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Matt Preschern

Interviews

In-depth analysis of Industries and companies and how they manage complex and
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Profile image: 
In Conversation with Matt Preschern, EVP – Chief Marketing Officer, HCL America Inc
Matt Preschern
Company Name: 
HCL America Inc.
Face to Face Description: 

Austria-born, Matt’s first language is German, he says it with emphasis and characteristic pride. His exposure to cultural diversity started very early. The seeds of which were sown, even unconsciously in his youth, when he spent 2 years in Taipei where his father was posted.

It was in 1991 that he moved to the US and got his Master’s Degree in Business Administration, in Atlanta. Thus began a rather impressive career which saw him work for very large US based companies like UPS, IBM and shuttling between continents. In 1992, the US was hit badly by recession but he was lucky enough to land a great job at UPS, where he spent the next 5 years before moving on to IBM in NY. In process, he got to work in Atlanta, Germany, Mexico, Toronto among others which set a strong foundation for a global career. At UPS, he got consumed by the logistics business and later in IBM, he dabbled extensively in technology which would have a major impact on his thinking process, including problem solving skills. Remember, those days were before Louis Gerstner came along and IBM was on the threshold of disruption, as it readied itself for an uncertain future.

At IBM, he spent around 15 years. It’s a great place to be which offers great career opportunities as well. Two things can happen if you stay that long – either you become an IBM Lifer (in its common parlance) or take that learning to another place to add tremendous value. In HCL, he chose to do the latter. 

After having spent nearly two decades in the industry, he was presented with the current opportunity – the role of Chief Marketing Officer at HCL. Though he had been to India before and was quite familiar with the country’s cultural moorings, this was a rare opportunity. An Indian MNC which was also very strong in cultural diversity. For Matt, it was like hitting the proverbial sweet-spot, not something he could easily let go.

And why not? HCL was a high-growth company with a large employee base in North America and Europe as well, and it had created a very strong brand. What stood out was its employee-centric approach including a strong desire to give back to society through its numerous CSR initiatives. Thus far, his professional journey had predominantly been in sales, marketing and consulting. He was most thankful to his earlier organisations (UPS, a 60 billion dollar company and IBM, a 100 billion dollar one) for providing incredible learnings without which, and he was candid enough to say so, succeeding in HCL would have been extremely difficult.

We live in an interconnected world which is rather exceptional in condensed and instant interaction between people. And hardly constrained by anything – well almost. This underscores the all-important notion of diversity and the significance of being able to work in different cultures.

Today, is that “significant” or is it imperative?

HCL is a great company but very demanding. It’s aspirational and inspirational, is how Matt likes to put it. Focussed on high growth, it’s in a constant state of reinvention. From the time he joined, he has found the company to be introspective, values-driven and at the same time rather extraordinary in its approach to be customer-centric. Also, it has never shirked from being disruptive and has always exhibited a very high degree of courage.

Most enthused by the leaders at HCL, Matt is amazed by the amount of time they spend on innovation, re-invention, especially in the new areas of IoT, digital and cybersecurity. For this, they have something called a Mode 2 Strategy, a differentiated way of functioning in the mobile space (for instance). Creating IPRs and leveraging partnerships are also part of this. The company is always willing to look within to draw upon its inexhaustible resources and find out what’s required to stay competitive in a new world order. But most importantly, speed is not compromised because of this.

Post Brexit and President Trump’s ascendancy at the White House, HCL has made a concerted effort to chalk out a clear strategy for on-shore, off-shore and near-shore delivery, which has worked to its advantage. It is indeed noteworthy that both in North America and Europe, HCL has about 10k employees in employment and with one of the highest percentage of local hires. In addition, hiring from Tier 2 cities in India has served the company in good stead to be able to tap into the country’s vast pool of talent.

He also spoke very highly about the Shiv Nadar Foundation and its contribution to society. At a convocation of the Shiv Nadar University, Raghuram Rajan, who had been invited as a Keynote Speaker had said, this country is very fortunate that it had men like Shiv Nadar, who chose to give back so much to society. Be it business or CSR, the company pushes on relentlessly in its aim to bring about massive change. For Matt, the experience of working at HCL has been nothing short of WOW! Who would have thought this 25 years back when he started his career in US, Matt reminisces.

Questions & Answers: 
Question: 
Please share your thoughts on the evolution of marketing, especially focussing on the digital era. Do you believe, Kotler’s now-famous marketing mix of 4P’s (Product, Price, Promotion & Place) is still relevant?
Answer: 

By his own admission, he is a big fan of Philip Kotler. Indeed, it’s a very good framework for us to begin the discussion and take stock of where we are today – especially the issues that companies are worried about. What are customers really thinking? How does one stay agile and lean? Stay customer centric in an on-line driven environment, how? Who are really, the much avowed ecosystem partners? Rather than phrasing it as Digital Marketing, he’d shift the focus to marketing in a digital world and the evolution of marketing mix.

Product – the shift is towards solutions, or better still, integrated solutions. The emphasis is clearly on experience through vastly increased touch points.

Price – The focus is on value. And, it’s distinctly different in IT Services. More than mere short-term relationships, the distinction is made in cementing long-term relationships. Even if that means, ceding short term benefits. And, value has to be from both sides to make it sustainable.

Place – Access is now through omni-channels. Sure, connects are happening on-line in a digital environment but a powerful off-line mode is also functional 24/7 to make it all possible.

Promotion – An unprecedented level of communication and interaction is taking place today. In an earlier era, we had 24-hour news cycle and today perhaps we have twenty-four 1-hour news cycles. Social media is always ahead of these cycles and plays an integral role in the “promotion” part of the marketing mix.

As he likes to say - even 4000 years back, people conducted business with those who they could trust. It is true even today and likely to remain unchanged 4000 years from now. To do business and cement strong relationships, we have to be able to project certain values, and a very high degree of trust and transparency.

Question: 
Your thoughts on talent availability in India today from a marketing standpoint. Please also share your experience about working with Gen Y.
Answer: 

He does not necessarily subscribe to this hype around Gen Y. Moreover, he isn’t too keen either to have them strait-jacketed in this manner (Gen Y) and would rather refer to them as younger people. He cited his own triggers when he was young: a challenging work environment, an inclusive work culture, a chance to have fun, a life beyond work and a company that helped build a strong reputation and was certainly not just about earning money. These things are true for young people even today. Maybe, the time frame in which they expect these things has become shorter. Even 4000 years back in China, the elders in the community were known to have said that the young people (at that time) have no respect for values. Sounds eerily familiar?

It is true today that enterprises which have access to skilled people will be the winners. This is true globally as much as it is locally. Matt’s 17-year old son will be going to Boston in September, to study Computer Science, and he tells his son often that competition can come from just about anybody and not necessarily restricted to his own geographical sphere.

He is amazed at the quality of talent that is available in India – maturity, drive & desire to succeed, are qualities that he finds quite fascinating. Undoubtedly, the country is on a great path driven by some incredibly smart people. It bodes exceedingly well for the IT industry in particular. Besides technical skills, Indians are most comfortable while communicating in English which provides a massive edge over countries like China.

Question: 
Your thoughts on “software is eating the world”. Where are we likely to go from here?
Answer: 

He spoke enthusiastically about IoT, wearables, automation, AI etc and how it’s already changing the world. I-phone, he gave an example, is only a 10-year old phenomenon but look where we are today in terms of advancement. Most of us carry more than 1 device which guide our lives but at no point should we lose sight of the importance of value in relationships. At HCL, people are at the core and there’s always a balancing act to be played out between intense focus on technology and people. Ultimately, it’s people who drive technology.

Question: 
On India and the opportunities surrounding IoT.
Answer: 

Right now, the market is reasonably progressive with a wide range of applications. However, there’s a whole lot of prospective players waiting at the lines who need more clarity on starting an IoT business, get more exposure to used-cases and most importantly, be able to identify who really is the decision maker for IoT related purchases – CIO / CTO or the CEO himself. Issues like these need further elucidation. But he is rather positive that they will be suitably addressed in due course.

Question: 
It is often said, every single employee is a marketer. What kind of organisational culture would facilitate this kind of thinking? And, do you agree with this line of thinking?
Answer: 

Employees are the most critical asset of an organisation. The way they approach work is also a reflection of the company’s values. At HCL, the mantra has always been about “Employee First”, one which was institutionalised by their former CEO Vineet Nayar.

He mused on a few ideas. For instance, how do you bottle up all that is good about HCL (culture) in its 110k employee base, and spread across 32 countries? What are some of the core principles of an employee-centric organisation? Just to set an example, employees are seen as “idea-preneurs” in HCL - they can come up with great ideas, innovate and contribute to its growth. In this fast-paced journey it is absolutely essential that employees play the most crucial part. In IT Services business which is essentially driven by people, it is central to the thinking process.

Question: 
Your thoughts please on the much elusive “stickiness factor” – customer retention.
Answer: 

At HCL it is astounding and most encouraging to see large enterprise clients being around for more than a decade. A very strong focus on customer centricity has enabled a high degree of customer retention for the company.

At a recently concluded global meet of congregation of large enterprise customers, someone offered a very positive feedback. The gentleman said, customer contracts run into 500 pages or thereabouts, but what HCL delivers is often beyond mere contractual obligations, which is at the core to its values and defines the character of the organisation. Matt emphasised here that relationships go way beyond contracts and when things go wrong, people don’t always check to see if it’s covered in the agreement. In such times, they believe in sitting down with the client and solving the issue. Many organisations make a strong claim to this line of thinking but at HCL, it is how things are done and is part of the DNA. “Because we take relationships beyond the contract”, is how he likes to articulate HCL’s phenomenal success at relationship building.

Question: 
Business pivots, future bets and finally please tell us about your Leadership Mantra
Answer: 

At HCL, it is always about being people-centric and taking relationships beyond contracts as mentioned earlier. They are not afraid to be disruptive but be socially responsible as well, at all times.

About the future:

Winners will be those who can quickly & continuously re-invent themselves to serve customers. With a huge influx of technology, the digital experience of customers will change continually but we have to remain vigilant about cybersecurity in equal measure. Moreover, some jobs will be better performed by machines and we should not stand in their way. The future is about striking and maintaining this balance as we take advantage of technology.

Leadership Philosophy:

In a super dynamic world one has to be able to create a culture that fosters experimentation. Such a culture where successful pilots can be scaled and the unsuccessful ones filed away as part of the learning process. We have to realise that not everything will work, but there ought not to be punitive measures meted out on those who genuinely tried and yet failed.

Secondly, it is about passion. When he takes interviews, this is the single-most important quality which he seeks. Can you work in an environment which is often ridden with ambiguity? And, how resilient are you in being able to handle pressure? Can you get up quickly, when knocked down?

Thirdly, Problem solving skills cannot be always taught, but it’s very important to create an environment which facilitates problem solving.