The Best of Wake-up Call

Where does inspiration come from? How do you turn dreams into a reality? IBM Services is partnering with The Atlantic on a series of Q&As with industry leaders who bring courage and innovation to their companies, their industries, and their own lives.

10 articles

53 min

Wake-up Call | John Hill: Preparing a 129-year-old, family-owned company for the 21st century

By Dayna Sargen

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The CIO of Carhartt is revolutionizing a historic American clothing brand, one innovation at a time

As the chief information officer at Carhartt, John Hill is using technology to bring dependable clothes to workers. His work is partly fueled by a personal connection to the brand: His grandfather, who worked on an auto assembly line in Buffalo, often wore the company’s clothing. “He was a union man,” Hill says. “I remember him wearing Carhartt, a brand that stands to serve and protect hardworking people. And now we find ways to build on that mission even more.”

The first person in his family on his father’s side to attend college, Hill first learned about information technology in the Air Force. After studying economics at the Air Force Academy, he skipped flight school and became a procurement manager at military bases in Sacramento and Germany, where he oversaw outsourcing operations for everything from hospitals and aircraft maintenance to chartering Boeing 747s headed for the Middle East. 

An introvert, Hill learned to overcome this early in his career when he was unexpectedly called upon to deliver a speech to 300 people. “My boss got sick and said, ‘I need you to do it,’” Hill recalls. “I only had an hour to prepare. But it went great, and from that point on, I had confidence. It didn’t matter what was put in front of me — I could do it.”

Now, after a career in technology that took him around the world, Hill is at Carhartt helping to transform an iconic American brand into a 21st century powerhouse. He's streamlining production while spearheading how customers will use technologies like virtual and augmented reality to shop for clothes — all while staying true to the company’s roots, the same ones his grandfather admired. “Because of my grandfather, I know what Carhartt stands for,” Hill says. 



John Hill

Image caption
John Hill, CIO at Carhartt / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


How did the Air Force Academy prepare you for a career in IT?

The Air Force Academy is designed for you to fail at some point. They throw so much work at you that you can’t finish everything. You’re going to have to leave something to the side and be okay with that. That kind of training is what shaped me more than anything — you know, being able to recognize you’re going to have some trials and then figure out how you’re going to keep progressing. I don’t think I would be where I am today if it hadn't been for the Academy.


How did you make the leap to IT?

I got a job at General Motors, running strategic planning and sourcing for their IT division. Essentially, this is when I started my path toward becoming an accidental CIO. I never intended that path, but I started that way with GM before being recruited by Roche, where I built out a global shared services organization. My team ran supplier management, quality, project management, and then application development and maintenance. I took a risk and ran an internal P&L having to win business from my peers, but we focused on hiring the best people, and the program was wildly successful.


Before you joined the Carhartt team, you were retired for a short time. And now you’re back hard at work. How did that happen?

A few years ago, after decades in the technology industry, I thought, “I'm done. Maybe I want to try something else.” My family and I moved to Ontario and bought a resort on a lake north of Toronto. I did renovation work on cabins, tearing them down and building them anew. After six months, I was bored. So, I joined the Government of Ontario and ultimately took my first CIO position for one of its ministries. After a stint at Grainger, I came on board at Carhartt in 2016. Carhartt is a fantastic brand with an enduring legacy supported by the fact that we have only had four CEOs in 129 years. I was impressed with the caliber and authenticity of the senior leadership team. The company had just gone through a couple of CIOs in recent years and while there was a lot that needed to be done, they had a fantastic team in place. That attracted me.


How is the work you’re doing helping to reinvent Carhartt for the 21st century economy? 

When I got to Carhartt, I found that many of the business process areas had not been digitized. For example, our customer service team was still using spreadsheets to manually manage phone calls. It was a wake-up call. Budgets were tight, and we needed to create capacity to drive the digitization. We decided to move our internal staff to new projects and move the support to another company. IBM was selected and helped us make that transition in a three-month period without losing any head count. If you ask IBM, they would probably say it was certainly among the best transitions they ever experienced. With the additional capacity and the move to agile delivery, we are moving much faster now. We’re releasing new capabilities and features on the website every two weeks and we're now using technologies like Watson™ and other innovations to help drive competitive advantage. 

To help us think about art of the possible, we run several Design Thinking sessions with IBM each year. For example, we’re developing a new business-to-business model; they’re helping us with a road map to build out our capability in that space and conducting daylong workshops to help us solidify our model. We are also tackling other subjects in the areas of data and supply chain. We pick the subjects, and they bring in their experts for the day, helping us think through it.

Carhartt is a midsize company. I think a lot of CIOs for companies our size think, “I can't work with the big guys. They're too expensive.” But I don't think they realize the intellectual capacity they’re missing out on. When I engage with IBM, they bring a ton of leadership from across a variety of industries. I'm not paying extra for that. That's part of the relationship, and I think it’s important for CIOs to make sure they're not just in a transactional relationship with key suppliers — that they're really treating them as partners.


There’s a lot of talk about luxury brands using technology to improve customers’ online shopping experience. Is Carhartt doing the same with things like AR and virtual reality?  

Two years ago, we created a Shark Tank-style program among our associates to foster innovation and to go after big topics like AI and virtual reality. There are some big things coming out of it. We’re trying to use VR and augmented reality to allow customers to create 3-D avatars tailored to their exact body size. Then, these models can try on clothes in virtual settings, allowing customers to see how they really fit before ordering. Online returns are a big expense for most retailers, so if we can find ways to ensure better fits, it can reduce costs dramatically. Also, we can get people to try clothes they maybe wouldn't have tried otherwise. At every step of the way, IBM is our lead partner — working with them has been fantastic. 


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Wake-up Call | Roberto Mancone: Citizen of the world

By Dayna Sargen

A willingness to push boundaries — and a lifelong case of wanderlust — are must-have tools of the trade for this tech guru

Roberto Mancone was born in Naples in 1967, the son of an automotive worker and housewife, and always had one ambition — to escape his hometown and see the world. “I came from a very simple family,” he says. “My parents made a lot of effort to help my studies. I wanted to honor that by working hard to elevate myself, and to travel as much as possible.”

That desire to explore only got stronger once Mancone landed a banking job after college in a small town in northern Italy. “I was always banging on HR’s door, wanting to go experience some new culture,” he says. In 1997, the wish came true. Mancone was transferred to Chicago to help streamline banking operations throughout the United States’ heartland — from Iowa to North Dakota to Tennessee. 

The Midwest might not seem exotic to Americans, but the change of scenery inspired Mancone. “In Europe, there are very distinct class considerations. But in America, people are proud of their jobs, no matter what the level of wealth. I saw how Americans took pride in their jobs, no matter what kind [they were], and it helped me to forge myself — to always try to make the best of everything.” When he returned to Italy in 2006, Mancone saw his homeland with new eyes. “I brought everything I learned in the US back here,” he says. “I am now open to the future.”

Between 2015 and April 2018, Mancone worked as Global Head of Disruptive Technologies and Solutions for Deutsche Bank, where he collaborated with European banks to implement technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT). Now, he works as the chief operating officer of We.Trade, a startup funded by a collection of banks that oversees financial systems across Europe. He also travels the world looking for ideas from other industries, from healthcare to medical to automotive. “To learn about your own industry you have to look at the outside world,” Mancone says. 



Roberto Mancone

Image caption
Roberto Mancone, COO at We.Trade / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


Italy to Iowa — that’s quite a journey. What made the biggest impression on you when you were working in the middle of the U.S.? 

I love Italy and my hometown of Naples, but I wanted to be a citizen of the world. To me, the American Midwest was exciting and new. I was in charge of the Rust Belt, driving everywhere from Iowa to North Dakota to Tennessee. I remember sitting at lunch in a simple diner with a bank executive in Milwaukee and he pointed to a waitress, saying, “That’s my daughter. She’s studying but she also wants to earn a living, so she’s here and I’m proud of her. In Europe, because of class considerations, a wealthy manager might never allow his daughter to work like that. But in America, people are proud of their jobs, no matter the level of wealth.” 


What prompted you to implement new technologies like AI and blockchain for banks in Europe?

After spending 25 years in corporate banking, I realized the economy, customer expectations and technology were changing, but our business model was not. We were still operating on models we created 40 years ago and this was no longer tenable. I saw something was happening with technology and [knew that] if we didn’t ride the wave then we would we be hit by it. So, in 2015, I told Deutsche Bank I wanted to create a new office of digital strategy, focusing on the three technologies — AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things. At that point, AI wasn’t even conceivable in finance. But I said we had to act now, not wait for another decade. It took me a year and a half to get approval and then only eight months to implement everything, [in partnership] with IBM.


Why, exactly, do you think blockchain is so crucial? 

It’s a forward-thinking business model. For thousands of years, importers and exporters didn’t know each other. The first element of the relationship was mistrust. Things were not shipped until money was received, and money was not sent until goods were seen. With blockchain, importers and exporters can do business more easily and securely, because everyone on the transaction chain is independently verified by the third-party bank. For the banks, we can then offer solutions like insurance in real-time situations, depending on what the client needs. 


You recently successfully wrangled a group of European banks to collaborate on initiating blockchain. Sounds like quite a challenge. How did you do it? 

In January 2017, we decided to create a consortium of major banks from the UK, Germany, Ireland, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. This was not easy. We were managing 150 people in different countries, with IBM as a vendor. We acted rigorously in terms of governance… [and] everyone kept pace, because nobody wanted to be left out. IBM was crucial to the success, providing the underlying technology, expertise and security to see our vision through. Now, we are finally ready to launch in June.


Are you still exploring new cultures?

Yes, my passion is to always be learning from people, from technology, from everything. And I’m still working hard. My brother used to tease me when I stayed home to study on Friday nights while attending university: “Don’t you want to enjoy life?” He still asks me that and I still give the same answer: “I will enjoy it when I get the job done.” I’ve still got a lot to do — but I’m also taking the time to travel more.


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Wake-up Call | Anand Singh Chandel: A father’s son transforms an industry

By Dayna Sargen

Anand Singh Chandel followed his father’s footsteps to pursue the career of his dreams: using artificial intelligence to rewrite the future of banking

In 1995, Anand Singh Chandel was working as a computer consultant in Delhi, India, when a new adventure came his way. “I hadn't lived outside of India for a long period of time before,” Anand says of the opportunity to move to Singapore as an IT consultant. “But my dad had left his village at a young age to move to the city and start a company. So he was understanding, and I decided to embrace the change.”

It wasn’t the first time Anand had pursued a new path. After studying electrical engineering at technical school, he planned to become an engineer. He was skeptical when a computer consulting company offered him a job. “I was going to say no, when a friend’s dad told me this was going to be the future,” he recalls. “So I decided to give it a try.” 

He diligently learned every aspect of computers — from building hardware and operating systems to software — and rose through the ranks until the Singapore offer came. At the time, Anand and his wife had a two-year-old son, and they were thinking about the challenges that came with leaving their extended family. The push to accept the opportunity came from the last person he expected: his father. “There were challenges,” Anand remembers. “But my father had left his family to create a new life, had gone through these same stages.”

Now Anand is senior vice president of corporate applications, including robotic process automation (RPA) and HR platforms, for DBS Bank in Marina Bay, Singapore — one of the largest banks in Asia. He recently partnered with IBM to enact sweeping upgrades to the bank’s operating systems. They’ve installed cutting-edge technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), RPA and HR applications to offer enhanced security and customer service. Combining AI with RPA allows DBS to offer faster response to anti-money laundering alerts. Through it all, Anand is carefully mentoring the next generation via his son, who is about to enter the workforce.



Anand Singh Chandel, Senior Vice President, Corporate Applications at DBS Bank

Image caption
Anand Singh Chandel, Senior Vice President, Corporate Applications at DBS Bank / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


What was it like, saying goodbye to your family and moving to Singapore?

In India, culturally, you are expected to support your kids, family, everyone. So it was difficult to adjust to the new life while also helping care for the parents. My wife and I had never left the country. In 1995, when we first left, there was always this suspicion we would return. But my father had left his village to move to the city and start a company. That helped influence our decision to stay in Singapore.


Can you tell us more about your role at DBS? 

I run two platforms: RPA and HR applications. Last year, we started from scratch with RPA, selecting tools to improve our automation processes. Most of it is back-end. But it's across different businesses. We do it for back-office operations like loan disbursements, credit limits and credit setups. We do it for financial processes and compliance-delegated processes, especially around anti-money laundering, which is way interesting.


One of the initiatives you’ve worked on is helping to minimize and eradicate money laundering. How is that going? 

I’m working with IBM to help us link our RPA to our AI to set alerts for suspicious activity. In the past few years, a lot of new regulations have come into place with more rules that trigger alarms. So, as a financial institution, we have to balance out how many alarms are false and how many are true. In terms of operating costs, we can’t have a huge team sitting there. But AI and RPA together have allowed us to automate the vetting process; these tools go through all the transactions and make sense of them. It saves a lot of money while also reducing risk for the bank. It has been tremendous.


What are some of the ways you are improving the way DBS does business?

In addition to addressing money laundering, we have so far remade 68 other processes, from loan disbursement to loan creation and consumer banking. IBM was a key partner in envisioning and then building all these processes, ensuring we were up to government standards. They were able to bring in people from teams across the globe, helping us to scale up and become experienced in these technologies in a short amount of time. I worked closely with IBM’s folks, building good personal relationships — they’ve been a great partner.


And now your son is about to make his own way in the world?

He’s in his final year of university in Singapore. I feel exactly the same way as my father before me: Just do your best in whatever you choose to do.  It’s a bright future. I’m happy for my son to get started. 


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Wake-up Call | Jacqueline Wild: The paper chaser

By Dayna Sargen

Jacqueline Wild took a road trip through South Africa that changed her life — a mindset she now applies to revolutionizing the future of packaging and paper 

“Everybody told me I was crazy,” Jacqueline Wild says of the time in 1999 when she quit her job and embarked on a road trip through South Africa. “But I remember standing at the edge of the world in Cape Town, looking out at the ocean, and thinking I had made it — I could do anything.”

Born in 1978 in a small village in Austria, Wild is the youngest of four children whose parents ran a toy shop. Wild wasn’t interested in the family business, though — she just wanted to travel. “I wanted to get away from my hometown. It was too small,” she says. After applying for and getting rejected from a job as a flight attendant with Austrian Airlines in high school, Wild returned to her studies, and eventually landed a stable job as an IT consultant in Vienna.  

All was going well, but Wild was 21 years old and knew it was the right time for an adventure. Which meant booking a one-way flight to South Africa. “I had never done the great worldwide trip I had planned,” she says. “Quitting my job to travel with no clue where I would land … was the greatest experience of my life.” Almost two decades later, Wild is still seeking out new experiences, as the Head of Digital Solutions for Mondi, a global company that sustainably produces packaging and paper solutions for clients around the globe.



Jacqueline Wild

Image caption
Jacqueline Wild, Head of Digital Solutions at Mondi Group / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


You initially wanted to be a flight attendant?

I grew up in a small village called Neunkirchen, a village south of Vienna, and always wanted to see the world. At 16, I thought making money while traveling to different countries sounded great! But my dad said I also had to have a normal job. So I applied to be a financial consultant at a telecommunications company, a job I ended up loving.


Tell us about your role at Mondi.

I’m always trying to figure out how to use technology to enhance the experience and bottom line for our customers. Mondi has about 26,000 employees worldwide, all working to produce different sorts of packaging and paper. I am Head of Digital Solutions — I’ve never had a clear job description. 


Mondi has been using automation to make packaging and paper for many years. What was the impetus to bring automation into other areas of the business?

All of our paper machines are fully automatic, taking up entire floors. You put wood pellets in one end and paper comes out the other. It’s like something from Star Trek. We convert these different papers and other materials to numerous packaging solutions for almost all industries worldwide. And now, we’re working with IBM to implement technologies like artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and blockchain to HR, payroll and finance.


In the digital era, paper isn’t exactly viewed as a future-leaning industry. But there’s still an enormous amount of business to be done. How does Mondi keep an edge in the marketplace? 

Customer demand and usage of paper is changing — people are printing less, but companies also explore paper to make their product or publication stick out in a digitalized world. The renowned Italian online magazine Digitalic, for example, uses a high-quality print issue to show the beauty of technology. By using technologies like AI to handle repetitive work, we free up our employees to focus on helping customers in new ways, which keeps us competitive. A competitive advantage for our customer is a competitive advantage for us — and IBM helps us every step of the way. I began working with them 10 years ago. They’re supportive and always deliver what they promise. It’s a good, long partnership.


Have you found a way to keep your passion for traveling incorporated into your life? 

I still love to find adventure. This year, my boyfriend and I are planning to travel through Napa Valley. Wherever we travel — whether it’s China or Chile or Africa — we always book only the flights and the first night’s hotel. The rest is open, so we can decide our journey by the day. 


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Wake-up Call | Mark Foster: The classical futurist

By Dayna Sargen

The head of IBM Global Business Services keeps an eye on the past in order to move forward

A degree in ancient history from the University of Oxford and a membership on the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company aren’t the first qualifications you might want in a leader of the emerging world of artificial intelligence (AI). But that’s just what IBM got when Mark Foster was hired as senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services® in 2016. “What’s happening now reminds me of when personal computers first began appearing in the early 1980s,” Foster says with a smile. “AI" is an inflection point — and I wanted to jump back in.”

Foster, 58, has always sought adventure. Growing up just outside London and the child of two artists, he was drawn to history and studied classics at Oxford, figuring he’d pursue a career of academia or archaeology. But when a friend happened to take him to a job fair one afternoon, Foster was intrigued with the notion of the newly created personal computer — and the promise of free dessert. “My friend promised me Black Forest gateau, which is really good cake,” Foster says, smiling. “So I went along — and the next thing I knew, I began a 27-year consulting and management career in technology.”

These days Foster works with businesses around the world to help them harness emerging technology for the 21st century. “Because of my degree in ancient history, I tend to think in millennia, not quarters,” Foster says. “So I work on long-term strategies to enable businesses to create new markets for the future.”



Mark Foster

Image caption
Mark Foster, Senior Vice President, Global Business Services at IBM / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


How did studying classical literature prepare you for a career in technology?

I take a long-term view of things, which allows me to think about what really matters, to put things in perspective. Combine that with three decades in technology consulting and four years as a commissioner overseeing the UK's aid budget around the world — during which I visited huts, clinics, and schools in some of the poorest parts of the globe, from the Congo to Somalia to Bangladesh — and I think I understand the motivations of people. I understand how lucky we are in our lives and what it takes to succeed.


Why is now such a crucial time for businesses to embrace change in technology?

We all have to learn about new technologies, because if you don’t, you're going to be left behind. There was the era of the mainframe, the era of the PC and the era of the internet. And now we can say there’s another era: the era of cognitive enterprise, where “AI", the internet of Things and blockchain technology are going to completely change businesses again. This is a wake-up call. Every process, from the supply chain to a call center to a retail branch, is going be transformed. People’s lives are also going to be changed as the man-machine interface moves forward. 


Why is IBM uniquely suited to help transform businesses for the 21st century?

As a technology company constantly working to reinvent itself, we have learned a lot about what works and what does not. So, we have something relevant to say to clients who are on the same journey. This is very different from other professional services companies who haven’t been through the same transformational perils, who haven’t had to deal with the issues of going digital. What’s unique about IBM is that we have been on this journey for 107 years. If you looked inside the cupboards of what IBM looks like now versus three years ago, it's completely different than three years before that, in terms of the mix of business, the skills it has to have, the kind of leaders it needs to have. Yet, at the same time, individuals are having long-term careers here, and they’re just continually having to learn new stuff. That gives an extra resonance to our stories. It’s different from other providers who just know their topic. We’ve actually done it.


What services are you most proud of offering to business partners?

We’re interested in working with the leaders of the future — to help them leverage IBM technology to change the world. Right now businesses are uncertain about how to seize opportunity. They need a partner who can help them on the journey. The main thing we offer is to help businesses innovate safely. To do that, we bring a combination of smart technology — like Watson™ in AI, our own cloud, and unique assets like the Cognitive Garage — and smart people. We conduct workshops with businesses leaders to help push their companies forward, to ensure everyone is engaging in the change process together.

Most importantly, we work to help the clients shape their future, act as an advisor to them and listen. It’s not about telling people what to do. It’s about engaging, cocreating an answer and then going forward as partners to execute it. 


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Wake-up Call | Abi Dudley: The psychologist revolutionizing HR

By Dayna Sargen

Learn more about intelligent business process automation

Abi Dudley is using artificial intelligence to transform Ernst & Young (EY), drawing upon her training in psychology to inform the future of human resources

In 2005, Abi Dudley was finishing her studies in psychology at the University of Oxford when she realized she wanted to pursue a new field: technology. “Clinical psychology was interesting, but it would have taken me another five years of training just to start working,” Dudley recalls. “I was ready for something different — and it took me to a job I now love.”

Born in 1984 in Brighouse, England — a village in northern Yorkshire — Dudley, 34, grew up as the daughter of practicing doctors. Inspired by the work of clinical psychologists who were attempting to map the human mind, she studied psychology at Oxford. But when it came time to graduate, Dudley had a wake-up call. “At Oxford, there are very traditional tracks in which you get a degree and then go into medicine,” she explains. “But I decided to try something different — the business world.”

That choice brought Dudley to London, where she worked in industries including oil and gas as well as in the public sector, implementing new technologies to upgrade companies, until finally landing in human resources — a role that combines all of her talents. As global strategy and operations lead for HR systems at EY, she uses cutting-edge technology to staff one of the largest accounting firms in the world and enlists artificial intelligence (AI) and the cloud to ensure quality work experiences for more than 250,000 people in 140 countries. 



Abi Dudley

Abi Dudley, Global Strategy & Operations Lead, HR Systems at EY / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


Were you into technology growing up?

Growing up, technology was a bit geeky [laughs]. It was a thing boys did in their rooms. It wasn’t even on my radar. Obviously, that’s very different now.


How did you transition from studying psychology to business consulting?

I had no idea what management consultancy was. At Oxford, we had job fairs. A lot of companies came to the university — and I thought going in and solving problems for people actually sounded like quite an interesting thing to do.


How do you explain your role at EY to folks outside the company? 

We design employee experiences. We are defining a strategy to enable talent through their work lifecycle. When we recruit people, we help them learn from management all the things that enable them to start and manage their career. And all the technology that sits underneath that is currently part of the strategy we're developing on my team in HR systems.


How are you using technology to improve how EY does business? 

In 2015, when I started at EY, our HR systems were crazy, fragmented, all over the place: We had 700 pieces of technology in 140 countries. I would have to interface with 10 pieces just to do anything HR-related. We decided to take those 700 pieces and bring them down so we could focus. Around then, we were just starting to hear inklings about AI, robotic process automation (RPA) and the cloud. I thought, “Hang on a minute. We’re missing a trick here. How do we use these tools even better?” And that's when we started to sit down with IBM and [discuss] their Watson™ technology, [an] absolutely fantastic solution.


What are some of the questions that come up when working with AI in the HR sphere? 

We knew IBM was already doing a lot of AI work internally, in their own HR department. And we learned from that. I need to understand the technology and how AI applies to it. How do AI, blockchain, VR, IoT apply? What is the talent use case for those particular solutions? And is there a valid business value in there? Should we bring that kind of technology into our HR suite?


You guys have implemented a chatbot into your HR operations. How’s that working out? 

We’ve done it for onboarding and performance management. In terms of the business impact that we're seeing, it’s not just about dollars. From an experience perspective, we’re giving our customers better levels of engagement. Everything that people want at home, we are bringing in the workplace. In terms of engagement, we saw around half a million interactions with it in the first 28 days, which was quite big. In terms of value, it effectively paid for itself within the first seven days. And from a speed perspective, we deployed this solution very quickly, within just 31 days, to 250,000 people around the world. IBM helped us run it all — they were fantastic. 


You have two young children. How do you navigate a dynamic career and a busy family life? 

I have two beautiful girls, aged three and one. Recently, a colleague drew up four quadrants — work, family, community, health — and asked me to rate myself on each. I said, “This is crazy!” I was quite work-focused. So now I work part-time, Tuesday through Thursday, and take care of the kids the rest of the week. It was another wake-up call. I’ve become balanced — and that’s important.


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Wake-up Call | Mauricio Alban-Salas: The transformation architect of banking

By Dayna Sargen

When looking for inspiration for information technology systems, this CTO finds it on a paddleboard — off the coast of Peru

When stuck on a problem at work in Lima, Peru, Mauricio Alban-Salas has a trusted solution: He heads to the ocean for a stand-up paddle session. “It’s all about listening to the water,” he says with a grin. “Just like creating IT systems is about listening to people. In both, you have to wait, see the opportunity and then act fast.” As the chief technology officer of Banco de Crédito del Perú (BCP) — the largest bank in Peru — Alban-Salas is part of a company with more than USD 38 billion in total assets and 17,000 employees. He joined in 2016 to overhaul BCP’s entire IT architecture after doing the same at Itaú Unibanco in São Paulo, the largest bank in South America. 

Throughout his career, Alban-Salas, 56, has used technology to transform institutions, pushing the world forward with his groundbreaking innovations. But when asked what the secret to success is, he simply shrugs and starts talking about surfing, architecture, or cooking with his partner (who happens to be a chef at a top restaurant in Brazil). Every aspect of Alban-Salas’s life, he says, ties into how he designs technology systems. “If you really want to do something with technology, you first have to understand people,” he says. “There is creativity and artistry, but overall you must listen — and then you will be successful.”



Mauricio Alban-Salas

Image caption
Mauricio Alban-Salas, CTO at BCP Bank / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


Where were you born?

Madrid is my hometown. My father worked for the United Nations, developing agricultural techniques in different countries, so I truly consider myself a citizen of the world. Even now I usually only spend three to five years living in a country.


What’s one of the most memorable moments of your early career?

I was working in IT at a bank in New York during the early ’80s. And one day, Steve Jobs came in to sell NeXT, his new computer system. This was when he was between jobs at Apple. It was an amazing computer, completely visionary. Meeting Jobs and seeing how his mind worked inspired me to follow his ideas, to try to follow his creativity, his innovation. His mind was incredibly quick. But more than that, I realized he didn’t just have a vision — he also was able to sell it.


Fast-forward a few decades and you’re at BCP. What are some challenges you faced when you first joined the company two years ago? 

When I first [started working with] BCP, I told them I’m not an efficiency architect — I’m not there to simply help them cut costs. I’m a transformation architect, working to help businesses interact with customers in a different way. Today enhancing customer experience is paramount. This has been a wake-up call. So, at BCP, I wanted to create an omnichannel experience in which customers can move seamlessly from one channel to the next, receiving personalized treatment every step of the way, which requires technology such as artificial intelligence.


How are you transforming the future of banking?

I’ve only just started [working] at BCP, and so I have not yet begun the major transformation. At Itaú, I worked with IBM extensively — and that partnership was a truly powerful tool. They were an innovative partner every step of the way in IT transformation and data management transformation. IBM brought some great concepts, including data governance, data structure [and] leveraging the information of the bank’s 100,000 employees. They introduced the role of the CDO, or the chief data officer, [to me and my colleagues]. In terms of surfing, IBM has been like a great coach, helping me to catch the waves.


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Wake-up Call | Adam Lawrence: The Wall Street deserter now building the future of finance

By Dayna Sargen

Learn about intelligent business process automation

Adam Lawrence loves to build new worlds — whether designing his home or reprogramming his personal devices — a passion he brings to reinventing business

Traveling the world for IBM, Adam Lawrence and his family have lived in seven cities in the past 20 years — and he’s helped craft each of their homes. “I design everything from outdoor extensions to choosing the furniture,” Lawrence says, laughing. “My wife just says, ‘You handle that stuff.’ I love building things [and] solving problems creatively.”

But this digital pioneer’s mind has also long operated outside the “creative” sphere. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Lawrence grew up moving around the South until he landed in Washington, DC. His interest in technology was an important constant in his itinerant childhood. “I always loved it,” he says. “There is no gray area. In binary, you’re either right or wrong. I’m drawn to solving problems with computers.” 

After teaching himself to code as a kid, Lawrence, 41, studied business at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania — and drove to a nearby community college for technical training at night. Upon graduation, Lawrence’s classmates took finance jobs, but he chose a different path: “I was the one guy from my team that went into IT consulting on Wall Street,” Lawrence explains. “I started working on cutting-edge projects for banks and going a million miles an hour, never sleeping until I figured it out. And I’ve kept doing that ever since.”

Today he is the managing director of the IBM partnership with DBS Bank in Singapore, helping to overhaul how the bank does business in the 21st century. In addition to upgrading the bank with technologies like artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, Lawrence is helping revolutionize operations to save money and time while delivering better customer service. It’s the same creative problem-solving he’s been doing since childhood. 



Adam Lawrence

Image caption
Adam Lawrence, Managing Director at IBM / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


How does a passion for architecture translate to technology?

I’m the guy designing everything in my house. I think I was drawn to coding because, to me, it was design. I’ve always found myself drawn to fashion, interior design, architecture and that kind of thing. They’re all related.


Did you really automate all the devices in your house by hand?

I’ve always been ahead of the curve with technology, taking a new thing and combining it with something else to increase the value, and I take that to my clients. We now talk about “home automation,” but my house was fully automated nine years ago, when I personally wired motion sensors and programmed every single light. It would know if I was home and would do something different versus if my wife was home. It’s not just saying, “Oh, that's a cool thing, and that's going to work well.” You say, “How do I take these six or seven things and combine them together to get value?”


How have you helped clients automate to improve the client experience and bank operations?

We help banks run smarter. You look across a bank and realize a lot of the work is clerical. That can be automated, freeing up workers to more impactful projects. We've instituted an array of process and cognitive technologies in banks. We're also transforming entire organizations, creating better, more efficient operating models — and generating meaningful insights. Instead of a person filing paperwork, now automation is gathering, storing and logging information, which creates data. Every engagement point creates something that can be analyzed, and we can [therefore] understand why someone did something, what decisions were made, how we can do better next time, and what the risk implications to the individual and bank are. This is helping banks make more informed decisions, and ultimately, run the bank better.


What about with DBS Bank?

DBS is a very intelligent organization. They’re an absolute pleasure to partner and work with given that they have such grand aspirations — and a clear track record in creating joyful client and employee experiences. This helped them win Best Digital Bank in the World in 2016, from EuroMoney. Working together on such transformative and forward-looking projects makes every day exciting, fun and full of innovation.


What do you think is one of the biggest challenges businesses face as we look ahead? 

Everyone always wants to find a better way of doing things. It’s easy to sell a widget, but a widget never solves a client’s real problem. What you find at IBM is this quest to try and figure out solutions, to understand the implications of the future. We bring a different level of engagement to understand, empathize and solve — a quest to innovate. We’re looking for a better way to solve problems and drive value for our clients. The client’s success is our success — if they win, we win.


After decades of travel — and a with a busy work schedule to manage — what do you and your family do for fun?

Living in Singapore is great. We go to Bali for the weekend, skiing in Japan, hop over to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Our kids are learning Mandarin and are having an unbelievable set of experiences — it’s awesome. 


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Wake-up Call | Sanjay Rishi: Making the manifesto

By Dayna Sargen and Rebecca Shockley

Sanjay Rishi was working in the auto industry when he had an epiphany — and wrote a visionary plan that would change his life forever

In 2008, Sanjay Rishi was building technology systems for automotive companies when the impending rise of connected automobiles inspired him to write Automotive 2020: Clarity Behind the Chaos. The groundbreaking manifesto, created and published by Rishi’s team at IBM, forecasts the rise of smart cars, ride sharing and the Internet of Things. It garnered global attention. “Everyone was interested in connectivity then. I just connected the dots of the broader impending changes to the industry,” Rishi says of the study. 

Born in Delhi, India, Rishi studied mechanical engineering before earning a master’s degree in business and embarking on his tenure at General Motors in Michigan. Following that, as a Partner with PwC and subsequently IBM, he ran the global automotive industry. It was there, a decade ago, that he published Automotive 2020.

Now, Rishi works as Managing Director for General Motors at IBM. “I basically combine the work of a CIO with [that of] a business strategist. I help companies modernize,” he says. “It is as much about the people as it is the technology.” Rishi knows this well. “My undergraduate and graduate education was in math and science,” he says. “But part of my doctoral thesis covered effective organizational communication. Studying it closely helped me understand the importance of people and cultural change when managing organizational transformations.”




Sanjay Rishi

Image caption
Managing Director for General Motors at IBM / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


Automotive 2020 was massively influential in the automotive industry. How did you make it happen? 

We interviewed 125 CEOs to understand their views about where the industry was going across all aspects of the automotive industry in 15 countries, from Peugeot in France to Land Rover in the UK to Tata Motors in India. We then applied our experiences and assimilated a future looking view of the industry. The cloud was just starting and AI was more a concept in an MIT lab than anything else. A lot of the changes we predicted were in the right direction, looking at things like ride sharing, the extent to which electrification has progressed, and connected vehicles. Overall, the resulting wake-up call was that everything would hinge on connectivity with the consumer.


What do you say when people ask you for advice about embracing the future? 

I can talk about technology until the cows come home, but the real point is to effect lasting change in organizations. I recently met with the CEO of a large bank in the UK who asked me, “What should I be thinking about?” I said, “Don’t think about technology — technology has matured and will deliver results for you. Think about effectively managing that change.” All of this technology — from AI to cloud — is about creating individual experiences and innovating customer, supplier and employee relationships.


How do you work with companies to implement new technologies?

Companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook are information aggregators. They monetize information they collect. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a business model. By contrast, IBM is completely different. We are an enterprise company. Our legacy is around enterprises and we believe your data is your data. Nobody else will ever have access to your data, insights or intelligence. So we work to give you powerful tools from the cloud to AI to blockchain while ensuring everything is secure. Right now, every industry is being disrupted. So we work to ensure you leverage your incumbency to innovate and disrupt. Not too many companies can bring our level of cross-industry knowledge and cutting-edge technology. 


Are you still writing?

I’m still writing. And since stretching beyond my comfort zone in the technology space, I’ve kept going. I’m learning more about the arts, and I’m even taking Italian. If I can make it to conversational fluency, I’ll be happy.


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Wake-up Call | Kevin Koch: The pathfinding mastermind of business

By Dayna Sargen

Kevin Koch has conquered everything from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to swimming Alcatraz — and now he’s using technology to forge the future of grocery stores

On the eve of turning 60, Kevin Koch decided to try something new — by running 50 miles in a trail race and hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim and back again. Koch says, smiling, “And then I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. And then I went to Arizona and completed an Ironman Triathlon.” He shrugs. “I don’t want to feel old.”

Koch has been going for broke his entire life. The son of an economics professor, he was born in 1957 in Chicago, Illinois and studied at St. Edward’s University before working as a tax accountant for various firms. He eventually landed a role consulting for the McLane Company, a wholesale distributor of groceries and goods founded in 1894, where he made a daring move during a meeting with the company’s CEO early in his career. “The first thing the CEO said [to me] was how proud he was the IRS had never proposed a change to their filings,” Koch recalls. “I said, ‘That means you’re paying too much in taxes.’”

He had a knack for the intricacies of taxes, and eventually struck out on his own, working for national corporations on contingency fees, keeping a percentage of the money he saved them in taxes. When McLane offered him a full-time position, Koch initially rejected the idea. “I had just received a USD 157,000 contingency fee refund check, and that was 1989 money,” he explains. McLane’s CEO countered with more money and equity — and Koch has been with them ever since.

Now working as Senior Vice President of Accounting, Tax and Finance, Koch keeps a close eye on the bottom line. “With online competitors, competition is tougher than it’s ever been in this industry. We realized we needed to innovate at a faster speed to save money,” Koch says, referring to work he’s doing to engineer new business-to-business models, harness data and maximize existing assets. Today, McLane is even putting billboards on the sides of their trucks, to push forward into the 21st century. “More and more, we need a better way to think out of the box,” Koch says.




Kevin Koch

Image caption
Kevin Koch, Senior Vice President of Accounting, Tax and Finance at McLane Company / Photo: Cait Opperman


This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.


The legacy of McLane is extraordinary. It was founded almost 125 years ago. How does a company like this thrive in the 21st  century?

We’re finding ways to increase sales to our existing customers and reduce the cost of those sales. If I can tweak one of those numbers just a little, it can make a huge impact to our bottom line. Recently, changes to our industry have been a wake-up call. We buy stuff, move it around and deliver it. The margins in this business are very small and I oversee our finances. Now, we’re owned by Berkshire Hathaway, grossing over USD 50 billion a year, with 80 distribution centers and over 20,000 employees across the US.


How, exactly, do innovations improve the bottom line?

We don’t try to win new contracts by the dollar. We try to win them by the penny. We sell everything from water to candy to convenience. Our customers expect us to innovate, to come up with more cost-effective ways of doing business. So we come up with ideas and then work with IBM to roll them out with speed. Technology helps us to see things more quickly and make better decisions. For instance, one thing we are working on is advertising on our trucks. We have this great fleet serving the entire US — so how do we better utilize this asset? We came up with advertising. But then we had to figure out how to show its value to our advertising customers.


Measuring eyeballs on trucks on highways sounds like a daunting task. How did you unlock it?

We worked with IBM to put satellite trackers on our trailers, getting pings from cell phones within 100-meter circumferences to be able to know how many people would pass by our billboards. We got numbers from different stretches of highway and dumped them into algorithms, demographically rating each of our routes. Then we could go to advertisers and say this route in New York or California or Texas is going to be worth X number of views, and make the sale. IBM crunched the numbers. They’re also helping us figure out business-to-business models on shipping. They’re a smart bunch of people.


You’ve pushed the limits on many of your birthdays. Any plans in the works yet for your 70th?

I’ve completed eight Ironman Triathlons, studied Tae Kwon Do and done ultramarathons. I run about 150 miles a month and bike 6,000 miles a year. I don’t know what I’m doing at 70. We’ll see what my wife says.


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