
The third thing is preparing for the next big round of funding. Generally speaking, people underestimate the amount of relationship building and preparation work needed. It probably takes a year or so to get ready properly. We’re trying to help companies diagnose where they are, how much runway they need and prepare them adequately for the big round, which is another league up from what they’re normally used to.
DX Journal: What books have you read that helped you get through your scaleup journey?
I’m also a big believer in a book called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s all about finding personal motivation and that gets you through some very challenging times when you’re leading a company. There’s a book called The Speed of Trust by Steven Covey, which is all about how to engineer trust in your organization, which is essential at this level. Lastly, Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore. A seminal work on how you market and build a go-to market strategy.
DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.
Businesses should ‘follow the money’ when adopting AI
A June report from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) found that, overall, artificial intelligence adoption is still slow; only 20 per cent of “AI-aware” businesses say they are adopters.
The MGI report on AI discussed the difference in AI investment and adoption, with investment in AI technologies experiencing a threefold external investment growth since 2013. Compared to that figure, 41 per cent of firms told MGI that they are uncertain about the benefits, and within that 20 per cent of adopters, 10 per cent are adopters of three or more AI-backed technologies.
A new report from Harvard Business Review on the two major business potentials of AI said that while this may be the trend on average, “senior executives know that AI isn’t just hype.”
HBR attributes some of the hesitancy to adoption to business leaders not being sure where they should be applying AI, and after McKinsey researchers Michael Chui, Nicolaus Henke and Mehdi Miremadi took a closer look at 400 AI use cases from 19 different industries, and nine business functions, they found that the question of where to put AI to work in a business is a matter of playing “follow the money.”
“The business areas that traditionally provide the most value to companies tend to be the areas where AI can have the biggest impact,” the report explains.
The two areas that HBR found to the implementation of AI to have the biggest impact are: supply-chain management/manufacturing and marketing and sales.
Chui, Henke and Miremad also found that another way for businesses to find an area to introduce AI is “to simply look at the functions that are already taking advantage of traditional analytics techniques.” Meaning that business leaders should look to apply AI to parts of the company where neural network techniques could provide a higher performance, or “generate additional insights and applications.”
According to the MGI report, companies that have a low AI adoption rate are in the education, health care, and travel/ tourism sectors.
In a previous Digital Journal article on how hospitality brands can undergo digital transformation, it was stressed that “hospitality brands can use new technologies to make their businesses hyper guest-focused.” Utilizing AI for marketing and sales purposes is just one way of making that happen.
Leadership1 month ago
Jodi Kovitz’s advice for how any company can move the dial on inclusiveness
Culture1 month ago
#ScaleStrategy: Growing sales from one to many
Technology1 month ago
Hyperloop: Engineering the future of transportation
Culture1 month ago
Q&A: Paul Teshima, CEO & Co-founder, Nudge.ai, on how to build a sales team that scales
Leadership2 months ago
Scaleup hub OneEleven to expand Toronto office space