A conversation with Carlos Buss, SVP and CIO at SC Johnson
In this episode of the HITEC Transform.ed Series, Marcelo De Santis, Chief Digital Officer at Thoughtworks North America, speaks with Carlos Buss, President and CIO at SC Johnson, about the current transformation at SC Johnson, the importance of diversity within organizations and more.
Marcelo De Santis: Hello, everyone. Welcome to a new episode of HITEC Transform.ed Series, sponsored by Thoughtworks. My name is Marcelo De Santis. I'm the Chief Digital Officer for ThoughtWorks North America, and I will be your moderator today. Both HITEC and ThoughtWorks believe that knowledge should be shared openly. We have designed this series to provide you with the opportunity to learn directly from C-level executives about their personal experiences in leading the transformation of their organizations.
For today's interview, it's my pleasure to introduce Carlos Buss, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at SC Johnson. Carlos has more than 20 years of experience in business transformations, working for Fortune 100 companies across Consulting, automotive, and CPG. SC Johnson is a family company that have been leading with purpose for more than 130 years, a global powerhouse of household and personal care brands such as Mr. Muscle, Glade, off, Ziploc, Method, and many others that I know you may be enjoying at home daily. Carlos, welcome, and thanks for making the time to be with us today.
Carlos Buss: Wow, thank you for invites. It's great to see you, Marcelo.
Marcelo: Great to see you, Carlos, too. Let's start the discussion by exploring the transformation you are leading at SC Johnson. What are the business outcomes you're going after and what does it mean in today's climate and why is it more important now than ever before for your organization?
Carlos: First of all, again, thanks for having me. Such a pleasure to be here, talk with you about this important topic. At SCJ, it's really starts by our purpose. As you all pointed out on the introduction, for more than 130 years, SC Johnson has been guided by the same goals every other family around the world live by. We want to make the world a better place for the next generation.
This is really the foundation of our purpose as a company, to be at work for a better world. This is what inspired every day our digital journey. It's really about how we make the work better and the work more in a generic sense o how people come together to address the challenges of every day. The work, as you know, it's very dynamic this day. The work that we operate it's under a lot of pressure. Consumer changes, new channel expectations, omnichannel, supply chain disruption, climate change, geopolitics.
The work under a lot of pressure and almost is a burning platform every day. Our case for change on digital here is how we empower people to come to work every day and do better, how they work better so they can live up to the mission of delivering a better world by the end of the day. The way we do it is by, obviously, optimizing the work, so there is all of these great opportunities of optimizing the work every day by digitizing the work. There is a lot of new technologies that we apply every day of how we make the work more efficient and more importantly, how we augment the work, how we apply data analytics on the everyday life, and we augment and we put intelligence at work to help our people.
There is nothing revolutionary about it, but for us, the secret sauce is how we are very mission-driven. We are a very mission-driven organization, and our digital two agenda is very centered on our purpose as a company. The second one is how we do it. Digitizing, optimizing, doing data analytics is nothing special about it, but how we do it together, that makes the whole difference. The third one is all about our people. We are here to empower our people with better work so they can go there and change the world.
What is that important now in this context as you have asked. There's three reasons for us. One is because it's our purpose. We have this journey. Second, because better work is good for business as we go and try to be more agile, try to understand better our consumers, how we improve our business cycles, better work is important on everyday business life. The last one, it's for people. We are in a time where, we all heard about the great resignation, about everybody's question what is the work about so people want to have a meaningful experience at work. They want to show up every day and then want to have a meaningful work. Having a better work, equip our employees with a better experience at work is also part of this journey. That's part of what we have as a mission on this digital agenda. Better work better word. That's how we call it.
Marcelo: I love it. I love what you said also that no matter the circumstances, the economy is going through some challenges at the moment, your first priority is still your purpose. That tells a lot about the culture of your organization, Carlos, very nice message.
Carlos: I have a funny story, Marcelo, that even before I join SCJ when you know, okay, you're going to join, and we shake hands and everything else, even before I set my foot in the office, I receive at my home of 500-page binder, like many, many pages, about all of the great things we do around the world, it was overwhelming. I was expecting to learn a little bit about the brands and the business that we do and how you're organized. No, this is how we do here, we have a very strong purpose of how we leave a world with better opportunities.
There's a lot of investments in education, in Latin America, and in Africa, in many parts of the world, there is a lot of focus from our chairman in eradicating malaria, very inspiring, and he partners with some of the great foundations around the world. There is a very strong focus on sustainability and there is a lot of focus on transparency and educate our consumers on what does that mean, how does our products impact the sustainability and all of that. It's very overwhelming and certainly, one of the reasons I joined is certainly spite our digital efforts every day around here.
Marcelo: Excellent. Now, that's very inspiring, Carlos. Thanks for adding color to the part of your previous answer. You talk about investments, any digital transformation goes through the process of defining that journey and getting support to invest in the journey. Sometimes those last transformations are difficult to explain and get support from other executives that have to work with you. How do you go about influencing those digital investments in your organization?
Carlos: That's a great question and that's indeed the nature of my job. I like to think that I have, by the end of the day, three jobs. The first one is to define the journey, what is the technology strategy for the company? Holding hands with my colleagues the CFO, the CMO, supply chain, the CEO. We come together to discuss what is the business strategy and how digital can enable it. That is the first part of the job, defining, govern that agenda. That by itself, a lot of discussions and influence and how we're going to do it, it happens there.
Then you have a second side of the job, which is enrolling people, energizing people, and get people engaged with around that journey. This is as well, part of how we communicate our mission and that's why it's important to anchor the mission on the purpose so we have a clear North Star around how we bring our people together. The last part of my job is being an ambassador, be an advisor for the company on how we leverage technology to solve day-to-day business problems.
Every technology leader around the company, around our team, I empower them, "Hey, it's your job to be at the table and share your point of view in terms of how to do things better, how to use technology, how to use data to solve problems." We are empowered to do that. That is the day-to-day of how I use my job and how I use everything that I do, am I always thinking about new possibilities, in every single meeting is a new opportunity to talk about how we can do the work better.
That's my morning job, I like to say. The morning job is to be the CIO, the afternoon job, I am a business leader like anybody else in the company and I have to wear my business hat and partner with my colleagues and help them execute the strategy. This helps me as well be grounded on the day-to-day issues. Sometimes we come with these marvelous digital concepts you're going to change, but the reality is happening here and have this truly understanding of how the business works. It helps as well on that discussion.
Marcelo: Amazing, Carlos. Thanks. I like what you said about every single meeting is an opportunity to create a new possibility. What a deep leadership thought behind that statement. Thank you very much for sharing with us the wisdom. I know you from many years, and you went through many, many large transformations. I'm sure you have some stories and I would say things to share about what challenges did you went through or specifically how does it look to solve those challenges? Are there any tips that you collected through all these years of leading transformations in different organizations and industries?
Carlos: Yes, absolutely. A lot of failures, a lot of successes as it should be. When it comes to large transformations, the challenges that I have encountered multiple times are often the same. There is probably more than three, but I like to keep it simple. For sure, the first one for me is around change management and people and talent. The second one is more around the technology depth or the digital foundation that is required to enable that. The third one is about data.
Let's double-click in each one of those for a second here. For a change management talent perspective, I heard once in a board meeting. I was glad to hear and it was very interesting to hear it that for each dollar that you put on a digital implementation, another dollar is required for change management. First time I heard this rule of thumb, I was shocked because it was a lot, the additional equivalent dollar on change management, but after many miserable failures, I learned that I still don't know if the ratio is correct, but the change management is absolutely a must in this journey.
More important, it's about how you risk killing people along the way and how you bring people together. You don't transform the people by the end of the day, you train the people, and together, we transform the business and we transform the process, and optimize the thing. Reskilling is so important. We have such a deficit today on our organizations in terms of understanding what is data analytics, how to use those advanced analytics things.
There is a lot of young talent. They're very smart and they're coming well skilled from the school, but they don't know the business. Reskilling the organization is such an important and force center part of the agenda in a time that is very hard to attract talent and keep talent as well. That's a very center point of change management and take special care of the talent. The second one is the data as we discuss it, data for me is the fuel of the digital transformation.
At SCJ, I give full credit that we have a very good data analytics team. The analogy that they use, which is very interesting, is like they use the knowledge of a car. The road is a process, the car is the digital tools that we have, the driver is the people that conducted through the roads, and the data is the fuel. Often on those transformations, we spend a lot of time building the roads, building the car, and everything else. We take for granted that the fuel will be there, but sometimes it's not there.
Data is such an important, data is the energy that moves everything. We often leave it for last on the process. Many of the digital transformation cannot realize the benefit because we didn't get the data right. All the way from basic things as simple as get your master data rigt, get the governance right, pay attention to data, make sure you aggregate the right data, and so on and so on. We will never be able to do an advanced analytics if you don't do basic data. Very important data. The last one is the digital foundation.
Very easy, very common to spend a lot of time on the s strategically shining things while we want to focus on direct-to-consumer, we want to focus on digital market, we want to focus on consumer insight, how we engage, how we create new business models. We often undermine the importance of have the underlying infrastructure, the underlying foundation to support all of those needs. Centenary companies like ours and like many others around the world, they have built their business for many years. It's very common to have a huge legacy. Transforming that legacy is not an easy task.
Usually, this also can monopolize the agenda. It can drain the resources, it can drain the dollars as well. Have your digital strategy that content plates moving forward with the strategic needs achieves at the same time modernizing and futurally proof the foundation is at utmost sucess. That is the one that I learned the hard way, and I carry very deeply that you need to take every opportunity to invest on doing something strategic, is also an opportunity to reduce a little bit of technology depth and to build the foundation that will enable go faster. Those will be the three tips that I would have based on my experience.
Marcelo: Thank you, Carlos. I found it extremely refreshing to really hear that you consider managing change your first one. I didn't know about that metric, that for each dollar in investing a digital transformation, they should be equally an investment of $1 in change. I found that extremely inspiring. What we see in many, many companies is that, as you said, it might not be $1 to $1, but the effort of managing the change is extremely important to succeed. Thank you very much. You talk about people, you talk about talent.
Let's talk about culture now. Many of these large business transformations need some changing mindset, both in the IT organization and also outside the IT organization. Tell us about how do you do to change that mindset, to adapt that mindset, specifically in companies maybe that have been successful for so many, many years doing something and you come back with a completely different ways of working and why to change if things are going well.
Carlos: Just to start with, I believe the digital transformation, it's a business discipline. It's not an IT project. It's not a project to start with. It's a business discipline and transformation go along of, it's a journey. How is going to be refining to get there? Being purposeful about the culture transformation is the core of it, no doubt about it. I always like to believe for me, it's something that I carry along and I have learned along the years. For me, it's always a function of two angles. One is the alignment on the purpose, alignment on the mission, alignment on the roadmap, alignment on what you're trying to do.
Communicated well, having the discussions that needs to happen and anchor it on the strategy, having the consumer on the center to have those discussions. All of these are important and the quality of that alignment determines as well a little bit how further you're going to go won't change in the culture. The second one, which is very important is the connection, the collaboration, and the trust that we have in each other. There is not enough discussions or good PowerPoints or good strategies that will replace a very solid relationship among the business leaders.
If I'm not trusted as a leader, if I don't trust my counterparts to hear genuinely their point of view, we're never going to be able to do it together. For me, it's always a function of the quality, of the alignment that we have, and the connection and trust that we have. When you don't have this alignment on the agenda, on the purpose, and you don't have connection, you just coexist. Those are the silos. You have marketing, you have sales, you have IT, we have finance.
We all know what we need to do. It's my job, it's my cheese don't touch it. That's a coexistence. When you have a little bit of more connection and we have a little bit of more align on the broader mission, then we start to driven by consensus. It's hard. Every time, "Whoa, I need to do this project." Oh, do you agree? You don't agree, but I like this, I like this color, et cetera. It works, but you know how the drill is, a lot of meetings, lot of discussions back and forth.
Again, when we improve a little bit more, you trust a little bit more. You understand a little bit more why we are here, what is the purpose? We invest time qualitative, then we start to collaborate, then we start to be on the same boat. Ultimately, the goal is to lead it together. That's the only way to get the leadership team to lead the digital journey together, is develop this connection, develop this trust, and build qualitative alignment.
Every opportunity is an opportunity to build that alignment and to build relationships to carry it. This is more of a high-level perspective about my own philosophy of how to see it. I also like to share a little bit about the journey about my team, which I want to give a lot of credit to them that it's very interesting. They're very mission-driven organization. They come with this concept of we got it, and we got it as we got IT, we got the digital transformation, we got the business needs. We got it as a cultural shift on everything that they do. We got it for them. It's a positive cultural shift that is anchoring few things. Everything that we do, we do it or we do IT, or we do the digital, we do it purposefully.
It's mission-driven. It's to do better work. If it is not delivering better work, don't bother, don't do it. It's complex. It's bureaucracy. That's a first sign that you should not do it. Right there, you have the anchor where our employees are there on the front lines taking decisions. They have a guide. They have the mission that guides what they need to do. The second we do it together. Throughout my career, I heard a lot of this, well, the business versus IT, they're the business. This is no sense. We do it together. There's no way we do those massive implementations or digital transformation, even in smaller ones, we cannot do it by ourselves.
We are teams of teams and we need to come as a broader team to do it together. We need also to do it efficiently. It's a greater taboo that, yes, we need to put a lot of money, invest. Of course, we need to invest in technology. It cost a lot of money, but we need to do it efficiently. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We need to create the fuel. We need to be responsible about what is the benefit that is generate, how we can do it faster, how we can leverage maximize the dollar. Do it efficiently. It's part of the day to do business. If you take it as a principle of operation, it becomes much more easier.
Then we do it better. We believe as well, that if you need to have someone from outside to tell you what you need to do, then it's a problem. I think develop the pride. There is no better people that knows our business than our people. They're there every day, but sometimes they're so swamped by the problems and by the issues that they forget what they are there. That's an important cultural shift that we have been cultivating. We all know our business. We know better what we need to do.
Yes, we have very good partners that we bring them along the journey to help us do better, but we know better. We know and we need to lead, and we need to have that posture of partner with our brother business, being the business partner to take their own agenda. Finally, it's all about try to have fun. Don't take everything too seriously. By the end of the day, this agenda is already complex by itself. There is a lot of elements being on those agendas. It's a lot of fun. In SCJ, we got it. We like the better word "mantra". We are very passionate about it. That's how we are uniting this cultural transformation.
Marcelo: Excellent. I love what you said about the people that do the work every day are the ones that know what's happening. You are tapping into the wisdom of the organization to actually drive the transformation because sometimes when we are in organizations and we have a leadership position and we are maybe removed from the real work, we lose perspective.
I'm glad you are tapping into the wisdom of all employees, that at the end of the day as you said, they know what they do every day better than anyone else. Carlos, both at HITEC and ThoughtWorks, we are organizations who where diversity is at the center of our mission. We took it seriously because we think it's the right thing to do, but also it's the best way to grow a business. What's your perspective about diversity overall, for organizations, in life, whatever angle you want to take?
Carlos: Well, I'm a little bit biased to talk about it. I strongly believe it on diversity not only the diverse of gender, diverse of color, diverse of thoughts, it's just what fools the business every day. It's hard for me to respond the question because I cannot see a word without it. It's almost the opposite and it was, as well, hard for me to respond the question because I have been very fortunate throughout my career to be part of organizations that this is for center of their strategy, and that's why I am there as well because they hired someone that is culturally different, I'm not from United States originally. My accent is different. The way I see the business is a little bit different.
Even in the business discussions that I have, I bring a different perspective. I always felt respected and I always felt that this what was that led us to do great things by the end of the day, right? The ability for us to come together from very different backgrounds and very different perspectives and decide on something, bring those different colors is so important.
For me in tech specifically, I'm very specifically oriented to help women in leadership especially in my organization. It's how we help those talents to emerge and provided a coach and bring the next generation of pipeline forward. Again, we can take this discussion many angles but for me, it's a force center part of any business strategies. It's almost the full we were talking about the data it's almost the same. It's the energy that moves any organization.
Marcelo: Wow. Diversity is the energy that moves every organization, that's to quote, I think. [laughs] Back to SC Johnson, you've been in the company for a while and, I had the opportunity to meet your team recently, I testified that there were many female technology leaders as part of your organization, which is refreshing also. How do you see your company in the next two to three years in regards to digital transformation?
Carlos: We are very clear on our journey for the next two to three years. It's very oriented towards our strategic goals, it's very embedded on it. It's very simple. We have three strategies that everybody knows and everybody talks about it. Our mission is clear, by the end of the three years, we always going to be measured about how we left the better work. By the end of the day, we contributed to a better world.
What does that mean on the day-to-day of the business strateg? This is very simple three things. The first one is grow the business. It's a strategy that we have like any other business, we want to grow the business to increase that impact. Our ability to continue winning the consumers every day with insights, with data analytics, very important. Our ability to continue accelerating the business cycles, innovation cycles faster innovation. It's one metric that are going to be, as well, measuring.
Continuous simplified operation, removing bureaucracy, keep it simple, move on. All of this brings efficiency and helps fuel that growth. All of the nice things, supply chain, it's a big topic these days. Not different from ones as well. How we continue to digitize the supply chain and continually strengthen and build resilience to serve our customers. That is the first one. In three years, we have a very specific metrics about how we want to improve the business and growing the business on that front.
The second strategy goal that we have is to be the best place to work. In my case then, how digital will deliver to that, it's all about work experience. How we enable our employees to grow individually. We provide them with experience to grow individually so they can grow the business. It's a virtual cycle. Very recently started to have discussions around the consumer journey, we were having the discussion of the employee journey.
I show up every day, even before, in my case, I get out the bed, I'm already on my emails and on Teams or, talking with my team. I started to interact with my technology even before I get out of my bed, much before I get to the oxygen, throughout the day. Like the 13,000 employees that we have over there. Having provided them with a meaningful experience, the one that they feel that they are contributing to the purpose of the company and not pushing excel around or doing those done tasks here and there. Yes, there is still a lot of people that does those things. It's normal.
How along of that journey, we help optimize, digitize, augment the work so we can provide the employees with familiar experience. They show up to work because it's fun. They're contributing, they're learning, they're growing and they're growing the business. The last strategy that we have it's a very ambitious one and one that I love. It's about be the most trusted company on the planet and it's even written on that way.
All about our efforts around sustainability and our efforts around transparency, about what is within our products and consumer education and all of that. There is a lot of technology around it. There are technology on how we track sustainability, believed or not. There is a lot of great effort that we are putting together to improve that. It's very, very refreshing. In three years, the way we are going to track and the way we are going to see, and the way we organize our efforts every day is based around those three strategies, our efforts to grow the business, our efforts to continue to be a best place to work, and our efforts to become the most respected company in the world.
Marcelo: Excellent, Carlos. That's a big ambition to everything that you do has to create trust, specifically for a consumer company like yours that touches the lives of many consumers every day. When I got closer to your brands, many of them I didn't know that were SC Johnson. I have to be transparent with my surprise. I was looking around my home and I had most of them.
How important is for a company like yours to have that trust in the relationship with the consumer. They always pick you because they trust that you're going to do the best possible product and experience for them. Fully agree. Really interesting concept. You mentioned three strategies. How do you measure success? As you move forward in the transformation, what metrics do you use to measure success?
Carlos: Yes, let me talk a little bit about my experience in general as well. I think measuring digital transformation success along of my career have been seeing different things. By the end of the day, most of the things are organized around the three ways. One is the natural one, what are the P&L outcomes? If you're investing on direct-to-consumer technology, or you're investing on omnichannel technology, or whatever is else more connected to the consumer, easy to track how does that is growing your revenue or how you're retaining your consumers, market share, and whatsoever. The P&L outcomes are fairly common way to track how effective you are in adopting those technologies.
The second one it's about digital maturity improvement. It's not that uncommon to have this digital IQ where you track how the organization is evolving throughout that journey on adopting those technologies, solving problems with data, and being more risk skilled on that journey. The third one, which for me, is the one that most resonates is how you see the improvement on the business KPIs of every day. That, for me, is the simpler way of checking the effectiveness of what you are doing our digital transformation.
As simple as, if you want to improve your CFR, your fuel rates with our customers, then use machine learning, then you can advance forecast, and how you use analytics. There is a lot of things that we can do to optimize that. We can track all of those things, but by the end of the day, there's one metric that the leaders follow every day. The sales guys, and the market, and the general manager is about what is our fuel rate.
It's very easy to say, "Okay, from this time on, we are applying those techniques, how much this is improving, or not." Keep it simple. What is your time to market the innovation? Does what we have done in R&D has improved it, or not? How many days you gain it, how many hours you gain it? Every single piece count. I'm big fan of being more granular in that sense, inquiry on the KPIs of the company, because first, you reinforce being data-driven on that, and track it.
Second, it's a good way of everybody talks that language and everybody recognize. Then people feel more proud because they make their own. The P&L, it's too far sometimes. It's like, "Okay, I'm responsible for that metric, and I see it's improvement. It's because of the things that we have been learning and developing here, and I can't see the progress.
Marcelo: Carlos, that's a very interesting concept. When you bring those metrics closer to the people, as you said before, to the people that do the work every day, they own it, and they become an agent of change for the organization. You move the energy of the transformation maybe from a central team that is trying to drive the transformation all the way down into the employees that are closer to the work that moves your company forward. Amazing learnings, Carlos.
Carlos: You sum it up better than me. It's all about those agents of change.
Marcelo: Carlos, I will stay here maybe a couple of days [laughs] but I'm going to ask you a final question, and I'm sure you're going to have a great answer for all of us. What are your personal words of wisdom for those that both in HITEC, and in our audience are going through a transformation, or leading a transformation are being part of a transformation? What would Carlos Buss tell them, as the words of wisdom of Carlos Buss?
Carlos: Oh, my God, that's a lot of pressure. I think there is one thing that I always like to think about digital is one thing is to go digital, another thing is to be digital. They are two different things in my mind. One thing is go digital. Digitizer channels do eCommerce, how many channels? Digital marketing. You're just using those digital technologies, going to channels, and digitizing this.
Another thing is being digital. Digitize your process using data to solve your problems. Tap into AI, digitize your foundation. Both are important. Go digital is super important. Don't get me wrong. I mean, that should be the focus and it is the focus of many organizations. Being digital is equally important. The value is on intersection of those two. Often, you're going to find a new business model, new services as a result of two. If you only go digital, yes, we can find opportunities to find new digital services as a result of new business model.
If you don't have your foundation digitized, if you're not digital, you'll not be able to unlock the benefits of it. Go digital, be digital. That's my-- If I can say, it's my word of wisdom of how you combine both to unlock the value. The second one, we talked a little bit at the beginning, for me, digital transformation, it's just big buzzword. By the end of the day, it's not a project, it's a business discipline. It is strategic.
By the end of the day, needs to be anchored on that mission, on that strategy of the company. Finally, it's all about people. It's all about people, and don't get me wrong, I have learned throughout many different transformations that this is not about technology, it's about people, so invest in your people first.
Marcelo: Carlos, thank you. Thank you very much. As I said before, I would stay here, and talk more. I mean, so much to learn from your experiences. Unfortunately, we have arrived to the end of this conversation today. I hope, to those that are watching, you found today's session valuable. I'm sure you did. I know as a leader that I will be reflecting on the concept of better work, better world as I will spend time looking at that.
Thank you, Carlos Buss, for joining us today. Thank you to our audience for watching this interview. We really look forward to connecting with you again to 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. Stay safe.
Carlos: Thank you, Marcelo. Always a pleasure.