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THE INTERVIEW | WILLIAM ROSS: Listen with humility, be agile to grow, take the hidden value in failure

F.Y. Teng | July 3, 2013
A senior information executive shares essential lessons he's learnt in his 23-year career.

In my time with the company, it hasn't quite mattered where I've been based, I've continually spent a lot of time working across the globe. For example while living in Asia for 16 years, I've also spent a lot of time in Latin America, particularly Brazil and Argentina, and in Europe. So, really, my experience in Motorola has given me a very good global perspective on how to engage the world in different functions.

At school, your major was International Finance. Did you also undergo any formal training in IT?
No. While took some basic programing courses in university it was not a minor full minor that. My training mostly came from work experiences. I started out as an international financial analyst. My second role was in financial systems, so I did all of the worldwide financial reporting, and had responsibility for financial systems. That gave me exposure globally, around the world, on our operations. So, working with solutions like Hyperion and Oracle is where I was able to get introduced into that space. And for some reason, it just captured my interest a great deal, and I kept digging and digging, fortunately getting more responsibilities and opportunities to explore. This has led for me to understand not only applications, but architecture, networks, development, testing, quality and all of the other disciplines in within IT.

I have also have understood that my work in both Finance and IT been an easy spring board into working and effectively with other core competencies and functional areas.  This is because by nature both areas easily span across the enterprise as multi-disciplinary support functions. This end to end exposure can give you significant advantage in understanding and providing the organization in both a strategic planning and tactical execution level.

What did you learn based on your experience in China, would you say have contributed to how you deal with partners, customers and subordinates in this part of the world?
The art of comprehensive listening. While we "hear", I have learned we do not always "listen". Comprehensive listening includes enhanced awareness of the verbal and non-verbal cues under the context of the environment and culture in which you are engaged. You also need to practice the primacy of humility to effectively listen, even though you already believe you have the answer. By executing these two additional characteristics in your communication, you will find better results in confirming your IT strategic solution planning that will align more effectively with the voice of your customer (or partner) and will eliminate wasteful time and cost gaps downstream when you move from concept to execution.  

Be agile for growth with value. Move fast, start small, stay focused, and stay flexible. Being agile in IT execution is great in getting things done, but I learned that "moving" fast is not good enough from a customer solution perspective. You also need to continuously be adaptively nimble to rapidly scale your efforts with excellent quality while hitting the value goal at the same time. Opportunities to for IT to impact "growth with value" in business today has incredibly shorter life cycles, therefore in IT you always need to be prepared to move fast but also to the correct scale "end" target as well. In this context, if from concept to reality which takes more than six months to actually implement most likely your effort will seeded in the wrong environment (as it changes) and will not grow effectively.

 

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