A conversation with Fahim Siddiqui, EVP and CIO at Home Depot
In this episode, Marcelo De Santis, Chief Digital Officer at Thoughtworks North America, speaks with Fahim Siddiqui, Executive Vice president and Chief Information Officer at the Home Depot. They cover a lot of ground, to include Home Depot's vision for digital transformation, Generative AI, Diversity & Inclusion, and strategies to be more effective in driving innovation at a company the size of Home Depot. Enjoy the episode!
Marcelo De Santis: Hello, everyone, and welcome to a new episode of The HITEC Transform.ed sponsored by Thoughtworks. My name is Marcelo De Santis, chief digital officer at Thoughtworks, and I will be your host today. Both HITECH and Thoughtworks believe that knowledge should be shared openly. So we have designed this series to provide you with opportunity to learn directly from C-level executives about their personal experience in leading the transformation of their organizations.
For today's interview, it is my pleasure and privilege to introduce Fahim Siddiqui, executive vice president and chief information officer at the Home Depot. Fahim is responsible for all aspects of Home Depot technology strategy, infrastructure, and software development across more than 2,300 retail stores, supply chain facilities, store support centers, and online systems.
Fahim and his team are focusing on the development of innovative solutions for the online marketing, merchandising, data, and analytics and supply chain functions. Using an agile approach and the latest in cloud-based engineering practices, they enhance the interconnected experience across the company for customers and associates.
Before coming to the Home Depot, Fahim has spent more than three decades leading software development in the retail, energy, and telecom sectors. He was senior vice president and CEO at Staples where he led the software teams responsible for the digital transformation of the enterprise.
Fahim actively gives back to the community by volunteering at Team Depot events and serving in leadership roles in the Atlanta community. He is on the board of directors at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where he is a co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force.
For his contributions to DE&I, the National Diversity Council recognized Fahim with its Technology Leadership Award in 2020. He also serves on the Carter Center's board of counselors, was named to the Islamic Speaker Bureau's top 100 Georgia Muslims, and received a commendation from the Georgia State Senate.
Fahim also serves on the Alumni Association Governing Board of the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He holds an executive MBA from Brown University and IE's Business School and a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Missouri, where he was honored with the Alumni Achievement awards. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from Iowa State University. What a leader. Fahim, welcome to Transform.ed series, and thank you for making the time for being with us.
Fahim Siddiqui: Thank you and delighted to be here with you. I'm looking forward to a great conversation today.
Marcelo: Thank you, Fahim. So let's dive into the interview by exploring the transformation you are leading at the Home Depot. Fahim, what's your vision for the Home Depot's digital transformation? And how are you leveraging technology to improve your company's business outcomes?
Fahim: As we really look at our business, it's fast-evolving. And we look at our business as today truly an interconnected business. And what do we really mean by interconnected?
More than half of our customer journeys would actually start online or on the app. Of those, a certain percentage-- less than half of them-- would actually transact online or on the app itself, and others would actually walk into the store and buy something.
But also, of the online orders that are placed, half of them are either bought from store, shipped from store, or delivered from store. So what that creates is a real interconnected view of what's online, what's e-commerce, to what's in the store. And we have to seamlessly be able to connect our customers with our associates.
So when you look at that connection, that's quite unique to retail, meaning there's a person in the store who may have to go pick up the order and deliver it to curbside. And they have to know within the minute of somebody arriving how to get the order out to the customer themselves.
So to achieve that, and when we think about digital transformation, in our journey what we decided was that be it our store applications, be it our supply chain, be it our online applications or merchandising, they all have to work from the same transactional truth, meaning work of the same common microservices, which, by the way, are cloud-first, and they get to the same truth every time.
So for us, digital transformation really meant developing these core common microservices and then making sure that they are comprehensive, that they are cloud-first, but they also work well at the edge, and they work well in the data center and that sort of hybrid deployment, and that they can scale to meet our customers' needs and our associates' need.
Marcelo: Excellent, Fahim. And as a customer of the Home Depot, as a new homeowner, I have to say thank you for the great service I've received with a few things I bought from your company. So thank you for that.
Fahim: Well, we are thankful for that. And hopefully, you'll buy more.
Marcelo: I will. I will. Certainly, I will. So Fahim, in your role you influence, as we can hear from your description, every aspect of the customer and employee experience at the Home Depot. How do you manage to drive business change across the company? It's a very large organization and goes from retail to customers to professionals that buy, regular people like me that we think we know what we are doing while sometimes we don't. So how do you manage to drive change in an organization like that?
Fahim: For the Home Depot is something that we are very proud of, and we say that's the biggest gift our founders gave us, are the Home Depot values. And the Home Depot values are underlined by a principle which says, you take care of the associates, the associates will take care of the customers, and everything else will take care of itself. That's what Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank would tell us-- and Ken Langone.
And when you really look deeper into it, it really is removing friction from the associate experience and removing friction from the customer experience. So when we look at change, we don't look at change for the sake of change. We look at change and identifying those points of friction that might be present and how to best invest in them to remove that friction out. I'll give you an example.
We have deployed. We were one of the earliest folks who actually deployed handheld devices to our associates. And on those handheld devices, they could access systems. They could do the work. But not every associate on the shift had a handheld device. And you could see productivity differences. You could see how things would work or won't work as well.
So what we have done now-- every associate that's on a shift will have a handheld zebra device. Those handheld devices are not just used for communication. They're used for information. They used for stock location. They're used by the store managers to essentially run the store.
In fact, a store manager does not even need to go log in into a computer. They can run anything and everything about running that whole store, and they're the general manager of that store. They can get to all that information on that handheld device. That is driving change, but that is also by empowering our associates with the tools that they need to serve the customers.
Marcelo: Thanks. And I like the concept of empowering, and you're using the values of your organization to drive change. And that's pretty inspirational and doesn't happen that often in many organizations. So thank you for that.
Let me pivot to data now. When I was in the CPG industry I was always, I would say, jealous about retailers because you guys have a lot of first-party data that you can use to the benefit of your customers and also to the benefit of your organization. Fahim, tell us how do you architect data solutions that put the Home Depot in a leading position while still ensuring the safety and security of your customer data?
Fahim: Well, we have various many different types of data available. And customer information and customer data is sacrosanct. And that's something that we have to ensure that all laws are followed, all the privacy laws are followed, and that information when utilized, let's say, for marketing or personalization is done so on an anonymized basis. So information would not leave or be utilized for a specific view that compromises anybody's safety or security.
However, the journey for data really starts with getting the master data right, be it master data about items, skills, be it the master data about customer, be it the master data about finance. So getting to that single place of truth is important.
What we have done at the Home Depot, we have actually created a secure data warehouse in the cloud. And that is the place where we keep the information about the enterprise. And from that, we provide the governance and the control so that everybody has access to the same truth. But also, data does not reside in many different places so that we have the risk of losing information or it being compromised.
Marcelo: Excellent. Thank you. And I do personally believe that retailers that manage such an amount of data of customers and people overall have an additional responsibility in the ecosystem to protect that data. So I'm happy to hear that you and your team are making that priority one.
So while talking about data, I cannot escape to a very, I would say, topic that is today in the industry-- generative AI. Your thoughts maybe, please. First-- hype or reality, Fahim? Whatever is your--
Fahim: AI is very real. And one should almost think of as a field-- a new type of field that we have available. How we consume it and what we do with it is now all a matter of debate. So you can actually go to the-- use the fuel, and you can go to the moon. You can go beyond to the stars. But you can also burn yourself with the fuels.
So now it would very much be about understanding the power. And it's not just Chat GPT and that interface. You also have now what we see in DALL-E, what we are now seeing in generative video. They start creating ability to do some amazing, creative work, but also a risk of bias, a risk of creating misinformation.
And that's where we have to, as a society, as technologists, understand how we put the appropriate guardrails and to ensure that it's used for the common good. It's used for the right-- for the access to, for instance, education. You can just-- with all the information that's available, think of worldwide access to information to knowledge itself and not to education.
You could have that be a primary school teacher. You can have that be a high school teacher. You could maybe even do an MD with it. So the possibilities are endless. But we have to now, as a society and as humans, figure out how to tame it and not let it control us.
Marcelo: Fahim, do you think we are well positioned to have those guardrails and those rules of engagement with this kind of AI as a society, as industry?
Fahim: I think that remains to be examined. We have not done any better with social media itself.
Marcelo: That's true.
Fahim: So if that's a pattern that we follow again, then results may not be where we want it to be. And this is a lot more powerful than social media. It's a lot more powerful than social media itself. And then they become recursive.
What happens and what's generated with Chat GPT would feed into social media. Social media will, in turn, train what may be going into generative AI. So it could be a successful thing, or it could be a vicious cycle.
Marcelo: I agree. I agree. And much more powerful and unintended consequences are maybe unknown at the moment. So let me jump to culture, right? How do you yourself lead and foster a culture of innovation and collaboration across your organization? And any strategies that you have found to be more effective in driving innovation in a company of the size of the Home Depot?
Fahim: Well, first of all, when we look at culture itself and leadership at the Home Depot, we believe and we practice servant leadership. So it's the inverted pyramid. And what we mean by the inverted pyramid is it's the customer, it's the front-line associates, it's people who support those front-line associates, then people at our store support center. And then at the bottom of the pyramid that is the CEO.
So we are-- when you look at that servant leadership then what does it mean to us? And it moves over when-- and when we really come to technology, we do follow the agile principles. And when you look at the agile principles, and when you look at innovation-- innovation related to that-- what do we think about? We think about getting the best product out.
It's the code that matters. Innovation is brought in when the code gets done. So empowering our developers, empowering our operations associates-- those become the front line within the technology shop-- the people with-- who are-- have fingers on the keyboard.
And our view and our job is to take friction out of their lives so that they can get the highest quality and highest velocity and most capable code out there and add value and develop value. And that's the culture we like to have and a culture of empowerment.
And we are very proud of this culture that now two years running, our technology associates have-- when we do the survey itself, or what we call our Voice of Associates Survey, have shown 91% engagement two years running. When you look at that, they have now-- in the most recent survey that we did just six weeks ago, the leadership score, which is how they rank leadership itself and their managers, was at 87%.
This is in a totally remote shop. Except for people who really need to come in and work in a lab, we have made our technology shop fully remote. We are hiring nationally. We have people working from 50 of the 51 states now.
I'm told we don't have yet anybody in North Dakota. So if somebody in North Dakota wants to apply, we'd love to cover all the states. And that's going seemingly well for us.
Marcelo: I'm sure those scores-- I don't have the benchmarks here about employee engagement, but 91%-- it's definitely a very high score.
Fahim: Generally, when you get to 80%, you're doing excellent. And after that, it's all just wonderful.
Marcelo: Extraordinary, I would say, right? And I hope the people hearing this video podcast in North Dakota really realize the opportunity of joining a company like yours. So good to hear you're hiring.
So in 2011, we have Marc Andreessen, is co-founder of a VC firm, that wrote an essay entitled, "Software is Eating the World." He describes there how emerging companies build software, were disrupting also those previously dominant household names. When you look into the future now, what is the role of software and software engineers in the retail industry, Fahim.
Fahim: So something else happened in all our lives, which is we all got these iPhones or Android phones, whichever one your favorite one is. But what they did was they overall improved our experience. What we expect of a software is just an elevated experience.
Every time we touch an app, when we utilize it, there's certain expectation for it to be seamless, to work, to work every time, which was not the case when I started writing software. It was just provide the form. Somebody will enter the information. And something else will happen. And you'll get a tab, and you move on.
Now, software is as much about experience. And when we really look at the role of software engineer and how we look ahead-- and when we say software engineer, it's the person who's doing UX. It's the person who's the product manager. It's the person who's writing the software. It's all of that-- them together because it's a team effort in that.
What they should be always looking for. They should always be looking for creating extraordinary experiences-- experience that bring joy to the user, experience that delights. And you're like, yes. That's what I want to come back to. And people will create those types of products and those types of experiences will actually thrive.
What technology we use underneath-- that's secondary. It's important. Indeed, a lot of AI in there. There have been indeed a lot of big data in there, a lot of generative AI. But it's all of that coming together to really delight, to anticipate the person's need in that context, and then to deliver on that.
Marcelo: Wow. Very inspiring, and of your answer when you say it's about designing these experiences that actually delight customers and employees. And you're totally correct. I mean, as much as technology might, I would say, automate part of the software engineering process, the beauty of software engineering is designing those sticky experiences and that we will still need humans to do that, at least in the short term. We never know.
Fahim: Well, creativity, right? Creativity is something that will always require humans. You can go back and learn from what all the knowledge is there, but then is creativity. And that's why I enjoy music. That's why I enjoy the arts.
When you pick up a book which somebody spent a year or 10 years writing, that experience and what you learn from that-- that cannot be replicated by your chat with a generated AI, Chat GPT or a Dall-E. Those images that are created by an artist or the music, and even the music could have been written 200 years ago, but when it is performed at the symphony, it's a reinterpretation of the original in the context of today, today's artists, today's performers, and their value add. And that's why we care so much about live performance, that it's that one unique expression.
Marcelo: It is unique indeed. Thank you, Fahim. Let me go to your career because it's impressive. I have to say, honestly, it was very difficult for me to summarize your bio. It's so rich. I didn't want to leave anything outside-- all the things that you have achieved. and--
Fahim: I thank you for that. I thank you for that. I've been blessed.
Marcelo: So you've been an intersection of business and technology and art for more than three decades. What was the pivotal moment in your career, Fahim?
Fahim: Career should we really be looked at as an evergreen journey and the phases of career. And each of those steps you learned something. So there was a time when I was an engineer, and I became a manager.
That was important time when I learned that I might be a really good engineer, but if I have 15 people on my team and I'm the manager, I better not be doing the engineer's work. Because then those 15 people are not getting the attention and what's needed. So just having that awareness is a pivotal moment.
When I became an executive, I learned that now I cannot micromanage a project. So I might be a good project manager, but the amount of projects that I have, there's simply no way. So what do I need? I need to be able to have the vision to be able to inspire, inspect, if needed, lead, direct. And that's, again, a pivotal moment.
And then at one point in my career-- and that was now about 20 years ago-- I decided to become an entrepreneur. And I was an entrepreneur for 14 years, and half of it with a company that we actually took public on New York Stock Exchange. And as an entrepreneur, I learned that inspiration with flawless execution is what leads to the best outcomes.
So yes, you learn from each step of the journey. And you learn from the people. You learn from the mentors, your leaders, and your teams.
And now I'm learning that more and more so it's about giving back. It's about contributing. It's about growing great leaders who get to be much better leaders than maybe I was or have been. And that becomes another place to be in life.
Marcelo: Wow. Wow. Those are deep thoughts, and thanks for sharing that, Fahim. Yeah, we can see the kind of leader you are as you are describing your journey.
Let's talk about diversity and inclusion. I mean, that seems to be, I would say, highlighting in all your executive and nonexecutive roles. Tell us about the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Home Depot, but also in your personal leadership journey because I found that very interesting data points there.
Fahim: So at the Home Depot, we definitely serve an extremely diverse communities, and we are-- we belong to those communities and we serve the communities all around us all over North America. We also want our associates to represent the communities that we are part of. We also want our leaders to reflect the same.
So in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, diversity is you're hiring a diverse cadre of people. But an inclusion, indeed, is about making sure that all voices are heard. And that as people come to the organization they feel that they belong.
But equity is something that you have to very thoughtfully invest in, which is providing pathways for everybody to live up to their best potential. So for us, for instance, we have developed a set of programs starting with Store to SSC programs we call them, which is we'll actually take associates from our stores who have worked at least a year in the store, and we actually provide technology boot camps that would lead them to either a level one job with bit less training and capability, or to a real software develop-- full software developer job after boot camp.
All the people who come in in L1 can go to level two support, can get more training, and go into a product manager, software developer, UX role. And those pathways become important to making sure that people are all lifted up. As we have then our leaders and managers ensure that as we develop the people, we identify where they have opportunity to learn, that we proactively invest in that learning, and ensure that [INAUDIBLE] career path.
And now recently, we have introduced returnship, where women who may have stepped away from their career in the middle of the career have the capability to come back. And we would actually provide, again, boot camp sort of training to bridge that time, and then bring them back into the workforce in technology with us.
So these are all different paths that we look at creating that ensure that the cohort of people coming in is diverse, that they feel that they belong. And that's why we care a lot about these VOA surveys and the feedback we get on leadership to ensure that yes, we are listening to our associates and we are modifying and improving.
The leadership score I shared with you at 87%-- just to 2 and 1/2 years ago when we did the same measurement was at 80%. So we found that we had that opportunity on how we recognize people, that we had opportunity on how we develop people. And we started those programs to actually create and improve.
Marcelo: So it's incredible. I mean, extraordinary, I would say, the ability of your organization to continuously listen to your associates, customers, also. It's at the center of your vision from the digital perspective. But also, this intention to listen to your associates and continues to go from 80% to 87%. And I'm sure you're trying to think how do we get to 97% or 100%. It's really extraordinary-- really extraordinary.
Fahim, we're getting to the end of the interview. I will stay here for another hour. I know we don't have the time. But finally, we have colleagues from high tech, colleagues from Thoughtworks listening and watching this video and podcast. What are your personal words of wisdom to the next generation of technology leaders?
Fahim: Technology has now become lifeblood of almost everything that we interact with, almost everything we do. And to approach technology thoughtfully is important. To create-- and within workplaces, be it remote, be it in person, creating that inclusive environment where more and more diverse people show up into the technology game is important.
Today, we don't see enough women in technology. If you look at women's participation in technology and employment at 25%, 26%, 27%. That's about what we see out there. Why is it not 50%? And that has implications. That's when we look at leadership as people grow right and as people look at role models. But also, what happens in schools.
As you look at STEM subjects and that access-- because technology also is opportunity. These are some of the most coveted jobs. And even today, technology unemployment is one half that of national unemployment rate-- one half of that. Actually, it's 1.5% or 1.6%. So there are wonderful jobs out there. We need to make sure that people have that vision and have the capability to be a part of that journey.
Marcelo: Thank you, Fahim. And I'm sure people listening to your journey, they will get inspired to get into those opportunities and pursue a career in technology. And hopefully, we get more females as part of the technology industry. 100% in agreement with you.
So we have arrived at the final part of our fireside chat today. I hope you really found today's session valuable and inspiring, I would say. Fahim Siddiqui, executive vice president and chief information officer at the Home Depot, thank you, thank you, thank you for joining us today.
And thank you to our audience for watching this interview. We look forward to connecting with you again for the next episode of HITEC Transform.ed series to hear from other executives on their experiences in leading the transformation of their organizations. Thank you. Take care, and stay safe.
Fahim: Thank you so much.