Leading Change and Disrupting Industries in the Process

Leading Change and Disrupting Industries in the Process 640 446 C-Suite Network

by Neil Gaydon


I was brought into SMART Technologies more than 18 months ago to provide a new direction to a company loved throughout the world of education. I had a global platform to work with as SMART is the largest supplier of interactive displays to educators. We invented the SMART Board 20 years ago, first brought technology en masse to the front of a classroom and changed the world of education with our software and SMART Boards.

However, high penetration rates and budgets being redirected into personal devices and infrastructure meant SMART’s world was changing. Understanding the significant headwinds we were experiencing highlighted the need to diversify into new industries. While this meant significant restructuring, the methodology was simple: Create two independent business units to handle very different industries and customers, establish a customer-centric culture and come up with new product ideas that could disrupt markets that had become tired.

Once the new business units for enterprise and education were established, we then set about creating flatter structures. This would eliminate the tiers of management that were clogging the arteries of fast decision making and personal accountability. We embraced a new business language, with key performance and financial metrics that would help speed decision making, remove ambiguity and ensure our people from all different countries and cultures spoke the same business language. Today, our common language, metrics and goals are the mantra of the company; every employee knows what it means, bleeds customer focus, demands great execution and takes personal accountability.

However, a new culture cannot be communicated — it has to be owned and lived by everyone. One way to encourage that is to build trust among employees. SMART holds regular Town Hall meetings where I talk openly about our results and our progress, both the good and the not so good. We don’t shield our employees from the realities of our company — we use those realities to reward achievement when we do well and inspire better performance when we don’t. Every employee understands his or her individual contribution to the company and how he or she impacts the business every day. This not only drives accountability and great execution, but it also engenders a sense of belonging.

While this was not an overnight project, these changes have led to a new SMART, with a growing vibrancy, energy, passion and trust. We are just starting to see the benefits of all our hard work by the new groundbreaking, innovative products we are starting to launch.

  1. We are disrupting ourselves in education with the invention of the world’s first purpose-designed education interactive panel, coupled with SMART’s world leading Notebook software which is now just starting to replace the old projector based interactive whiteboard.
  2. We launched SMART amp which glues together all devices in a classroom regardless of O/S, brand, laptop, tablet or front of class device, with latest pedagogy at the core of its design.
  3. The meeting room has become stale, expensive and difficult to use. Microsoft’s Lync software combined with SMART’s world leading room system has the capability to change the meeting room forever to what it ought to be – simple, used regularly and throughout a company (not just the Boardroom) and enabling collaboration.
  4. The dry erase board and flip chart are a joke in today’s connected world, yet people love them because they are easy to use. SMART kapp is just as simple to write on but magically allows anyone to capture, save and share their ideas and thoughts to any device, anywhere, anytime. No need for blurry photo’s or scribbling down notes. Everyone who sees and uses SMART kapp falls in love with it as it solves a real problem, makes things easier and seamlessly joins the analog world of writing with a dry erase pen with the digital world of connectivity and actually enables collaboration. kapp has the capacity to change the world for the masses just as we did in the classroom 20 years ago. Except this time it’s not only education, kapp is for everyone.

It is our new culture that has allowed us to achieve this level of innovation and disruption in such a short period of time. SMART kapp provides a great example. I wanted to explore new revenue streams for the company and saw we are great at formal collaboration scenarios with sophisticated solutions. But organizations were still using dry-erase boards to collaborate and share ideas. I wanted a product that was as simple to use as the dry-erase board but that aligned closer to the values of collaboration SMART believes in. I wanted a dry-erase board that could actually save and share information and connect workers in different locations.

Rather than look outside for early stage solutions, I encouraged the company to solve this problem. We had the talent and people with years of understanding collaboration, and now with our internal transformations we had the culture and processes to enable such innovation. We had teams present various solutions, and from those presentations, SMART kapp was born. SMART kapp is an exciting new product which not only disrupts the boring old dry erase board and flip chart but will create an entirely new category — just as we did when we first invented the SMART Board more than 20 years ago.

SMART Technologies is a perfect example that disruptors don’t have to be startups. You need the right strategy, structure and culture to truly enable an organization to deliver customer-centric solutions. The headwinds in our education business don’t feel as strong because we are out fighting with a transformed organization, new high performance culture, belief in the talent of our people, exciting innovation and a complete commitment to our customers.

Hear more from Neil in his interview with C-Suite Radio.

neilNeil Gaydon was appointed President and CEO of SMART Technologies in October 2012 and became a director of the Company in February 2013. Prior to joining SMART, Mr. Gaydon was CEO of Pace plc, a technology developer for pay TV and broadband service providers. During his tenure as CEO at Pace, he led the company through a major turnaround resulting in a ten-fold increase in revenues to become the world leader. Prior to becoming the CEO of Pace, he served in numerous executive and senior positions there, including President Pace Americas, which he established and led for five years. Before joining Pace, Mr. Gaydon worked with a number of technology companies in various key roles. Throughout his career, his hallmark has been defining and executing strategy, creating effective structure and changing business culture on a global scale.