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Engagement Radio: C-Suite Network CEO Thomas White: Silos Still Thrive - Interview Transcript


C-Suite NetworkPaul: Welcome to the podcast. We’re here today with Thomas White, the CEO and co-founder of the C-Suite Network, the first organization we know of that focuses on attracting all the members of the C-Suite across all industries. This is a unique focus, and from an Enterprise Engagement standpoint, we think this idea of bringing leadership together is all about engagement and aligning the key divisions so that everybody is focused on common goals.

Our guest today is Thomas White who, along with Jeffrey Hayzlett and Karl Post, founded the C-Suite Network. They will be holding their annual summit in a few weeks in New York, September 12th through the 13th. The EEA community, those who are listening, if you go to EnterpriseEngagement.org, you can get 50% discount on attendance. And with that let’s welcome Thomas White.

Thomas: Thank- you Paul, good to be here.

Paul: This is interesting to me to get to talk to you about this whole C-Suite Network thing. Let’s just jump right in: What is the vision of C-Suite Network?

Thomas White, the CEO and co-founder of the C-Suite NetworkThomas: You sort of said it a little bit in your introduction and I’ll just give a little history. We originally were going to have this be the CEO Network. We’d been thinking about this for many years since my partner, Jeff Hayzlett, was the chief marketing officer at Kodak. We wanted to have an organization that we wanted to belong to, that supported people and their success, that supported your life – not just in your business, but everything. We got walking down that track finally maybe four years ago, and then Jeff was sought out by Bloomberg TV to do a prime-time program for them called The C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett.

As the program was coming together, we realized that we would be far more valuable to people if we shifted from just dealing with the quarterback and dealt with the whole team to create success. So we created the C-Suite Network to have that cross-functional conversation so that people can start understanding each other’s perspectives because they all want the same goal – they just have different points of view. But how do you bring these points of view into alignment? One of the great visions of us for the C-Suite Network is, if I’m a CEO of a business, I can talk to a chief marketing officer (CMO) from another company who doesn’t work for me, knowing he’s not worried about what I think.

I can listen to his insights which help deal with my CMO better, which helps me be a better customer, if you will, for the kinds of services that other people on the C-Suite team are performing to create a successful business. Our vision is to have this be the most trusted network of business leaders in the world. One of the challenges today is virtual networks, and we have that as part of what we do. Take LinkedIn, for instance. I can say I’m the CEO of the largest mining company in the world and there’s nobody who’s going to challenge me. Of course, I’m not and never will be, and as soon as I reach out to you and say, “Hey, I want to connect with you.” I’m sure I’m going to try to sell you something because I get those solicitations, as you do every day.

We want to create something that was vetted so everybody who’s in the network belongs there. It’s like a club, you may not know that person, or you may not even care for that person, but you know they belong in this room. You can have a dialogue with them because they understand the same issues that you’re facing.

Paul: That’s great. You’ve got a network of people who are connecting. They’re from different areas of the company. But do you think with all this focus today on employee engagement, and on engaging multiple audiences, that companies are set up to succeed? Do you think that the average organization is set up for this new era in which we have customer and talent and vendor engagement, where all of those are critical for success? Do you think we’re set up that way, the average company?

Thomas: Absolutely not. I think that we’re still pretty siloed. Marketing is marketing, sales is sales and so forth. Go to business schools, they don’t teach anything different today than they did 10, 15, 20 years ago. We have some different techniques and we have some different modalities; we have social media today and we didn’t have that before. Social media is an interesting phenomenon because it’s demanding that we change the way we work, because today, as a marketing person, I can’t create spin around a bad product. I can’t control what my customer is going to say and it’s visible to everyone, so we must do that. As a C-Suite team, we need to worry about how we’re being perceived in a transparent way and then how do engage people with those perceptions.

The whole game, as Sherlock Holmes used to say, is that we have to change the way that we think, we have to change the way we act. The companies that do will succeed, and the ones that don’t won’t be around anymore.

Paul: You mentioned the whole social media thing and that it has really changed the conversation. The push used to be the way you could do it. You could just push out what it is you wanted people to hear, but now there’s that whole undercurrent of conversation that has nothing to do with what you want them to talk about; it’s their experience. When you think about that, the individual brands, I deal a lot with companies on their channel programs, so they talk about their brands. I used to do a lot more work in human resources; they’d talk about employee branding.

So how do you see companies looking at their brand through this idea that I have to manage the brand in multiple places? Is there something different going on there?

Thomas: Well sure, because what is brand and I how do I convey brand? Brand, in the simplest set of words, is a promise delivered. Then what’s the promise the organization has to all of its constituencies? It’s not just to my customers, it’s also to those people who are impacted by that purchase, those people who help me produce those products and services. It’s those people who invest money in my company so that I can do the things that I need to do. All of those constituencies have to be addressed or I’m not going to have the support network I need for success.

Paul: Are you seeing any specific ways that companies are aligning so they can have that conversation and take advantage of all those different touch-points?

Thomas: Yes. There are two major phenomena – one we touched on already, which is social media, and the other is big data. Big data by itself is worthless, but big data that’s analyzed, and the insight driven from it, is powerful. It doesn’t matter your industry. It could be farming where we’re gathering all the data about everything a tractor does and for John Deere. The people in retail who are watching everything we do with our loyalty cards and so forth. People are just watching what’s said on the internet and in social media and we’re aggregating this information first, so we start building composites. Then we’re taking that down to the individual levels and looking at what the networks look like, what these networks of influence.

I think that’s the key word – what’s the network of influence? We have multiple networks of influence and we need to touch those people that are influential in these networks. Everybody isn’t the same. If I have a bad experience, I may just go away mad. Somebody else has a bad experience, they’ll tell 100 people, who’ll tell another 100 people, then I have a huge problem. I have to find those folks that matter – not that we don’t need to pay attention to people, but at a big company I can’t do that with everyone, so I have to have the ones that are going to help reflect and represent the true sentiment of those people who are my customer base or my constituencies.

Paul: The idea of getting everybody on the same page and making sure that we’re focused…isn’t that the mission of the C-Suite Network, to bring everybody in so we’re having the same conversation? I know the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA) is a sponsor of the Enterprise Engagement Council. Can you talk to me a little bit about what that means, what is the concept of councils and how is that shared within the community?

Thomas: Let’s just talk about the community first. This is an online community, so as I mentioned earlier, we’ve created a brand new community that’s about to roll out after two years of testing and experimentation. It’s like LinkedIn mixed with Facebook, with a little iTunes thrown in for size. What that means is that it’s a way for people to connect with each other so I can say: Who’s interested in this topic? Who’s in this kind of industry? Who’s a company that’s the same size as mine? Then I can find them and I can find out about them.

We all are in the news somewhere, right? I can have my profile information like I do on LinkedIn – here’s my work history, here’s my education, here are the things I’ve accomplished. We also have a plan to show when you’ve been in the news. I have a really authentic connection with you and that’s part of the person-to-person part. Now, I‘m in that network for connecting with people, but I’m also in this network to create insights. We don’t believe that C-Suite leaders need to be the smartest people in the room, we believe they need to be the most strategic people in the room. They have a different point of view, they have to hold operations and strategy in the same viewpoint. They have to hold the present and the future in the same viewpoint.

To do that you need to constantly be challenging the status quo. What the council here is doing is bringing both content that helps people think outside the box – have different perspectives than they would have normally, but also periodically engage in conversations. We provide a space for this content and online discussions and interactions, but also we can periodically say, “Hey, we notice there’s a lot of conversation about employee engagement in this particular industry. Anybody who’s interested in talking about that; 2 p.m. on Tuesday we’re going to have a meetup.” We have the technology as part of this that they can all show up, that they can see who’s there and boom, they have a conversation.

Paul: I’m listening to you and I’m thinking to myself: You’re right, this is a mash up of a lot of different things, but the key thing in my mind is this is a vetted audience. You have a velvet rope, so to speak, around this so I know by joining that I’ve got this safe area where I can have these conversations.

Thomas: Well said, and we learn that from our events. We’re about to have our seventh event and, yes, we’d love for the people listening to this to register, and they should do it soon and put a bid in for it because we’re about full. In the next 10 days it will be sold out, which is great, but the most important benefit people have by coming to our events is that they get to meet other people like themselves. People walk away from our events 100% of the time saying, “I met the most interesting people and we’re already doing business together.” We’re now taking that physical experience and bringing it to the online environment.

Paul: I think the beauty of this is also that it’s not just me meeting people like me, it’s meeting people like me that are really a little different than me. I might run into the C-Suite Marketing person or the C-Suite Information Technology person when I’m in Human Resources. They’re like me, but they’re different enough that it gets the conversation really going. So you’ve got an event in New York coming up on September 12th and 13th, correct?

Thomas: Correct, the evening of 12th, we have a reception, and all day on 13th there will be a tremendous program. It’s at the Time Center in the heart of New York City.

Paul: Great, and you also have one coming up in November in San Francisco?

Thomas: That’s right. It’s the 7th and 8th of November; it’s also in downtown San Francisco at the Bespoke Center and, again, an evening reception and then programs all day the next day. The reason we do these evening receptions the night before is so people can meet each other and say, “Hey, I want to talk to you at breakfast, I want to talk to you at lunch tomorrow.” We really do all we can to help people connect and have the networking experience that they come for.

Paul: Perfect. Thanks so much for your time, Thomas, and everybody that’s listening, don’t forget, you get a 50% discount if you sign up for the next C-Suite summit in New York.

Thomas: Always my pleasure, thanks.

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