CEO to CEO Podcast: Bob Pryor

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

This week's guest, Bob Pryor serves as Chief Executive Officer of NTT DATA Services. A trusted global innovator delivering technology enabled services, and innovative solutions to clients around the world. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer, as well as Chief Integration Officer overseeing the 22 month integration of Dell services into NTT DATA.

 

 

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Kevin Campbell (01:12):

Welcome to this week's CEO TO CEO podcast. On this week's episode, we're fortunate to have Bob Pryor. Bob is the CEO of NTT DATA. Welcome, Bob.

 

Bob Pryor (01:24):

Hey, pleasure to be here, Kevin.

 

Kevin Campbell (01:27):

Thanks. And Bob, maybe we just start with you telling us a little bit about your career journey and how you ended up as the CEO of NTT DATA?

 

Bob Pryor (01:38):

It's like the accidental tourist. So, I actually started life in college with degrees in accounting, my master is accounting finance, certificate of accounting. And about that time, I figured out I didn't want to be an accountant. And I joined EDS and went through their technical trading program. So, I actually learned to program early in my career JCL, Assembler, COBOL, Fortran basic. And it's funny because if I go back to college, I studied Latin, so I'm clearly drawn to the dead languages.

 

Bob Pryor (02:10):

But being a beneficiary of training development, I'm a big believer and fan of them. I know the impact they make on people, careers. And most of my career has really been around IT services. So, as a programmer, in sales, leading industry groups and some global roles. So, predominantly around IT services.

 

Bob Pryor (02:32):

Joined NTT DATA about six years ago, as COO and Chief Integration Officer. Leading the integration of our most recent acquisition, which was Dell services, about a $3 billion transaction. And then prior to NTT, I was CEO of Fujitsu America, is another Japanese company. And I've had senior roles at E&Y, Capgemini, HP and Genpact.

 

Kevin Campbell (02:55):

Certainly a successful and interesting career. In your job as CEO, what's the most important thing for you to get right? Or what does the board measure you on?

 

Bob Pryor (03:07):

It's really very simple. I'm measured on sales, revenue, profitability. But personally I feel like I own strategy and vision, with clearly defining and communicating our values, our priorities. I would say this year, I spent a ton of my time on one of our corporate values, which is around diversity and inclusion. Which is not only topical, but really important for us.

 

Kevin Campbell (03:30):

How so? How is diversity and inclusion important for you guys?

 

Bob Pryor (03:34):

Well, I would say over a number of years, we'd made great progress on gender diversity. And then as we really looked at other underrepresented groups... So, African American, or lesbian, gay community, or people with disabilities, Hispanic. We found that we had lots of progress to make across all areas. And so, given that we're a global company, we really respect and embrace diversity. Which is a little bit different than inclusion. Including is actually not just having a diverse population, but including them, having the groups represented at all levels of the company, especially at the senior-most level.

 

Bob Pryor (04:16):

And I think with all of the social unrest we've seen, not only in the US but around the world, it's been a really important, I think, CEO topic of what are we doing? How are we driving progress? How are we measuring ourselves? How are we making life better for people in our company, and in our communities? So, that topic, I think, has been probably one of the single most topics for our employees this year. On top of the other issues we're dealing with, like COVID.

 

Kevin Campbell (04:44):

Yeah, COVID. Speaking of COVID, how has COVID impacted your business so far?

 

Bob Pryor (04:50):

It was pretty stunning. When we came through that February timeframe... And one of our centers is actually in Asia, in China. So, we got an early glimpse. But in February we'd pretty much shut down international travel, unless people are trying to get home. And then early March, we shut down all domestic travel.

 

Bob Pryor (05:10):

And over the course of about a two or three week span, we moved over 40,000 of our employees to remote work. So, getting them out of the offices, out of our facilities, out of client facilities to home. And enabling that still with delivering upon our commitments and our service levels. We also helped many of our clients move their employees to remote work. And even today, all these months later, about 90% of our workforce is working remotely. And the others are supporting essential businesses, which could be hospitals, financial service firms, banks, federal agencies.

 

Bob Pryor (05:45):

So, still the priority is keeping people safe. And in fact, we shifted our priorities. Our priorities became resiliency, trust and safety. Safety of our employees, our clients, our partners. Resiliency in terms of protecting our cash or balance sheet. Making sure that we could navigate through what was very likely going to be a difficult period. And that has worked extraordinarily well, shockingly well.

 

Bob Pryor (06:15):

I think if you'd given us a year or two to plan it, I'm not sure we would have done as well as we did over the course of a few weeks in really enabling it. Not only for us, but I think across so many companies that I've seen around the world shift so rapidly. And a lot of that is just the technology that we're using, that we've been developing for years, has really enabled that.

 

Kevin Campbell (06:37):

A lot of it, at least in my experience is. Thank goodness we had it. And we didn't realize how fast we could adapt.

 

Bob Pryor (06:47):

No, we didn't.

 

Kevin Campbell (06:47):

Right. So, that's great. I've read about some interesting things you guys... For the people that have to, that 10% have to come back. Some interesting things that you guys have done for your employees that had to come back to work. Maybe you can give us a few minutes on that?

 

Bob Pryor (07:06):

Yeah. So, I would say first and foremost, we really zeroed in on the sources of information that we found very credible and trustworthy. So, World Health and CDC, amongst others. And we really instigated a lot of great security protocols and safety procedures for the employees. And starting with the premise we want people working remotely from home, unless they absolutely have to be in our office, or a client facility.

 

Bob Pryor (07:34):

We instituted bonuses. So, for people that needed to be onsite or supporting a client, recognizing that was a different risk profile, we instituted premium pay bonuses for people that were working in those environments. We created... Helped people establish home offices. So, for lower levels and people at different levels across the world, for those that were remote, making sure they had money to go buy a desk, and a chair and having a comfortable work set up. So, that was another part.

 

Bob Pryor (08:11):

And I think probably one of the most important is just having empathy. Being really patient, flexible, allowing people to get their work done when they can. Recognizing that many of our employees are young parents with young kids. Or they're dealing with aging parents, or chronic illnesses. And creating flexibility and just empathy. And having some days where we don't do calls, having some hours that are protected for people. And again, allowing them to work in the environment that works for them. And it's really caused us to rethink a lot of our workspace.

 

Bob Pryor (08:50):

So, we're eliminating a lot of offices and locations. We're still going to have lots of offices, but we're going to use it differently. Creating much more flexible environments, hybrid environments. So that people have a great environment, regardless are they working from home, they're working from an office or they're doing both. But they've got the same setup creating... Rather than so many static offices, more hoteling, more collaboration space with more big areas for people to collaborate. But still protecting them from a social distancing standpoint.

 

Bob Pryor (09:23):

So, doing a lot. Not only for where we are now, but anticipating that we will have more people coming back into an office environment at some point in the future. But probably not as many as we had prior to COVID.

 

Kevin Campbell (09:36):

Yeah. I think a permanent change is upon us. You mentioned that when you joined NTT DATA, one of the things you were doing was integration of a very large M&A transaction that you had done, buying Dell services. How do you... What role do you think M&A plays in your... Has played, and is going to play in your company?

 

Bob Pryor (10:01):

I think still very substantial. So, at the forefront, NTT is very committed to innovation at all levels and across all different channels. As a company, we spend about 3.6 billion annually on R&D at the group level. Recently we launched NTT Venture Capital with a half a billion dollar fund to invest in startups and early stage. Especially around the technology spaces, new innovation and technology. We just launched an NTT research center in Palo Alto, which is primarily focused on quantum computing and information security. So, that's one part.

 

Bob Pryor (10:36):

We invest many, many millions of dollars every year in new offerings, new solutions. And then as part of that, we see acquisitions as a continuing source of not only our growth, but also accelerating our growth in key markets. Right now we're very focused on digital, Cloud, security, consulting, advisory services. So, those are the targets.

 

Bob Pryor (11:00):

And I would say, we will continue to have a very strong growth agenda. Both an organic as well as inorganic kinds of activities. Probably more of the accretive accelerated types of acquisitions we've done in the last couple of years, versus the larger scale plays. And it doesn't mean we won't do scale, but that's not our priority right now. We have plenty of scale for the things we're doing, but driving faster into the key areas around Cloud, digital transformation are very big priorities for us right now.

 

Kevin Campbell (11:34):

And so what is the perfect acquisition candidate? As you and I have talked before, acquisitions are hard to do-

 

Bob Pryor (11:40):

Yeah.

 

Kevin Campbell (11:40):

And they're hard to [crosstalk 00:11:41] the right candidate. So, what's the perfect candidate look like?

 

Bob Pryor (11:47):

Yeah. The accountant in me tells me I have to not start with perfect. So, it starts with what's the strategic framework around our industry, solutions, geography? And then within that framework, recognizing our clients are large enterprises. So, we look for firms that are also serving large enterprise companies, certainly global, multinational, or could scale to that level. And so, that drives a lot of it. And again, digital, Cloud, consulting, advisory, those are priorities. Our key industries around healthcare, public sector, financial service, manufacturing, that's the framework.

 

Bob Pryor (12:26):

And then certainly looking for a creative growth. That they can help us both top line, bottom line, faster into those areas that are important to us. And also goes back to one of the earlier points when you said, "What are some of the things important to me as CEO?" Finding companies that fit our values and our culture, that align well. Because a lot of great companies out there, but whether or not they fit us, they fit our culture. They work well with not only our organization, but our clients is the other part. That it's an intangible, but it's so key to success for us.

 

Kevin Campbell (13:03):

When you do go about integrating acquisitions, what have you learned is key to success in the integrations? Because as you know, so many integrations don't work out. So, what do you look at and ask your team to report on to you about the success in the integration?

 

Bob Pryor (13:20):

Yeah. So, I think you go back to, is there a good alignment of goals, objectives? Is there commonality of values? We're a service company. So, the trust that our clients put in us, and that service ethics is very fundamental for success for us. We look for longterm relationships with our clients where we can grow. And so having that kind of a mindset is important.

 

Bob Pryor (13:44):

I would say on the scale acquisitions, you're looking for the integration, both front office, back office. When we look at the more creative acquisitions around digital and Cloud... Certainly the back office, but we want to leave them a lot of autonomy and flexibility in how they go to market. So, it's more of a coordination than a hard integration. And again, we start with either the doctor's credo of Do No Harm, or Don't Break What's Working. And so looking for, "What's working for them, what are the things that are driving their success?" And then how do we build upon that and expand it, versus change it.

 

Bob Pryor (14:23):

And so that softer front end go to market integration, coupled with the back office around HR, and IT, finance is a good combination. But even within HR, if they have very unique pay programs that are working well, we want to maintain them. And we want to maintain the autonomy of that success. And that has been a really successful formula for us.

 

Bob Pryor (14:52):

And I used to be the old mindset that all acquisitions are hard, so you may as well do big ones. But I have come a long way in that thinking. The smaller ones are incredibly creative and have a profound impact on how we think about market, client and different service offerings. So, I like the combination well.

 

Kevin Campbell (15:13):

That makes sense. Let's switch to one of my favorite topics, data. But from... What role does data play in your thinking about how you run the business? And certainly the offerings that you're delivering to your clients?

 

Bob Pryor (15:31):

Yeah. It's at the center of everything, and the world starts and ends with data. Do you have good access to data? And as we look at integration, how do we make sure that we can protect it, migrate it, move it, manage it, secure it? And all of those components are key to not only any large scale acquisition, but a smaller one. As well as fundamental in so much of what we do across our different service lines. And so, [inaudible 00:15:57] has been a great partner for us, harmonizing data, protecting it, migrating it, manage it, cleansing it, moving it.

 

Bob Pryor (16:05):

And so from that standpoint, it is so key to early on being able to identify what the integration work streams are. As well as being able to migrate through the M&A, and then have a really successful post-integration. So, it's at the heart of everything we do. I can't think of a single M&A activity, or major transformational program we've driven with clients that doesn't involve data.

 

Kevin Campbell (16:30):

That's great. And as you reflect back on your career here, what's some of the best... I always like to ask people what's the best career advice you've ever gotten?

 

Bob Pryor (16:44):

I'd say... I've had an opportunity to work with a lot of great people over the years. So, I have an eclectic view of life and leadership styles. But a couple that have always stayed with me, just really resonated. One is just do business with people that want to do business with you. So, when clients and partners want to do business together, they're culturally aligned to have similar values, priorities. It's an incredible false multiplier for all parties.

 

Bob Pryor (17:11):

The other is creating goodwill within the relationships, always leave some money on the table. Don't try and win at the expense of the other party. Look for opportunities where you both win together, and incentives drive you to win together. And a lot of times companies get confused. They get so focused on sell to each other, they lose sight of the bigger marketplaces selling together. And so, thinking about the priority of the relationships. Where you want to create the relationships and the power of them becomes important.

 

Bob Pryor (17:39):

And finally, less is more, so keep it simple. We are largely serving a business where we serve large enterprises. So, I'd rather have fewer clients and large relationships that I can grow that represent our portfolio. Than a lot of clients where we're only defined by one or two things. And so, having that simplicity of service offerings, fewer clients, where we can really focus, prioritize on their needs, and serving them, and growing the relationships is so fundamental to our success. And I think that's a success for driving faster growth as well, even though it's counterintuitive.

 

Kevin Campbell (18:19):

Bob Pryor, CEO of NTT DATA. Bob, thanks for joining us on CEO TO CEO today. And everybody tune in next week for the next episode of CEO. Thanks Bob.

 

Bob Pryor (18:31):

Thank you, Kevin. Really appreciated the dialogue. Take care.

About the Author

Kevin Campbell

CEO, Syniti

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