CEO to CEO Podcast: Andy Zimmerman

March 17, 2021 Kevin Campbell

The CEO to CEO podcast is hosted by Kevin Campbell, CEO of Syniti.

This week's guest is Andy Zimmerman, president of frog design, one of the world's leading design and innovation firms. Prior to joining frog, he was the managing director of the Accenture New Businesses, where he launched the Accenture Interactive and Mobility Businesses that make up the majority of what is now Accenture Digital. Previously, he was a managing director at Idealab, one of the first and most successful incubators and global managing partners for e-business at PwC.

 

 

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Kevin Campbell (01:29):

Welcome to this week, CEO to CEO Podcast. Today, we're delighted to have on with us, Andy Zimmerman. Andy's the CEO of frog design. So, we'll explore with him what a design company is like. And Andy's done a lot of other interesting things in his life, including being an author. So, we'll talk about all that. Welcome to the show, Andy.

 

Andy Zimmerman (01:55):

Well, thanks, Kevin. Great to be here.

 

Kevin Campbell (01:58):

How about if you start out with just giving us a little quick overview of your career?

 

Andy Zimmerman (02:03):

Just briefly, I started out life wanting to be the great American writer, novelist, as you mentioned, Kevin, I was a little late getting my first novel out last year. But then I fell into business, and ended up... A chunk of my career was at PwC Consulting, ultimately running the e-business practice back in the dot-com era. Then I got involved with venture capital, I was a managing director at Idealab, one of the leading incubator VCs at that time. And ran a public company for a while, and then spent 10 years at Accenture where you and I cross paths, doing everything from running the comms practice to really being involved in starting up Accenture Digital. And then basically, I've been at frog for the last six years as their CEO.

 

Kevin Campbell (02:53):

And so why don't you tell us what attracted you to frog?

 

Andy Zimmerman (02:59):

Well, frog is one of the iconic design firms in the world. It's actually more than 50 years old. Its founder, Hartmut Esslinger was a German designer who was famous for example, working with Steve Jobs in the early Apple years, having worked with Steve to design the Apple IIc, the Apple Macintosh, Lisa followed into NeXTcube and design NeXTcube. The actual software design, the Snow White design language, all of that was frog and Hartmut. But since then we were kind of famous for work that we've done in areas like more recently, SiriusXM, the most newest version of that, the newest version of HBO Max, the home lighting system for IKEA it just goes on and on.

 

And so, a lot of work for an amusement park company I cannot name but redesigning the entire experience at the largest amusement park in the world. And so it's a lot of fun to kind of be exposed to the way in which designers think, and the kind of work that we get to do. It tends to be kind of state-of-the-art a little bit bleeding edge, if not a lot bleeding edge. And I like to say that I get to see the future before it appears in the real world by running frog.

 

Kevin Campbell (04:17):

That's awesome. That's got to be exciting. So, how does frog attract clients and get work? It sounds like an iconic brand, been around for a long time. How do they get new clients?

 

Andy Zimmerman (04:34):

Yeah, it's interesting. Most of our work is inbound. Most of the time it's people calling us and asking us to propose to do something, and it really is because of the power of the brand. They either know someone who's used us or they've used us at another company. On the designer side, most designers study the work in school. Most, they study the Snow White design language which probably was the first and most successful design language in design history, things like that. So, some of the kids that come into frog tell me, "God, I can't believe I'm working at frog. I studied it when I was in school." So, I think in a design community in particular, not necessarily in a greater business community, frog is incredibly well-known. I think in places like Silicon Valley, because of the history we've had with Jobs and Michael Dell and others where frog is very well known as well in the technology space.

 

Kevin Campbell (05:39):

So, describe to us... I know you guys have labs, describe to us how you work with clients? Because I think it's fascinating based on what we've talked about before.

 

Andy Zimmerman (05:49):

We are sort of studio-based business. So, our frog's, then we can talk about the pandemic, but before the pandemic, our folks would work in studios, we're in 14 studios in 10 different countries, and these studios are set up purposely to encourage flow of people. There's not a lot of standing workstations and so forth, there's a lot of rooms. The rooms actually change. Most of the rooms have moving walls and are designed around particular programs we're working on.

 

So, they're very flexible and they're physical, meaning for example, we were hired by a beverage company recently to come up with a craft beer retail concept, and we actually built the store in the studio in New York, a prototype of the store. And then had real people come in and walk through it. And we looked at the flows and interview them and kept diary. So, it's a very dynamic place where one day you might see a robot fighting another robot, and then the other day you might see a craft bar where a bunch of people seem to be drinking beer and having a good time. And that's sort of the environment at frog.

 

Kevin Campbell (06:56):

How do you decide as CEO what stuff you get involved in? Is it mostly on the sales side or do you stay close to some of the big accounts? How do you figure out your day?

 

Andy Zimmerman (07:11):

I happen to have someone working with me, the COO who's very strong, and so operationally I can rely on him to deal with a lot of the things around finance and ops. My focus tends to be on clients and sales and relationships. People, designers, creatives require a lot of attention, a lot of care and feeding. What motivates them is quite different than the type A kind of traditional consultant. And one of the things that motivates them is that they feel they're getting attention, they're being listened to even at my level. And then I'm out there with the press and the media and speaking and so forth, because we do... Our brand is about forecasts, future casting and the future and trends and so forth. So, that's where I'm spending most of my time, media speaking, key client relationships, and then taking care of our people.

 

Kevin Campbell (08:05):

What are some of the favorite projects, you've mentioned some, but some other ones that come to mind that you guys have done so far or most recently?

 

Andy Zimmerman (08:13):

We're working on one today that happens to be a favorite of mine. I can't really say the name of the company. It's a stealth mode startup, but it's very backed by some major investors. And it's a application to train puppies. So, this is particularly germane to me, because my partner and I just acquired a puppy about two months ago, and it's not ready, the application, so we're training it, we're learning the hard way, but what it is a combination of things. So, it's an internet of things type of application, because there are sensors around the home that sense both movement and audio for the dog. Then all that data goes up into cloud, and there's an AI application running up there that analyzes that motion and audio, and then feeds back on a mobile app back to the owner and prompts the owner for what to do.

 

And so it helps the owner train the puppy. So, it utilizes a lot of leading edge technology in terms of sensors and AI. It also solves a very human and real need. And of course, it's going to do really well on our website, it's kind of similar to those ads you see for the puppies and the animal shelters on the news. We'll definitely play this one out when we can go public with it, because it will target the hearts of people everywhere when they see these little puppies being trained.

 

Kevin Campbell (09:36):

Well, you'll have to let me know when it's available, because I should be an earliest subscriber. Because I've got a 14-year-old and a six-year-old Labradoodles, and they have had tried many training programs. And let's say, they're saying, they're trying to train me and I haven't succeeded, so [crosstalk 00:09:54].

 

Andy Zimmerman (09:54):

Well, I'll put you on a waiting list.

 

Kevin Campbell (09:57):

All right. Well, tell us about COVID, and how has COVID changed the business? As you said, you've got studios all over the place and [inaudible 00:10:06] to I've had a pretty big change.

 

Andy Zimmerman (10:08):

Yeah, no, it was fairly dramatic. We have a studio in Shanghai and that's where it started, of course. And that was the first studio to close. That also was the first studio to reopen interestingly. But as we kind of had the COVID going around the world into Europe and then North America, we began to close our studios. One of the things we do is a lot of design research and we do it in the field. So, when we do research, we'll go to people's homes. We'll do photo diaries, we'll do observation, interviews and so forth. All of that, of course couldn't happen with COVID. So, we lost our ability to do in-person design and research. We lost our ability to be in studios to work. And frankly, when this started happening, if you would ask me what the impact it would have on our business, I would have thought maybe it will cut it in half, because I just felt like that's what we do.

 

Everything we do requires people being together. What's happened is we've learned that you can do a lot through remote working, using tools like Teams and Miro and so forth. And actually was a setback early on, of course when just everyone was shocked by COVID. Since then, we now grow and actually having some healthy growth and hiring people. And about half of our studios are partially open. Half are pretty much completely closed. We have done a survey of clients and employees and what we found was clients feel the quality of work is the same as before. What they miss is more the social human touch aspect of the relationship. They miss the dinners, they miss the sidebar conversations, but they think the quality's there. The productivity is up because people don't have many distractions. And then depending on the demographic of the employee, older employees, and of course mothers, or employees with families and so forth actually are quite positive about the flexibility they now have.

 

Younger employees actually really do want to come in in the studios because part of becoming part of frog is that experience. But businesswise has been very... I think a lot of people it's been very eye-opening and we're definitely rethinking the role of the studio going forward, it may become more of the new offsite type of thing. Using it for marketing and offsite purposes, a little less for working purposes although when we do plan to reopen studios, we just probably won't need as much space going forward.

 

Kevin Campbell (12:42):

How has it been to attract and hire people, especially when it's such a creative atmosphere that you're looking for, creative spark, juice in COVID? Have you been able to hire good people?

 

Andy Zimmerman (12:55):

Yeah. I think since the beginning of the year, I think we've hired about 50 people, which is a lot for a company the size of frog, partly because businesses booming and we're pretty happy with the results we're getting. We have a fairly rigorous approach, and so we do a lot of interactive types of exercises as part of the interviews which we do in person but now we're doing with tools like Miro and so forth. And then we'd go out of our way to using different rituals, we call them, to kind of welcome and onboard people in a situation where they've never been to the studio.

 

Kevin Campbell (13:42):

Right.

 

Andy Zimmerman (13:42):

And so, we have this sort of frog me thing where you give a presentation to people in your studio when you first come on board, you have a mentor, kind of a person that moves you around the organization and so forth. So, I think there's no doubt people really do miss the human touch part of it, but we have been able to successfully attract and retain people, our attrition's down from previously, I think because people are just a little bit more reluctant to explore the market when they're happy where they are. But yeah, we've been pretty lucky on the recruiting side.

 

Kevin Campbell (14:19):

You talked about organic growth. Do you guys do acquisitions too as your main strategy? If you look forward, two, three years is most of it organic growth?

 

Andy Zimmerman (14:30):

Historically frog has pretty much entirely been organic growth. We bought a little outfit in Milan like 20, 30 years ago, and a little digital group in Austin, which was great because it became our Austin studio, which is one of our largest and of course, with the market there, it's perfectly positioned. But those were very modest. It's all been organic. We were acquired by Capgemini last year, and I think that there are related services kind of adjacent to frog where there might be opportunities to acquire companies in related, in adjacent areas. But up to now, our growth has been organic.

 

Kevin Campbell (15:14):

Let's talk just quickly about some of the stuff you guys do to give back. So, I know there's some not-for-profit projects that you do, and I've had a chance to look at some of those. So, are there a couple that come to mind in the giveback category of things that you guys are doing?

 

Andy Zimmerman (15:33):

Yeah, I think the way we give back is we'll do work for NGOs and so forth frankly at rates that barely cover our costs type of thing. And some of the larger programs we did recently, we did one pretty famous one for the UN around crisis management. So we developed a platform that if there is a natural or a manmade crisis, whether it's war, earthquakes, whatever it is, there's a platform now they use so all the various stakeholders, all the health services organizations, the governmental organizations so forth can access this platform and work off of a common sort of moment of truth as to what's going on in the ground. And that's been activated and used very successfully. So, that's just helping people in crisis.

 

One we did recently sponsored by a Nike brand was work we did around teaching girls to dance in Northern Africa countries. Traditionally, they tend to be kept in their huts until they're ready to be married. That's sort of the culture. And so, the kind of request was how do we get them to begin to socialize prior to getting married? How do we get them to socialize with each other? And we used dance as a way of bringing them together and introducing them to socialization outside of their family, basically but short of starting a family, which may seem like an obvious thing in Western culture, but it was something in the African Muslim culture is something that was new. And so, we had to navigate between the cultural sort of constraints you're dealing with and the desire to kind of give young women, teenage girls an opportunity to just to experience a social life.

 

Kevin Campbell (17:33):

That's great. And we mentioned before that you told us that you always wanted to be an author and this year you finally are. So, what was the inspiration to finally get your book done? And what's it based on?

 

Andy Zimmerman (17:50):

Yeah, so the book and no problem plugging it, Journey by Andrew Zimmerman. It's on Amazon and everywhere else. But what happened was really... It's not a memoir, it's a novel, but it was inspired by some personal events in my life. In fact, while I was at Accenture, I think probably Kevin, you were there at the same time. I went through an experience, very almost accidentally. Now I would say synchronistically. I went through an experience where I was introduced to a little village in England called Glastonbury best known for the music festival, but also a place of rich history and mythology. And now a bit of a new age sort of gathering place. And there, I had a reading, a soul reading with an individual that just opened me up and it kind of awakened me and kind of put me in touch with myself.

 

And that led to a series of events and a bit of a journey in my life in terms of getting to know my younger self and getting to come up with a new way of dealing with business challenges and personal challenges, and inspired me to write the book. So, while it is fiction, it is about a character who is kind of an... You would recognize Kevin is called ascendant in the novel, not a very well-disguised term for Accenture, but it's a hard-driving guy trying to get to the top at a big place like Accenture and he kind of loses track, what's important and what's meaningful. And then it kind of both somewhat humorously and with humor and sometimes with real drama.

 

It paints a picture of someone trying to navigate the spiritual and the business world and he has to make some decisions at the end of the book. And there's two novels to follow as a trilogy. So this is just the first one.

 

Kevin Campbell (19:44):

Are you working on the second one now?

 

Andy Zimmerman (19:44):

Yeah. I'm about two thirds through the first draft. We're supposed to try to get it out in March, which was the first anniversary of the novel, of Journey, but it's going to be later, probably late summer now. But yeah, no, I'm pretty far along.

 

Kevin Campbell (19:58):

What advice would you have for any CEOs out there that want to write a novel?

 

Andy Zimmerman (20:03):

Well, probably I wouldn't try to do it.

 

Kevin Campbell (20:07):

Right?

 

Andy Zimmerman (20:07):

I'd say only CEOs that travel a lot to Europe and Asia should do it because where I found my most productive time for writing, we were on long flights. Five, six hour flights, or of course, Asia, even more. I got a lot of chapters written on these long flights where you don't have the phone conductivity anyway, the audio.

 

Kevin Campbell (20:27):

Right.

 

Andy Zimmerman (20:28):

But it was hard. It took me eight years for the first one, so, it wasn't like I wrote it in the weekend or anything.

 

Kevin Campbell (20:37):

Yeah. No, it's quite a new set of labor of love though, right?

 

Andy Zimmerman (20:43):

Yeah. Yeah, no, I had to do it. The one thing I would say is the most fulfilling thing for me is... And it's done reasonably well. It did make number one bestseller for metaphysical fiction when it first came out on Amazon. But sometimes I get a note from someone, I don't know who they are and it gets to me through LinkedIn or something. And they say, "Gee, I read your book and I was sort of opening up myself and I just want to thank you," that type of thing, and particularly when it comes from a perfect stranger. So if it comes from friends and family, it's one thing, but somebody I've never met and probably never will meet, that actually makes me feel a little bit like I'm giving back a bit to the world and just makes me feel really good.

 

Kevin Campbell (21:33):

That's awesome. Hey, two questions I like to ask all of the guests. Who have been your mentors and what have you learned from them?

 

Andy Zimmerman (21:40):

Well, my biggest mentor in life, I won't say his name because I don't want to... But he was a fellow that actually I met when I first joined what was then Coopers & Lybrand And he ran HR for the New York office. And there was an issue, a positive issue, but an issue where he intervened and kind of made it right for me. And we just struck up a relationship and I worked for him as one point in my career, he was involved with Idealab. He was a very senior person at AT&T and a big investor, very successful investor and so forth. And even to this day, I'm out on the West Coast now. And he and his wife live in Carmel and we play golf and I see him every month or two. And he's just always been my mentor, my advisor sort of my friend.

 

Kevin Campbell (22:33):

And what's the best career advice you've ever gotten?

 

Andy Zimmerman (22:36):

From this individual, actually sort of in the midst of the experience that I was having, which I kind of portray a bit in the novel, the awakening and beginning to think what's it all about, I was walking in his backyard, he's a huge, wonderful grounds to his house and we're in the gardens. And I was talking about whether I should try to get this job or that job or this... I'm just rattling on about stuff. And I said, "What do you think?" And he says, "I think you need to stop and you need to smell the roses." And that was the best advice I ever got.

 

Kevin Campbell (23:14):

That's awesome. That's awesome. So we know we can get your book on Amazon. If people want to talk to you about frog design and get your services, how do they get ahold of you?

 

Andy Zimmerman (23:24):

Well, my email, I guess is best. It's andrew.zimmerman@frogdesign.com. You can just go to the website, if you just Google Frog or whatever, you'll get to the website and you can just do a query and just mention my name that you want to talk to me is another way to do it, or in LinkedIn. I do look at my messages on LinkedIn. So those will be three ways to reach me.

 

Kevin Campbell (23:45):

Andy Zimmerman, thanks for being on. CEO of frog design. Thanks for being on, we really enjoyed. And to the audience, tune in next week when we'll have another CEO talk about their journey and their life.

About the Author

Kevin Campbell

CEO, Syniti

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