Leaders need to be empowering. Todd Fein, CEO of Green Diamond, LLC, exemplifies this quality and has used it to spur some profound transformations.
Below are highlights of an interview CIO Look conducted with Todd:
Kindly take us through your journey on becoming a leader.
Like most, it began with my parents modeling what leadership could be – compassion, imagination, courage, diligence, perseverance. That fueled my fascination with what the world could be and what I could do about it. Being captain of a sports team and school officer were early lessons in what people need from leaders, and I’ve journeyed on by leading and serving major transformations throughout my professional career.
In my first job, in the 1990’s, I was one of three people at a $1+ billion consulting firm operating in 40+ countries who designed and was named as a co-inventor of an enterprise-wide system to transform the management of regulated entities. It was not only the first invention to receive a patent in the company’s 30-year history, but it was also nominated for archival in the Smithsonian, showcased to all the governors, and adopted by both agencies and the tens of thousands of companies and entities across the US with whom they interact and exchange data. Last I checked, which was already years ago, the solution was handling well over 1 million permits and $500 million dollars in annual fees.
In my second job, around 2000, I was a founding team member of a company that pioneered a cloud-based event, marketing, and analytics platform, to transform how people connect. Leadership there required helping shape and execute on the go-to-market strategy through a period of explosive growth. Last I checked, they had become the world’s largest platform of their kind, supporting 200,000+ people in 40+ countries on 500,000+ annual events and campaigns.
While founding my next company, I immediately gained a deeper appreciation of leadership in the public sector. I was engaged by the CTO of the State of New Jersey, the top executive the State’s then 1,000+ person, $200+ million central Office of Information Technology (OIT), to help him incubate new ideas and programs, ranging from leadership education and revenue generation to shared infrastructure and technology enablement for economic development.
And from subsequent engagements with both public and private sector clients, ranging from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Education and House of Representatives to Wal-Mart, CVS Pharmacy, and Bank of America, my leadership journey continued through driving solutions that could make the biggest differences for the greatest number of people. For instance, I led concurrent initiatives for our clients CVS Pharmacy, AARP, and the US Department of Health & Human Services to enhance information, advocacy, service, and product for the tens of millions of people they each touch, including roughly 40 million all three served as “customers.” From there, I led efforts to package our work into a reusable solution suite I coined “Insight,” which later became the major attraction for Accenture Interactive, who then agreed to buy that part of the business.
Motivated even more by my three wonderful children, I’m excited to now be leading the evolution of our sustainability strategy and technology platform.
I keep learning much about leadership, and the three things I have learned matter most are that leaders needs to give more than they take, imagine more than they know, and focus more on character than reputation.
How do you differentiate your offerings to appeal to your target audience?
We pair a “triple bottom line” strategy and technology platform with world-class personnel, and we design to scale.
For those unfamiliar with “triple bottom line,” it refers to performance and risk management methods that produce greater and more lasting success by integrating social, environmental, and financial factors. And our platform offers the enabling technology.
When I speak of world-class personnel, I speak of folks like Adel Ebeid, our President. He was formerly the CIO for multiple New Jersey governors, the first Chief Innovation Officer of the City of Philadelphia, one of the Directors of the National Association of State CIOs, a White House recognized Champion of Change, Top 25 Dreamer, Doer and Driver and more. Folks like Brian Prince, our VP, who was formerly North America Director of Markets and Innovation for Veolia, one of the world’s oldest and largest global infrastructure companies. Folks like Bala Dixit, our Senior Technologist, who has broken ground on initiatives ranging from the largest data warehouse for GE Capital to the Hana appliance in the Amazon cloud when SAP was going to market.
For us designing to scale means thinking big, but also acting fast by reusing assets from decades of prior investment to accelerate progress of our clients and solutions.
When we look at different market segments – engineering, infrastructure, and integration, accounting, audit, and advisory, enterprise and speciality software, finance, and so on – we see certain companies slowly converging on the intersection at which we’ve been standing for years, but we still keep hearing from our customers that we’re a very unique and highly regarded force multiplier.
What are the crucial traits which every CEO must possess?
I’m about making things better for all, and I believe in the “sum of the parts,” so empathy and selflessness are core for me, but CEOs need to be able to show people there is something worth pursuing, that it requires taking risks, and to never give up, so being visionary, courageous, and persistent are critical accompanying traits.
As CEO, how do you foster and organize for product innovation?
The more visionary and supportive a CEO is, the further and faster their company will innovate, and committing to support organizational roles with formal responsibilities and budgets for innovation is what makes it a core function, not just an idea, afterthought, or ad-hoc activity. And to ensure our innovations remain relevant and easy to adopt, we always make coinnovating with clients a key goal.
How do you tackle competition in the market?
In addition to differentiators I mentioned earlier, we work extra hard to be more trustworthy, hungry, and nimble than our competitors. We also tend to move in more private circles. We occasionally broadcast and compete openly, like when speaking at a marquee event or responding to an RFP, but clients also often find us by word-of-mouth amongst executives.
As a strategy and solution provider, what are your most vital contributions, and can you give some examples?
Our most vital contribution to the market is being a force multiplier for the largest and most influential public and private sector organizations seeking performance that lasts. We help people measure what matters and innovate with intent, helping them see risks and opportunities otherwise in their blind spots. With each client, we contribute to the individuals who sponsor our work, helping them elevate and do more of what they aspire to do. When we think about contribution, we think “If just one of us does just one thing well today with just one key person at one client, it means potential improvement for millions of people.”
For example, we were asked by Trucost, now a Dow Jones company, to partner on the Newsweek Green Rankings, which prompted financial markets to adopt ESG as a mainstream investment philosophy. And we were subsequently asked by them and Ecolab to build the first prototype of a tool to reveal the true cost of water, a resource often mistaken for being abundant and affordable instead of a scarce and costly. Marriott was amongst the first to experiment. Similar timeframe, we were asked by the SEC-related PCAOB to facilitate the vision and plan for enhancing business intelligence.
At ExxonMobil, we were asked by their procurement executives to guide the strategy and architecture for a supply chain analytics solution, including not just financial metrics, but also non-financial metrics, like exposure to human trafficking.
When we were asked to lead the planning and implementation of the business intelligence initiative for the Overseas Buildings Operations Bureau of the US Department of State, which is responsible for the ~$50 billion global portfolio of ~24 thousand buildings through which the US coordinates diplomacy, development, and defence, doing one thing well meant the possibility of enabling members of the Department’s ~90k personnel to transform results on safety and stability, cost of living, or other improvement goals for the millions of US and global citizens they touch.
At Masco Corporation, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of brand-name building products, we have had the privilege of helping their corporate head of EHS and sustainability, Sara Osterman, transform their sustainability program. In their most recent Corporate Sustainability Report, CEO Keith Allman recognized her work and the partnership with Green Diamond, through which we have helped devise and implement strategies and technologies to capitalize on sustainability for strategic planning, management, measurement, innovation, stakeholder engagement, and the bottom line.
What are your endeavours for the future and where do you see things near-term?
Near-term, we will continue to focus on helping clients achieve breakthroughs they want on the performance and risk management. For strategy consulting, that means continuing to help with governance, materiality assessment, measurement, reporting, and change management. For technology, it means continuing to focus on helping with things like data capture, integration, prediction and prescription via IoT, big data, data science, augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and so on.
Longer-term, we have a few ambitions. First, we want to help unify the vast array of opinions and protocols on what defines a “smart,” “innovative,” “resilient,” and/or “sustainable” organization into one standard, or at least a set of conforming standards. We want to connect private wealth and financial markets with public projects, harnessing the potential of business models that unleash public-private-partnerships in new ways. We want to establish an R&D arm for incubating new technology, including with partners. And finally, we want to create an actual sustainable city, to become the model for scaling to sustainable regions, countries, and ultimately the world.