John Neill on the importance of digital to future prosperity

7 February 2020 – An interview with Unipart Chairman and CEO John Neill was published in Financial Director magazine this week

John M Neill CBE

Here highlights of what John said about how major corporations can embrace ever-increasing digital change.

On the significant challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution facing business leaders

It’s a revolution and I haven’t met a business leader yet that managed a revolution.”

On creating a culture and capability to develop technology effectively

If you’re building some complex software, it might take you a decade to build all the algorithms, and then guess what: Google just open sourced it. So all of your investment, which was a real competitive edge, is vapourised in a day.

You have to change the clock speed of the company, you have to change the decision-making systems.

It’s about building the capability to move at speed and experiment fast.

On finding digital solutions to problems

Now we all think about problem-solving through a digital lens rather than an analogue lens, we’re training to understand what’s possible, what technologies are available.

Technologies are coming down in cost at such an extraordinary pace, both individually and in combination. Something that was really difficult or expensive or high risk, is now simple, cheap and available off the web.

The default option now is in-source and use open source,”

On the future relationship between humans and technology

If you take Moore’s Law which is creating more powerful logic units, what we’ve got to do is create more powerful creative units, by harnessing the logic units.

“We want to automate the boring stuff out of the job and do the things that are more interesting. We’re taking the robot out of the person.

On the role of chief financial officers in the digital world

I think an awful lot of CFOs are going to be shocked at how obsolete they are because the CFO of the future has got to be digitally highly literate. That’s highly literate to lead their own function, but also to be digitally literate to ask the right challenging questions across the organisation, not the wrong ones.

“There was an era of controllers who thought they were doing a great job if they stopped you spending money. It’s another challenge that the organisation can’t always articulate the benefits of a digital project or initiative, and if your finance function has a controller mindset, they’ll stop stuff or it will take too long to get it done. So the CFO of the future needs to be a very different creature to the CFO of the past.”

On how the Unipart Way has built a culture prepared to embrace digital transformation

“The problem enterprises are facing is how to get from a small number of adopters of technology into the mainstream of the business. Our strength is that the Unipart Way has created a culture which is both curious and receptive to and quite keen to embrace change, and the evidence for that is that we run 25,000 problem solving circles, that is a huge number.

“That tells you culturally and pervasively the business is used to trying to discover problems, figuring out what the desired solution to those problems will be, engaging the appropriate people from wherever they are in the company to solve the problem, and implementing the solution, and so the plan-do-check-act cycle has been working here for decades.”

Read the full article in the Financial Director magazine.