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Drax Interview Series – The evolving dynamics of technology within Private Equity during Covid-19 and into the future: Robbie Vann-Adibé, Founder and CEO of Inpulsus

November 3, 2020

“Technological singularity is a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”
– Dr. Ray Kurzweil

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, we have been busy fulfilling a number of CTO search mandates, and have now completed eight CTO mandates. It is interesting to see that the demand for CTOs has never been higher than during this current period.

So far, 2020 has been an unusual year for all of us, with a major shift in our way of life and where working from home is now becoming the new normal. We have seen a growing adoption of smart tools to adapt to the new remote working lifestyle, and businesses have been ramping up their investments in technology platforms.

We wanted to gain more understanding and hear from CTOs to get their perspectives on the challenging dynamics that they’ve experienced over the past year. We posed some questions to a couple of leading CTOs from different areas, within the market space, to provide their insights and what they think the future will bring. Over the course of the week, we will release this series of interviews.

For the first interview, we speak to Robbie Vann-Adibé, Founder and CEO of Inpulsus. Robbie has deep technology experience across a variety of areas, especially AI, Enterprise SaaS, B2B technology platforms, B2C e-commerce businesses, development tools, and strategic consulting. He has been active in the technology sector for the past 30 years, working in the likes of companies such as Traackr, Viant Inc, Oracle and Method.

What do you see as the key differences between the role of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) versus a Chief Technology Officer (CTO)?

“I work with different tech companies, that all create technical products, where in such cases, the CTO comes first into the organisation. Their focus is to create a product that is the best fit for the market, with the appropriate technology to do so. They juggle variables including timelines, features and costs of the product. You could argue that they deal with the future.

The systems and technology that is used to ‘run’ the operations of the business usually falls into the domain of the CTO, until they reach sufficient scale that they need a CIO. When the CIO joins, often reporting to the COO, they focus on utilising technology to maximise the efficiency and reach of the organisation, managing the systems that run the business; essentially they deal in the now.”

Covid-19 has had a massive impact on our lives in different ways. What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities to technology now and in the future?

Covid has certainly shown us that the unthinkable is possible, both in negative and positive ways.  Firstly, we can see that the environment has benefited, and what the world can look like by making large and small changes; that we can make the air in our cities breathable again by removing combustion engines. This proves that should we choose to do things differently, we truly can.

Secondly, we’ve seen that people can work differently and remotely yet still be effective, and perhaps even more so. We can take a whole workforce and change how we work within weeks IF legislation and survival require it. The offices we thought of as an asset may in fact be a huge liability with unnecessary costs, that we just don’t need. Ultimately, we are capable of dealing with MASSIVE change and surviving, and sometimes even thriving. In fact, some companies have thrived during this period; from the likes of Zoom, to Apple and Google. We have seen businesses that are run in a way that can support the future post-Covid will be successful.

Technology change is also so swift that it’s upsetting all industries; the Internet was one big wave, then mobile, and there will be more changes to come. I believe that the upheaval we are seeing in the world now is being caused by technology; every time in history where technology has changed, there is social upheaval and societal level upheaval. The printing press give birth to the renaissance and the end of feudalism; the industrial revolution ended the concept of monarchies and gave rise to democracy; and now we are seeing it again. Wait and see, there are multiple technology waves about to hit simultaneously.”

Lastly how do you handle shareholder dynamics, especially those that are non-technical by background, operating in a technology or non tech-enabled business?

I would argue that all companies are technology companies nowadays. By that I mean no matter what industry segment they are in, there is a technological component that is driving a change in the fundamental way that these businesses operate. Trying to get ahead, or even stay abreast of those changes is a significant challenge for any company over 10 years old, and no company is safe. Tesla has shown that to be the case; the Automotive companies believed they had the right size, scale, car factories, dealerships, brand, financial muscle and many other things to fend off any interloper – and Tesla took all those things, turned many of them into liabilities and then used technology to out execute them on EVERY front. A car company that did not exist 20 years ago now has the largest market cap of any automotive company.

And if you look at how they did it, technology applied in innovative ways was a large part of it. Exxonmobil just got replaced in the DowJones by Salesforce; in 2004 Exxonmobil was the largest company in the world by market cap! In this way, all companies need to think about how technology can be applied to create a better version of their company – because if they don’t, somebody else will!

This requires technical literacy on every board; that does not mean that everyone on a board should be a technologist, but it does mean that the board of any significantly scaled business needs to have sufficient expertise in technology areas to be able to think strategically (and tactically) about these issues. I believe every board meeting of a large-scale company should include a review of technology issues – internally and externally. They should look at how tech can be used to: a) improve its products (the CTO) and b) improve its operations (the CIO) AND that the other members of the board be willing and able to listen and digest ideas and recommendations.”

Our research at drxDATA on predictive analytics around leadership and value creation, demonstrates that as per Robbie’s point, having the right technological expertise in a business is essential; this may not necessarily be at the board level, but the headcount within this function is needed.

The research also indicates that the proliferation of technologists within a business has a positive correlation of upper quartile returns. This clearly shows that the most successful companies are likely to have slightly larger technology functions. Thus, by improving the capacity of the business to maximise its ability to grow, it should place its emphasis on the technology team.

Should you wish to learn more, please get in touch.


Tech & Tech Enabled Practice
Ruby Sheera
rs@draxexecutive.com

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