Reading Time: 4 minutes
From his home office in Nürnberg and my AirBnb in Munich, Bernd Preuschoff and I meet digitally on a September Saturday morning. It’s the first day off he has had in several weeks, yet he still makes the time to share his passion for leading with me. I am truly grateful.
We are both back to traveling in these pandemic times and share some observations about our experiences, like we always do. Our used-to-be-well-rehearsed consulting lifestyle travel rituals are rusty and we are a bit tired from our lack of practice and the cognitive and emotional load COVID has put on us, like it has all humans. We also now joke about how we are getting old. Yet we are grateful for our ability to get back out into the world because we know it is thirsty for connection.
Bernd is the Group Chief Digital Officer (CDO) & Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for protecting people GmbH at uvex group. A role he was bold enough to undertake right at the beginning of the pandemic, after finishing writing his first book: Als gäbe es keine Schwerkraft: BUSINESS-LEADERSHIP durch die Augen eines Tänzers. Translation – As If There Was No Gravity: Business Leadership Through the Eyes of a Dancer. I am dying to read it and waiting for the English version…
Digital Strategy is Dead
Like we have so many times before, we start with the topic of digital. “You know, in almost all the pitches I get from the so called digitals” (he uses air quotation marks) “they assume I have no idea what I am doing”.
I am appalled at this first observation. Frankly, if there is someone I know who knows digital, it’s Bernd. Many agree with me: he has been the recipient of several prestigious awards since he made the switch from consulting to industry in 2017. In fact, he is currently up for CIO of the Decade, an accolade from Confare, in the DACH region. Yeah, the decade. More on that later.
As I have recently returned to the big consulting world, I am even more mortified.
Dear Consulting Sales Teams,
Please do us all consultants a favor and do your basic homework before you set out in the world offending people!
I know it’s hard, but it’s 2021. You can do it.
The whole world is on fire for digital and some of us have been around since the beginning of the internet (me!). We have been doing digital our whole-entire-careers. We have seen it all and we have gotten some pretty impactful projects done in both big and boutique organizations. All in the name of serving customers. And in the case of my bad ass former colleague turned lifelong friend, Bernd, from the helm at his company. Respect.
And this is partly why Bernd has been heard saying: digital strategy is dead. His point in provoking audiences with such a strong saying is simple: it’s not about digital strategy, it’s about using digital to generate results.
Transformation is Radical Change
It doesn’t take long for us to navigate our conversation naturally to another one of our favorite buzzwords: transformation. To this one I say: “Here is the thing, by definition, transformation is radical change. And at these global companies we have the luxury of working in and with, nobody wants to be radical and people definitely don’t like change.”
Especially in automotive… Now a week since my visit at the IAA Mobility conference, the buzz has worn off with the jet lag. I can see clearly that, while there is a palpable shift happening in the industry, the legacy OEMs are kinda all waiting to see what move the other one is going to make. Except for maybe for a few exceptions, most are hedging their bets until the shift in supply and demand caused by the pandemic settles. All the while showcasing their sustainability messages. We all know it’s those born-digital new entrants that are pushing the shift in the category. Thank you Elon Musk. (And BTW, Tesla = #1 rated brand for customer satisfaction, again.) Those disruptors are riding the COVID wave with their cool cars that are coming to market faster than we ever thought possible, coupled with sophisticated sales and marketing machines. They are completely taking advantage of the stall in the OEM supply chain. And they don’t need transformation. They are the radical change!
Bernd gets me back on track. In a way only he can.
My job is to start little fires everywhere. And to enable the wind, over time, to bring these fires together into a collective energy.Bernd Preuschoff
He really has my attention now. Last we met, I got the full story of his extended visit to Montana and the Dakotas where he spent his time studying native tribal people, cultures and rituals.
“You can’t start by lighting the big fire”.
Tell me more.
“I can’t possibly share everything I see in my vision, people would think I am crazy!” You are right. And I don’t think you are crazy. We just went and are still going through a major global societal disruption with COVID. Turns out people are also not really interested in more disruption.
Return to Basics
This is how he generates results: one small project at a time. And fast. With an eye for what’s needed to enable the next dependency to deliver his vision. Sure, he is experienced and has expertise. He is also persuasive and engaging. Yep, he has a strategy. Indeed, he also procures services from providers and buys software licenses. He pretty much has the same challenges and procedures as many other CDOs and CEOs.
When I ask him for more specificity, it’s back to basic:
- Start with empathy
- Listen hard
- Build the people, the team
“We return to foundation all the time” he shares, by starting small and going fast, by keeping to our North star and by being committed to a human-centered tool kit to find solutions. Simple.
And then I realize what it really is: it is his ability to live fully in and lead from empathy that sets him apart.
Thanks to Tracey Brower for her research on the link between empathy and positive business results published in Forbes.
My job is about telling stories and building bridges.Bernd Preuschoff
The magical beauty of the business of people.
See how it’s no surprise he ended up protecting people…?
I chose him for this CXO article purposefully: I believe more people need to hear more diverse stories about different leadership mindsets. And this is what this award represents: it’s about elevating alternative voices because we need to hear more of them, and louder, to truly make our global business more beautiful.
To vote, click here, scroll a little bit and click on Bernd Preuschoff.
Vote everyday, until September 30.
And check all the other nominees while you are there. More voices, more impact. Bonne chance!
Late CET on Wednesday October 6th, Bernd informed me via WhatsApp that he won the award. Congratulations!
Turns out nice guys actually finish first.