What it takes to work for a large organisation
I was part of the most successful IT outsourcing winning team in the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s in the UK. Many times competitors in the IT sector wondered why the company we worked for was so successful in winning the big IT contracts. I always smiled and thought, if only they knew our secret was so simple.
Many people desire to work for large international organisations. I understand the lure of large organisations. I started my career working in small organisations. Whilst some small companies may struggle to pay a bonus of a few hundred pounds, large companies can provide fully expensed company cars in a blink or an annual bonus of several thousand pounds.
My first experience of working in a large organisation was for EDS. The company was a large IT sector company. By all indicators, it was a multinational company, revenue was in $billions per quarter. It was later taken over by Hewlett Packard.
There are several lessons from working in companies where the revenue for the year were in the billions and profit in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The great lessons though are far more important in terms of the way the organisations of this size operate. Yes, you were just a small part of the decision making process and if things were not going to plan, you could easily get fired or made redundant. I enjoyed the reward of working in such an organisation. For me, the real lessons were in the decision making process.
The culture of the organisation was important. The commitment of the staff and the dogged determination to succeed for the good of the company. We spent a couple of weeks being ‘inducted’ into the ways of the company. Those two weeks allowed us to build friendships with people from different parts of the company. They encouraged that sense of belonging and networking.
EDS was started by the new late Ross Perot, the Texan billionaire and US Presidential aspirant. At its peak, EDS was the largest IT outsourcing company in the world with more than 300,000 employees in 64 countries. The success of the company was in it determination to be the best.
I joined the company at the onset of its massive growth in the U.K. in 1994. It went through different stages. You can find out more about the company by clicking on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Data_Systems
EDS staff had a winning mentality that has stayed with me till today. Big IT contracts were our specialty, hence the company had a programme to train its IT staff to the highest level at the head office in Plano, Texas. It had one of the most innovative pricing systems I have ever come across. The system included the use of NPV ( discounting rate), cash flow, risk analysis and pay back (sorry if you are not into finance, this will mean nothing, so don’t worry). These are the techniques learned whilst studying for accountancy exams and on MBA programmes that you never expect to use in real life, but EDS used these techniques to make long term decisions.
Another important lesson came from its decision making process. The budget for bidding for some of these contracts could be as high as $1m. For this amount and on some of the most critical ‘must win’ contracts, our approaches were innovative and focused. The best teams for the jobs will be assembled. We met regularly, to share ideas and plans. The customer requirements were considered, but we always took it to a different level.
We never stopped at just meeting the clients expectations now. We wanted to deliver services far beyond the customers expectations. In many cases, our plans exceeded what the customers could ever dream possible. Most critically though at a price cheaper than they currently pay for less efficient service.
The formula worked. The lessons from my days at EDS were; to find out what the customers wanted, and try to provide something much better, at a lower cost whilst increasing efficiency using the most innovative solutions.
Those lessons have stayed with me. Never be happy to just do what the customers want, blow their ‘socks off’. Unlike companies with physical assets, EDS most valuable assets were its people and told us so.
My advice to anyone trying to start or run their own businesses. Make sure the customers get more than they expect. They will not only trust you, they will open their wallets and stay with you for as long as possible.
Of course we made a lot of mistakes as well. The market became more competitive, we lost some of the most competent staff . Competition increased, we reduced the number of staff that went on the Software Engineer and Financial Training programmes.
But in reality whatever the competitive advantage a company has, unless you continue to improve on it, your competitors will always try to close the gap. Tesla’s massive advantage in electric car production is being closed down not only by the conventional car manufacturers but the others like NIO from China.
Another lesson is continuous improvement and innovation all the time.
So if you plan to start your own company, make sure you develop a culture that will sustain the company and give it a competitive edge. Yes, the culture of the company will evolve over time, but a great foundation can make a difference.
If EDS was so successful, what happened? Competition. The more contracts you have, the more the chances that they will go wrong. The bigger the contracts, the bigger the headline news when they go wrong. The IT outsourcing sector was made up of a few players. The sector was initially overlooked by bigger companies. As the computer hardware sector became more competitive, companies like IBM, Dell, Fijitsu, HP etc. entered the sector. Competition grew, margins were reduced and the company lost the edge. Even more bad news followed. Some big contracts were lost, there were scandals of missed deadlines, more losses followed. To challenge the new runaway leaders, EDS leadership tried to buy the HP IT business, in a complete U turn, HP decided to buy EDS.
The greatest lessons from my days of EDS? Culture was the reason for our success. As we won more contracts, it was difficult to impact the culture in everyone. At one point, more people transitioned into EDS than those employed directly by the company. The pace of technological changes also meant that it was more difficult to impress clients.
People work for their managers and not the company. Collaboration is also important. We worked to win for the company.
You have to treat your people well, especially in a people oriented business. Many of the rewards at EDS were very simple. You worked hard and you are allowed to take the family out for a dinner or flowers sent to your significant other to say thank you when you have been working hard on a project.