Fujitsu’s Duncan Tait on the imperatives for unlocking value in the digital age
Besides having superior knowledge about optimising digital for their business, what else should leaders prioritise amid the intense pursuit of digital transformation? In our conversation with Duncan Tait, Director and Corporate Executive Officer, SEVP, and Head of EMEIA and Americas regions at Fujitsu, we explored the imperatives, both in leadership and business context, for unlocking new sources of growth and enhancing businesses’ core value proposition in today’s digital world.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Let’s start this interview by giving us a glimpse of what your day looks like as a successful leader of a multinational organisation?
To me, a great day starts with an early morning spin class at the gym. From there, how I spend my time is very varied; attend board meetings to discuss the company’s performance, get into a call with a customer to discuss their current projects, which I find incredibly rewarding. Then I attend other meetings related to the recognitions being given to our business such as the Times Top 50 Employer for Women – giving me the opportunity to focus on the great people in our business. As a CEO, I try to find a day-to-day balance: keeping myself fit enough to do my job through exercise, spending time working on the financials, looking after the talent within the business and naturally focussing on our key stakeholders – our customers.
Before you landed in an executive role at Fujitsu, what other career did you pursue? How was the transition to Fujitsu?
My first job was actually at my mother’s newsagents, where I introduced a computer to help to run the business when I was 14. Since then, I’ve spent my whole career on the intersection of technology and business, both for customers and internally. When I joined Fujitsu, I had a clear plan to revive the public sector in the UK, focussing on delivering results and creating momentum. Then 18 months on, I became CEO of Fujitsu in the UK. Progression in leadership is about being given responsibility for an area, working hard to improve its value, and then people will ask you to take on more and repeat the cycle. It’s what I’ve done throughout the last 32 years.
Leaders atop a company naturally have a lot on their plate. At Fujitsu, what are your primary responsibilities and what’s significant about being the Director and Corporate Executive Officer, SEVP, and Head of EMEIA and Americas regions at Fujitsu?
One of my primary roles is serving on the global board of Fujitsu Limited, which is a significant responsibility, as I’m the first non-Japanese person to do so in the company’s history. In terms of my “day job,” it’s serving customers in EMEIA and Americas and supporting the excellent people in our business. And the outcomes are brilliant on both sides: for customers, we’re helping them to thrive in a digital world, despite the disruption they face, while at Fujitsu we end up with more new businesses.[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]
Today’s markets are hugely affected by technological advancements. What do you think are the greatest challenges that 21st century leaders have to combat with and how those challenges should be addressed correspondingly?
The pace of technological change is faster than ever before, and businesses are having to contend with disruptors who can enter a market and turn it upside down very quickly. It’s critical that business leaders are able to digitally transform their operations and offerings, to not only keep up with but exceed their competitors. The ability to pool knowledge, ideas and resources with a partner that understands what it takes to flourish in a digital world is vital. By co-creating new solutions with other organisations, businesses can set themselves up to thrive in a digital future.
Speaking of challenges, you conducted a research entitled Timeline 2030 which explores the “long-term impact that technology will have”. How do the research findings affect your company’s goals and objectives?
The Timeline 2030 report explored how technology will shape the world on the road to 2030, and outlined two possible scenarios – one positive, where the benefits of technology are equally distributed, and one negative, where digital advances have left many people behind. What the report really drives home is that it is critical for businesses to pursue digital transformation, so that they are able to thrive in the digital world. But at the same time, it’s equally important that businesses, as much as governments, understand the implications of how we use technology for the wider society.
For example, when it comes to automation businesses should implement technology at a reasonable pace and upskill their workforce to plan for its impact; if automation is implemented too quickly, we may face unemployment. At Fujitsu, we’re helping customers navigate these changes and use technology in the best way. Internally, we’re prioritising the upskilling our workforce, and are creating a culture of perpetual learning to ensure that employees are able to deal with new technologies as they emerge. That way, we can ensure that technology has a positive long-term effect.
With the occurring changes that leaders have to deal with, it is imperative to be adaptive and to evolve, otherwise they will lose their competitive advantage in the market. What’s your strategy to remain an effective leader?
The onset of digitalisation means that change is happening faster than ever before, and in most sectors consumers are moving faster than businesses. As CEO, it’s imperative for me to remain incredibly close to our customers to really understand their challenges and how we can help. From there, Fujitsu can provide them with great technology and ecosystems to help them to thrive. Internally, being an effective leader means taking our brilliant Fujitsu people, who for many years have supported customers with traditional “robust” technology and services, and showing them how they can rapidly take advantage of new technologies.
How do you make sure that your workforce and the management team remain innovative at all times? What’s your strategy?
At Fujitsu, innovation is central to what we do, and globally we invest over $1.5 billion in R&D every year. Understanding our customers’ needs is key. Our customers are facing competition, from not only within their own industry but from disruptors they may never have competed with before. That means that at Fujitsu, we have to be constantly scanning the tech market, our clients’ industries and adjacent industries, to gather valuable insight on the macrotrends that customers may not have seen yet. I believe that if we stay incredibly close to our customers, and put our best people at the coalface of their business, we can create the energy to drive powerful, practical innovation across the business. The leadership team is central to this process, which really helps to keep us all on our toes and innovative.
Evidently, there are changes in leadership style as our world advances. What do you think are the features of a remarkable C-suite leadership today? What’s your advice for the people who want to catapult their career forward in the IT industry or even in other industries?
Leadership has changed dramatically. It’s not simply about “being the best” yourself: you have to empower the great people within your organisation to achieve amazing things and remove the roadblocks in their way. As a leader of a technology business (and of course, many companies are becoming technology businesses), you must surround yourself with people who are fearless, innovative and humble. Being fearless is necessary for all leaders; being innovative allows you to devise creative solutions to new problems; and being humble is absolutely necessary given the pace of change at present. Leaders shouldn’t feel that they must be the smartest person in the room – no one person can know everything, and you must rely on teamwork to be successful.
When it comes to habits, there is no one-size-fits-all agenda. What are your favourite routines to keep yourself focussed and healthy at and off work?
Exercise is incredibly important. It’s great for the brain, and if you have a punishing travel schedule you need to make sure that you’re fit enough for it. Cycling and spin classes are a great passion of mine, and I’ve recently started Pilates (which is admittedly tantamount to torture). But it’s also about being disciplined – not drinking on flights and minimising your caffeine intake, for example. For me personally, I have an amazing family and I value spending as much time with my wife,Sally, and our four children as possible. Doing immersive activities, so that you can really switch off, is important for your health. I used to enjoy riding my motorbike around North Wales – it means I have to concentrate and really shouldn’t think about other things!
What does success mean to you? Any message you wish to share with our readers?
In a business context, success means taking responsibility for whatever asset you have been trusted with, and improving the value of that asset for all stakeholders over time. But to me, success also means approaching everything responsibly. That means being a decent company for the people in your business, caring for employees’ welfare, supporting inclusion in the workplace, improving all of the communities that we work within and of course doing the right thing for our customers. Combine those two together and that, to me, is the true definition of success.
What are the three things you will not leave home without?
For me, it would be four things: my phone, my wallet, my passport and my headphones. With those four things, I can conquer the world.
Thank you very much Duncan. We have learnt a lot.[/ms-protect-content]
About the Interviewee
Duncan Tait is CEO, SEVP and Head of Americas and EMEIA at Fujitsu with more than 27 years’ experience in the ICT industry. His deep business and industry knowledge and global perspective are critical assets that enable Fujitsu to achieve its mission: to use technology to improve global business and society.