Nigel Vaz is in the business of digital transformation. He is CEO of Publicis Sapient, a digital consulting firm founded in 1990 in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Jerry Greenberg and J. Stuart Moore as his Sapient. In 2015, Sapient became the wholly owned division of French advertising giant Publicis in a deal worth $3.7 billion. Vaz recently spoke to me about his journey to becoming CEO and the lessons he learned along the way.

Namer consulting Magazine’s Top 25 Global Leader, Vaz advises some of the world’s largest companies on their transformation initiatives. He has a unique perspective on human-driven technology that stems from his childhood experience with the transformative power of technology.

“I grew up with ataxia, a disorder that affects fine motor skills. As a child, holding a pen or pencil was very difficult. So technology has always been a bit of a superpower for me. I did it because I was able to use it to type in words what I wanted to say, and I felt very connected to the fact that this could change my life and people’s lives. We built it early on,” says Vaz. As a child, Vaz was inspired by her beloved comic superheroes. Superheroes often used technology to overcome obstacles.

This has helped Vaz to better understand that technology and inclusion go hand in hand, and that talent exists in many places, but the opportunities to deploy that talent are not always available. Early on, he believed that technology could become a true “superpower” that economically transforms businesses as well as individuals.

With this in mind, Vaz co-founded Internet Solutions while in college. This company provided online connectivity to schools in sub-Saharan Africa. He eventually took the company public and met Nelson Mandela in the process. Mandela encouraged Vaz’s efforts and further supported his belief that technology can change people’s lives for the better. When that company was acquired, he met his Sapient founders, Greenberg and More.

“I was really intrigued by the fact that there are people here who have a bigger vision of the world than we do, who want to leave a very lasting mark on the world,” said Vaz. increase. As an entrepreneur, he learned from the founder how to build a company and culture that scales while maintaining the purpose and mission of the company, and decided to apply that experience to the launch of another company. Still, more than 20 years later, he remained at his Sapient, taking over his CEO role in 2019. Because he felt he could further his own vision of creating technology that would improve people’s lives within Sapient.

Today, Sapient has over 20,000 employees in 53 offices around the world, helping companies such as Tesco, Carrefour, JP Morgan, Marriott, and Walmart with their digital transformation. Under Vaz’s leadership, the company posted its highest revenue growth since its acquisition by Publicis Groupe last year, making it the highest-performing business in Publicis Groupe’s portfolio. We attribute our growth and success to both our culture and our entrepreneurial spirit.

“Publicis Sapient definitely feels more like my company than I have ever founded. I think it was because the cultural dynamic was so important to creating a company that allowed us to do that, and that’s something I’m still very proud of,” says Vaz.

What advice does Vaz have for other CEOs looking to instill an entrepreneurial culture? Define your culture and celebrate it.

I think there are two thoughts related to this. The first is the belief system and value system, which means evaluating the behavior of entrepreneurs. Many companies know that’s what they want to do. The hard part is that and doing it. The second is to create systems, processes, rituals and behaviors that reinforce it,” he says Vaz.

He sets an example within the company. When his team was thinking about how to best apply his digital transformation in terms of client sustainability, the strategy was far from over the top. Instead, it allowed the team to experiment with different ways of how to approach it.

The company had a CPG firm in London, an energy firm in Houston, and people working across the firm looking for the best solution that could be scaled and replicated elsewhere. Once we found the best solution, we put the responsible team on the pedestal and shared best practices. The same process applies to “failure”.

“We do the same thing in situations where the team fails. Here’s all the lessons learned from this idea of ​​whether or not you were wrong, so that everyone knows that it’s okay for you to make another mistake, but you shouldn’t make the same mistake. ’ says Vaz.

Entrepreneurs have to iterate until they find the right solution or market fit. Otherwise, you will go out of business. But Vaz says CEOs are often quick to back off from such entrepreneurial experiments after a few failures and return to centralized decision-making. To get around this, Vaz suggests developing a portfolio his approach to creating innovation pipelines.

To promote this mindset at Publicis Sapient, the company created the Aspire Awards to celebrate and recognize purpose-driven innovation within the company through a crowdsourcing process. Vaz also notes that the company’s hackathon events are another source of innovation in his pipeline. “To address a lot of the problems that I am talking about, we conducted a global hackathon that asks people to solve big, complex problems, and then pick a winner,” he said. say.

Why do 70% of digital transformation programs fail?

As Vaz sees, most transformational initiatives fail because they are seen as projects with a beginning and an end, rather than continuous journeys. “A better way to think about this is, ‘How do we create a culture of continuous evolution or continuous change where our business is constantly evolving to stay relevant?’ ’” he says Mr. Vaz.

Vaz also believes that speed of action is key to successful transformation.He used the acronym SPEED to define this process, with the ‘S’ standing for his SPEED strategy: Form and test hypotheses about your priority value pools. “P” is product: Evolving at pace and speed. “E” is experience: How can you provide value to your customers? The second “E” is engineering: I keep my promise. “D” is data: test hypotheses and reveal insights for constant iteration.

“You hear from CEOs and boards saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’re agile.’ My question is: is your business agile? It can be a target,” says Vaz.

Vaz also points to the idea that the context in which a company embarks on its digital transformation journey is important. It’s not just about moving fast, unleashing engineering talent, or creating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s about harnessing the transformative power of digital tools to improve people’s lives.

“And for me, this goes to the heart of what I’m trying to achieve today, but it’s also certainly where I started my journey. It’s about whether we can leave behind something that is far better than it was, and that group of people will benefit companies looking to advance that journey,” concludes Vaz.


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