When looking at the leadership teams of successful organisations one may conclude: “better stick to your knitting”. Across many industries IT becomes part of the core proposition and upends business models that have persisted for decades. What if “software is eating your world” and IT isn't “your knitting”?
The Washington Post newspaper provides an inspiring and practical example: hire experience. This newspaper -a 140-year-old icon of an entire industry that has been disrupted- has quickly turned into a successful media and technology company!
If you look at great CEO's in the automotive industry, you find engineers with passion for building cars. Notable examples are Karl Benz, Ferdinand Porsche, Henry Ford and Ferdinand Piëch.
Similarly, if you look at the leadership teams of very successful IT companies, you find either engineers or individuals who are deeply engaged with the guts of their IT operations. Think of Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs. The list goes on and on.
You would think that the morale of the story is “stick to your knitting”. There is one large anomaly in all this, and that is IT. “Software is eating the world”, to quote Marc Andreessen. Across many industries IT becomes part of the core proposition of a product or service and upends business models that have persisted for decades. Think of how IT changed the media industry fundamentally, disrupted previously successful business models and companies and has become a standard key ingredient of every media product and service.
If IT hasn't been “your knitting”, what to do and where to start? The Washington Post newspaper provides an inspiring and practical example: hire experience!
In 2013 The Post was a 140-years-old newspaper in decline when Don Graham, its owner, asked Jeff Bezos for help. In an interview given to The Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron, Jeff Bezos says:
“My biggest question quickly became to Don: ‘Are you sure I can help? Why me? I don't know anything about the news business’, and Don said, ‘Look, we don't need anybody that knows about the news business. We got lots of people here who know about the news business. We need somebody who knows about the internet’.” (38:30 into the interview)
In 2013 Jeff Bezos acquired the newspaper and three years later, his influence on The Washington Post is already being felt. The newspaper surpassed The New York Times in unique monthly US visitors in 2015 and is turning into a media and technology company.
Bezos didn't get involved in managing the editorial direction of the newspaper. Rather he took a very hands-on approach on the business and technology aspects to transform it and create a real media and technology company. With its own engineering team that “rivals any team in Silicon Valley”. Today, technology is put to use to generate analytics, improve on-line commercial effectiveness and generate revenues, increase (social) media reach and exposure, improve the user experience (e.g., on mobile devices) and seek input from readers about their preferences and behaviour.
If we look at the boards and management teams of many organisations, IT experience is sorely lacking. This paucity will either get addressed or will become a large liability.