Creating an Industrial Strength Company

Friday, September 1, 2006 - 15:32

The CEO of Fujitsu Australia, Rod Vawdrey, strongly believes that CEOs are meant to lead people and manage things. By Richard Jones

Rod Vawdrey joined Fujitsu Australia as CEO and Executive Director in 2003, heading regional operations across Australia and New Zealand. He has more than 25 years experience in the ICT industry in Asia, Europe and the US, and his brief at the time of joining Fujitsu Australia was to take this conservative computer business to the next level.

Vawdrey's perspective on management and leadership is straightforward: "You are what you influence, you are what you achieve. I think that we have to convince ourselves that it is more about what we can contribute rather than the size of our organisation, the number of people who report to us or the size of our office. It is about our own personal contribution and about our own commercial influence."

Vawdrey believes that his biggest challenge has been creating an environment for people to thrive in, and such an environment is critical to success.

"I can do all sorts of things in terms of technology, but the hardest thing in my job is bringing to the organisation the right people, providing an environment in which they can thrive and then retaining them so that we can get a return on our investment."

Vawdrey is proud of the fact that he is a hands-on operational CEO. He spends a lot of time talking to his employees; he delivers an open-door policy and he believes communication at all levels is critical.

"We face the employees as much as possible. We use what I call skip meetings. For instance, when I go to New Zealand today I will have breakfast tomorrow with 12 employees - and no managers. We will just sit around and chew the fat. And they will tell me why the building is no good or why the plumbing doesn't work."

Vawdrey also aims for a flat organisation wherever possible, where no employee should fear having a conversation about anything.

"I like to ask lots and lots of questions. I believe in the philosophy attributed to Toyota about the five whys - you ask why, five times!"

Vawdrey believes all organisations have a culture that is in reality the personality of the organisation.

He says if there are a lot of people all going in different directions, the personality of the company becomes confused.

"We have been trying to create a culture that has some very fundamental tenets. One is that we behave the way Fujitsu wants us to behave and we call that the Fujitsu Way.

"By creating an environment where we have a sense of belonging, and growing and realising our dreams as employees of Fujitsu, this allows us to embody the company with a performance culture that I feel very strongly about.

"We are clear about what we expect from our people in terms of accountabilities and responsibilities."

Vawdrey believes that to achieve this culture an organisation needs to have a formal, disciplined talent management system that includes making sure there is clear career succession and appraisal/feedback systems in place.

"People are our only sustainable asset, and you attract people to the organisation because of how it is perceived in the market and how it treats its people.

"When I came here people didn't want to join Fujitsu, they thought it was a lumbering giant going backwards."

Vawdrey believes this has changed, and he attributes this to employees and the fact that the industry now sees Fujitsu as an organisation on the ascendant. Fujitsu is now an employer of choice.

"People see that we treat our employees well, that we are an employer where you get rewarded for your effort and get recognised for your contribution; you get respected as a person and you get the opportunity to make a name for yourself. People want to join us.

"We think we are making progress in that regard, and that is very much within this philosophy of a performance culture and creating a sense of belonging."

Vawdrey also makes the point that Fujitsu is not a totally single strata company, it employs a large contractor workforce. "A lot of people say to me, 'What is the difference between a contractor and an employee?' Well, the employees have a stake in our future and the contractors have a stake in their future, and because of that we have to give the employees more, otherwise they would all be contractors. And the 'more' includes security, stability, opportunity, learning and development.

"We try to invest a minimum of 10 days a year in all our employees. We understand and acknowledge that it is extremely important that we are attached to the employees."

He also stresses the importance of marketing the company to its own people.

"When we placed a large Fujitsu sign on top of this building it made a statement that we were going places. It helped our visibility, not just to our customers but to our staff," he says referring to the Fujitsu sign that was placed on top of the North Sydney office block in late 2005.

Making changes

When Vawdrey moved back to Australia from the United States he believes Fujitsu was looking for four things in a new CEO. They preferred a local, someone who had worked at a regional headquarters and a national headquarters; they wanted someone who had done business with the Japanese and someone with international sales and marketing experience because they felt this organisation needed to get on the front foot.

According to Vawdrey, when he took the job, Fujitsu was good at delivery but wasn't growing, and the timing suited him because he had a desire to come back to Australia.

Vawdrey instituted a rapid process of change management.

"After eight weeks at Fujitsu I said, 'I am coming to Japan to tell you what I have found'. And I think after eight, nine or perhaps 12 weeks, a new CEO should be able to give a firm impression of where the organisation needs to be headed and how that should take place.

"If I look back the three years to that original presentation I gave after eight weeks, I'd say 90 per cent of what I observed was right and 90 per cent of the problems I identified are now fixed.

"If you want to get the support of your employees when you've got 3000 people you'd better not dither around. You have to get them on board quickly because they will look to you like you're the coach of a football team, and they look to you to say what's the next play. And when something goes wrong the leader must be seen to be calling the next play quickly. If you lose a major customer or something happens in the market, the employees will look to the leader very quickly for direction and guidance."

One area where Vawdrey still has concerns is getting the right people in the right jobs.

He believes in middle management in Australia: there is still a lot of recycled material, a "permafrost", he calls it, that is stopping the real talent from coming through.

He says that when he came to Fujitsu he got some very bad press about tipping everyone out of their jobs.

Vawdrey defends his strategy. He says his objective was to revise the company's business model and get it right. The next step was to develop a suitable organisational model. He is of the view that too many Australian companies start with the organisational chart, but he believes that is just plain wrong.

"So we devised the business model and then looked at what organisational model we needed for that business model. Then we looked at the talent against that organisational model, and we ended up not simply saying that everyone had to reapply for their job but there were new jobs and everyone had to apply for those.

"After a while people got used to it. Now they are in new jobs, doing new things, with new challenges and metrics."

He says the problem with the permafrost layer is that they can be very defensive. There are limited jobs in smaller markets like Australia and people become very protective of their positions. He is a firm believer in job rotation but admits he finds it difficult to implement.

"I think that the best talent never worries about their job. They make a contribution and companies value them. You are what you contribute, not how long you have been there or who you know. If you know that you are contributing something then you should be reasonably secure," he says.

Another key plank of the Vawdrey philosophy is never to overpromise.

"You very quickly lose your troops if you tell them what is wrong and they can't see you deliver. So we have tried to be careful because we had a long list of things and a lot of broken things when we came here."

As an example, when he started he was told that the finance and accounts department was working long hours because, through acquisition, Fujitsu had inherited three different systems.

"I said I would get to it but it is not my first priority. Then, two-and-a-half years into the job I made an announcement about a new project called Unity. And we went out and bought SAP, the system we also install for our customers.

"The key is that you have to get to it but you don't promise what you can't deliver."

Coping with change

When it comes to change, Vawdrey relishes it.

"I am a firm believer that you have to exist in an environment of constant change. If you are not comfortable with change then you are probably not going to make it. I tend to thrive on it.

"It is interesting because Fujitsu was a conservative company with a bit of a control-and-command management style. There was a culture of delivering on promises, but it was not for risk taking. Now I am trying to take us to the next plateau.

"We grew eight per cent last year in a market that grew at 2.7 per cent. We now believe in ourselves, and I think that's what happens in good companies - they believe they can achieve.

"The thing about Fujitsu is that I believe we can create the industrial-strength technology company."

Generally, he says, the technology industry disappoints with its inability to deliver on its promised outcomes.

"Around 54 per cent of projects don't deliver on their promise - I am glad we are not in the airline industry."

Vawdrey asks rhetorically: "The Japanese are known for great innovation that just works. Why can't we be the Sony or Toyota of the technology industry? Why can't we deliver industrial-strength outcomes that work first time? If we can achieve that sort of a culture through Fujitsu we will be unbeatable."

The Fujitsu Way

The Fujitsu Way was introduced in 2002 and is the core set of principles guiding the corporate and individual actions of the Fujitsu Group, and its continuing development as a good global corporate citizen.

A common understanding of Fujitsu's mission, values and code of conduct serves as the standard governing individual employees' business activities, as well as the driving force behind the company's socially responsible business strategy and the inspiration for related company-wide activities, business policies and plans.

Fujitsu's Community Reach Program

In September 2005 Fujitsu launched Community Reach across Australia and New Zealand , a program that enables Fujitsu and its people to connect with their communities. The program is based on "Making a Difference in Our Communities", and the four pillars that support this are: Supporting Our People, Volunteer Experiences, Community Donations and Client Partnerships.

Community Reach kicked off in Victoria in October last year when Fujitsu volunteers teamed up to pack food into Christmas hampers while a second group was given the licence to paint toys. Volunteers also started their own Christmas Gift Appeal.