How a disastrous product pitch taught Stanley Black & Decker's CTO the importance of checking egos at the door - and why all aspiring tech leaders need to take note
Stanley Black & Decker
- The job of chief information officer can be particularly humbling as the role gains increased authority within companies.
- The need to manage diverse personalities across the enterprise means it's critical that CIOs keep their ego in check.
- Stanley Black & Decker's Mark Maybury learned the lesson first-hand when a disastrous pitch at CNN taught him to always keep the end customer in mind.
- It's one reason why Maybury now brings members of other teams on site visits to expose them to new technology like artificial intelligence.
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The job of a technology chief can be very humbling.
Increasingly, these executives must manage a wide-range of personalities from all areas of the business after spending decades serving more as support staff than a driver of business strategy. Projects are also growing more complex as companies look to adopt artificial intelligence and other advanced tech - and many leaders need to get comfortable with failure.
That's why it's so important for aspiring IT leaders to keep their egos in check, according to Mark Maybury, Stanley Black & Decker's first chief technology officer.
"You want to be exposed to a much broader set of insights, of diverse perspectives and experiences that will make you grow as an individual and importantly, as a leader," he told Business Insider.
It's a lesson Maybury learned firsthand when he was working at Mitre Corporation, a not-for-profit research organization. The team had just obtained a patent for a system that uses artificial intelligence to watch and analyze television news. Among other things, it could translate speech into text and, in some cases, detect what a segment was about by just analyzing the images shown on the TV.
"Our ego was soaring pretty high," Maybury said. Then he went to try to pitch the system to CNN and "got our tails put between our legs."
The problem was Maybury and his team hadn't thought about how to actually market the application in a way that made sense for CNN. And it reinforced how important it is to keep the end user in mind, whether they be an outside client or employees.
The whole experience made for a much different trip home than they were expecting. "I've never gone from such a high to such a low," he said.
'They become your ambassadors'
That experience helped show just how damaging an egocentric mentality can be for tech leaders.
And it reinforced for Maybury how important it is to ask for help in understanding the needs of the customer, which for CTOs is often an organization's own workers. But it's also critical to educate employees so they understand how the new tech offerings address those needs.
It's one reason why he makes it a point to always bring members from outside his team - like a member of the finance or marketing divisions - to offsite visits at Stanley Black & Decker's manufacturing plants and other locations.
"They can learn together with us," he said. "They become your ambassadors, your partners when you go back to the organization."
Maybury brought along supply chain experts to a visit to one of Amazon's fulfillment centers where robots were working alongside humans. Those types of experiences can help ease concerns around the technology - a key impediment to digital transformations - and instead show what is possible with the advanced applications.
Another technique Maybury uses to better connect with other teams in the organization is attending divisional meetings to learn employee concerns, the production challenges they are facing, financial pressures, and what innovations the sector might be most interested in.
"You sometimes have to insert yourself into the businesses, obviously to add value, not to disrupt them. But partly it's educational," he said. "The more you can deliver them value, then they'll invite you back."
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