CEO Humza Teherany Talks Innovation

It’s no surprise that innovation and creativity led growth is vital to an organization’s long term success. But it’s not easy. Inculcating an innovative mindset within an organization is challenging and poses significant obstacles. From allocating resources efficiently to driving results, innovation led growth can often be hard to understand. In an attempt to grasp the challenges faced by executives as they drive innovation, I sat down with the CEO of Compass Digital Labs North America and CIO of Compass Group Canada, Humza Teherany, to discuss how he responds to his organization’s most pressing challenges.

For those who don’t know, Compass Group is the largest contract foodservice company in the world. But foodservice is not all that Compass Group does, it is also in retail, facilities management, cleaning and support services. In 2015, Compass Group’s revenues were nearly $27 billion USD. That’s a lot for a company that few have heard of. So how do you drive innovation in a multinational foodservice organization? Here is what I found out from Humza.

From the beginning of his career Humza had a drive for entrepreneurship and technology.

“I always had a passion to use technology to make things better, whatever that thing may be…whether it be your home, your business or the world.”

Early on, Humza taught himself how to code, how to build servers and everything in between.

“People say you’re either book smart or you’re street smart. I believe to be successful in business you have to be somewhere in the middle.”

Prior to his corporate career, Humza was an entrepreneur. He started a company in the early days, providing web related services to the small business market. Humza eventually joined Bell and then Allstream before he joined Compass Group. Humza quickly climbed the corporate ladder, but he doesn’t attribute his success solely to his business prowess.

Humza helped Compass Group Canada grow from $1.4 Billion in revenues to over $2.0 Billion by leveraging the power of digital and business innovation.

It is only fitting that the CEO of Compass Digital Labs North America and CIO of one of Canada’s largest corporations have an innovative approach to his own career. Take a look at our conversation below to see how Humza tackles innovation within Compass Group Canada:

Haris: How do you, as a CIO of a $2 billion company, inculcate a culture that gives people the confidence to develop ideas and the ability to take intelligent chances?

Humza: The best way to achieve that goal is develop a culture where people are not afraid to fail. If you think about the word innovation, what does it mean? You are not going to figure it out the first time you do it. It’s a very iterative process to innovate. You don’t just come forward and say you have this really great idea and there will be no problems from conception to implementation. Chances are your first attempt is going to suck. But you stick to it and innovate iteratively. Your team should not be afraid to fail.

Haris: How do you approach iterative innovation within Compass Group Canada?

Humza: We start off by understanding the problem. It is vital that before we start any pilot, we understand what the business problem is. That entails talking to your team mates, talking to our business partners and talking to management to better understand what the vision of the organization is and what is impeding that vision. Once you have defined the business problem, you can develop a pilot to address it. Our pilots are no longer than 30 days.

Haris: What do you do after the pilot is finished?

Humza: After the pilot is finished, we have some information. Whether it succeeded or failed, we can sit down and have a business discussion on the next steps our organizations should take. A 30 day pilot gives us immediate feedback and lets us understand where Compass Canada should be headed. Depending on the results, we can either stop right there or pursue it. By pursuing an idea at the end of the pilot, we may refine our idea or elaborate. Either way we can extend its life so we can achieve the greatest results.

Haris: Is the pilot the basis for a business case?

Humza: The pilot is the business case. There are two ways to develop a business case. The first way is Business 101. You create nice elaborate graphs with a lot of research. There is a need for those when there is a significant outlay of capital but initially we start with a pilot. We like to keep them short, sweet and to the point. Our pilots can give insight into real life solutions and real life potential value.

Haris: Are your pilots something you keep within your walls, or do you venture out of Compass Group Canada?

Humza: Our pilots are very inclusive. We leverage our expertise within our organization and we also venture out. We often work with our partners, like Google, Apple, and startups, to help build solutions. We go to our partners and ask them to help us take on initiatives with us and if we succeed, they’ve gained a sale and we’ve accomplished our objective as well. Our pilots are not theory, they are grounded in pragmatism and create strong economic value. We have scheduled 30 pilots with our partners within the healthcare industry for 2017. Pilots, we believe, will provide strong value for all the stakeholders.

Haris: What are your pilots liken to in the marketplace?

Humza: Our pilots are based on the minimum viable product concept or MVP. Often used within lean startups, it is the idea to develop an initial release efficiently and effectively, and test its success. We are transplanting that startup mindset into enterprise.

Haris: This is the intrapreneurship mindset. Can you elaborate on that.

Humza: We can’t just think about what our competitors are doing, we also have to think about what technology is being developed or can be developed to minimize the barriers to entry within a particular industry. In order to do so, it is vital for leadership to develop an intrapreneurial mindset.

Haris: Changing direction a little bit, as a predominantly foodservice organization with a drive for innovation, who do you consider your peer group?

Humza: The peer group we judge ourselves against as a retailer are Apple, Burberry, and Starbucks. It is any organization that is doing amazing things around the consumer experience in retail.

Haris: Lastly, what is some advice you can offer executive and entrepreneurs for success when dealing with innovation?

Humza: The advice I would give is firstly have courage. Have the courage to really define and understand your problem. That means talking to people within your organization, it means venturing out – go meet some startups. Collect all the necessary information you can to have a strong understanding of the business problem. Secondly, leverage your ecosystem. Do not try to do everything yourself because you can’t. Look towards those around you to see how you can work together. Thirdly, don’t be afraid to fail. And lastly, deliver results quickly. Organizations have to make decisions on a quarterly basis. If you bring a solution forward after 4 quarters, the organization has moved on. It is vital to deliver results quickly and often.

By Haris Zulqarnain

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