What it's like to lead a FTSE 100 firm from isolation

FTSE 100 interview: AVEVA CEO Craig Hayman talks tough love, serendipity and finding opportunity in the COVID-19 crisis.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 07 May 2020
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Coronavirus

You could describe FTSE 100 firm AVEVA as a maker of industrial software, powering anything from seven-metre-wide system operating screens for the oil and gas industry, to life sciences data compliance and quality control systems for food and beverage production lines. 

CEO Craig Hayman has simpler way of putting it: “The cup of coffee you’re drinking was probably roasted using our software.” 

When Management Today first met Hayman at a company rebrand launch in December, AVEVA had finally finished tying up a twice-postponed merger with French company Schneider Electric, a deal that saw the Cambridge-based firm grow three times larger and catapulted it into the FTSE 100 within a period of 18 months.

Hayman joined in February 2018, and after an initial period touring the company’s global offices as part of the internal integration process, he set about overseeing a strategy focused on helping industrial companies undergo digital transformation - ideally, one would imagine, using AVEVA’s software.

Fast forward nearly five months and AVEVA, like many businesses, is a very different place - 95 per cent of the company’s global 4,600 staff are now working completely remotely until September.

AVEVA is in a fortunate position, says Hayman. There is cash in the bank - over £110m - which means that last year’s bonus has been paid as planned, there will be no reduction in salaries and no member of staff has had to be furloughed or made redundant (although the management team has committed 10 per cent of their salaries into the company’s community CSR programme). 

But that doesn’t mean the last few months have been easy.

“We always talk to our customers about going digital. I guess we never really fully thought it would apply to us.”

Despite being labelled by some as the UK’s second biggest tech firm, remote working wasn’t widely prevalent within the company. That presented a big change management challenge.

The majority of AVEVA’s research and development is conducted by co-located scrum teams of 10 to 12 people working physically together, so it was a significant challenge to find the necessary laptops, webcams and the like to enable them to do it remotely, and to ensure that it was set up with adequate cybersecurity. 

“I'd say our R&D productivity - we don't have the data yet - is likely to have taken a hit but they're learning how to work together remotely. It’s a big change.” 

The practicalities can usually be solved if you’ve got enough money and resources, but changing hearts and minds needed a different approach, as levels of acceptance across the business varied.

In a series of all-management meetings that the firm held after the decision to work from home had been made on March 10, Hayman found himself having to repeatedly answer requests from colleagues that they had to be in the office for client meetings the following week. 

At times it required tough love, says Hayman: “This is what we’re going to do and this is how you’ll do it”. It was also about finding a common way that brings people together - he gives a selfie competition as an example of how the company has tried to do this - and providing the resources to enable it to happen. 

“For me it showed the importance of clear, concise communication, clarity of leadership, and leaning on the company values.”

Leading from isolation

Hayman is fully aware of the personal changes in work lives that the coronavirus pandemic is forcing upon people. 

British by birth, Hayman has spent over 30 years in the USA, heading up IBM’s SaaS division and eBay’s enterprise business. His family home is in Connecticut, but for the last six weeks he has been working alone from the stand-up desk at his London flat, punctuated by solo trips to the company’s Cannon Street site. 

He speaks to his wife and two daughters each night (they have dinner together virtually) and regular sprints on his Peloton bike have helped him burn off the pressure of leading a FTSE 100 firm from isolation. 

Working remotely has, if anything, made Hayman’s job as CEO more efficient. He’s able to switch seamlessly between meetings, though recreating the “serendipity that happens between conversations” has been more difficult. “We’re learning to do that, although I’m not sure any way is the ‘right’ way.”

Working through changes

Like nearly every business around the globe, AVEVA is in response mode, which Hayman breaks down into three priorities. Digital first, which means ensuring that everything from the company’s back-office functions, through sales to the on-site configuration (of clients’ software) will be done digitally. Growing its cloud and subscriptions capacities are the other two priorities.

“The key to working through challenges is ensuring that you have a clear structure of what you want to achieve. It’s about being prudent but fast. We know that means we may not get it exactly right, and will work to minimise mistakes, but we are going to choose fast over perfect.”

It’s not lost on Hayman that the changes that AVEVA has had to go through also represent a significant opportunity. Increasingly health-conscious companies in the future may look to automate their workforces, and it could be AVEVA’s software they use. 

“COVID-19, for better or for worse is a situation that forces you to respond. If you’re not managing the situation, you’ll be managed by it.”

Image credit: Courtesy of AVEVA.

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