Service Matters Part 2: The CEO’s Dilemma

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Here’s a slight dramatization of the most rewarding meeting I’ve had in a long time.

The client has 120 people with a small IT team and they are set grow this year with a Calgary acquisition.  In the meeting was IT Director Peter, CFO Steve, and the owner/CEO James.  I love seeing business owners take an interest in IT, but I feel bad when they get inundated with techno-talk; losing sight of the business forest through the IT trees. Shady sales people like to exploit these situations, I like to help prevent them.

After the usual introductions, CFO Steve and Peter the Director laid out their goal of improving their IT systems and reducing their costs.  Jason and Chris (one of our Account Manager) did a great job introducing ITW’s award-winning managed services and cloud solutions.  I watched their body language, Steve and Peter were delighted, leaning forward and asking lots of questions to Jason and Chris who were equally engaged.  The owner, James, looked over the table at me and nodded–he hadn’t spoken a word since introducing himself 40 minutes earlier.

He was clearly lost on the technical stuff but he also seemed kind of down.  I know that look very well.  I leaned forward to him,“it’s a lot to take in, eh?”  He sighed and then shrugged.  I asked him “pardon my bluntness … but why are you in this meeting?”.  He said he didn’t really know. I smiled and said “may I tell you why I think you are?”  He returned the smile, “Sure, go ahead”.  I said “Well, by the looks of your existing IT stuff, it’s been a while since you have invested.  Steve  (the CFO) said you have 2 large clients coming on-board soon, which will require hiring 20 more mobile support staff and you are also looking to acquire a competitor in Calgary and their IT stuff is gonna be worse than yours.  You are here because this might be the most important year in your company’s last decade.”

I continued, “You know that IT has been something you could throttle back on to save money in the past.  You are here because you know if you don’t embrace IT, this growth could damage the company you’ve built over the last 20 years.”  I leaned in close, “You are here because you don’t know if these guys [I thumbed toward everyone at the whiteboard] are the guys to help you through this growth.”  James, ever the veteran business man had quite the poker face.  My assessment was either dead to rights or dead wrong.

He said “I guess you’ve got most of that right.  We’ve kept our IT spending low while still growing this business.  Now all these new hires want access to information and have sales quoting ability from the road.  We need more sales people and today’s sales people need technology we don’t have.”

“I know we need to modernize and we need it done right.  I’ve trusted these guys [he thumbs toward the whiteboard] for many years … They are smart and they are loyal.   So you can just forget about outsourcing them!”  I knew I liked James.  IT Weapons doesn’t do “outsourcing”.

“James,” I started “changing your approach and looking to chart new territory can be risky. Innovation is the hardest kind of work and you need people you can trust. It is plain to see that you are passionate for this company – it’s your baby – I get it.  You misunderstood my gesture about “those guys”.  In our 13 years, we have never recommended to a client to remove their staff and replace them with ITW.  And no client ever has.  But here’s the thing James; by your own admission, these guys know your business and you trust them.  They may be the best IT people in your [widget] industry.  Imagine you had them focused 100% on your business and not the back-end technical plumbing.  they would be adding more value to your business, no?”

They could be finding ways to use apps to improve process and information flow, to help your key people make better decisions faster.  They will be able to focus on the business integration of your new site in Calgary.  Consider all those new people and mobile devices – who is going to figure out which application will empower those folks best?  If you have “those” guys focused on the day-to-day operations of this existing company, who is going to handle all your expansion and optimization stuff?

“Steve says he wants to save money, but you and I both know you need to spend quite a bit here.  If you try to build this yourself, your existing business will suffer.  If you hire new IT folks they will build it and when its time to run it, they will leave for the next big project – maybe to your competitor.  You need a great IT partner to jump in the trenches and run things while your guys empower the business.  I think you’re starting to realize that your IT team needs to sit at the boardroom table with you, not fiddle around in the server room.”

As the guys at the whiteboard finished up, CEO James thanked me, hopped up and huddled with his team for a few moments.  Then he waved and left.  CFO Steve stared at me for a few seconds, “Well, that has never happened.  James usually tosses vendors out of here and then yells at me for wasting his time.”

My chat with James was one of the coolest business chats I have ever had.  CFO Steve continued, “Well, he said that as long as Peter and I don’t think IT Weapons is completely full of shit, than I can do whatever it takes to get this project done.”

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