IFS, the global enterprise applications company has appointed Darren Roos as the new Chief Executive Officer of IFS following the retirement of Alastair Sorbie. He is to commence his leadership on 1 April.
The company is one of the leading software and IT developers and delivers enterprise software for customers around the world who manufacture and distribute goods, maintain assets, and manage service-focused operations. The local team has been key to IFS’s global success with 60% of the product development done in Sri Lanka while many global initiatives such as the IFS Academy, IFS Labs for innovation, the global support centre as well as important aspects of product development are all run from the company’s Sri Lankan based offices; Colombo and Kandy.
Roos is a proven enterprise software leader, with a track-record for establishing and scaling global software businesses. Most recently Roos was President of SAP’s Cloud ERP business and prior to that, significantly grew Software AG’s international operations, which enabled the company to triple in size during his tenure.
Thereby he brings significant experience and skills in building global software business to IFS. Roos has earned a reputation as a customer advocate, industry thought leader and cloud expert, with a track-record and ability to consistently deliver results. With an immediate plan to meet all IFS employees, he began his first day at the company’s HQ. He is to visit four IFS offices this week and is focused on building customer intimacy and employee engagement.
In this interview with Daily FT, IFS’ newly appointed CEO Darren Roos shares his plans for IFS and insights on how his skills set will help create stronger brand recognition and take the company to new heights. Following are excerpts:
By Shannon Jayawardena
Q: What attracted you to the opportunity of leading IFS as CEO?
A: IFS is a great place in the market known for having very high customer satisfaction scores and I think in a market where the business and industry are changing rapidly, your ability to communicate with customers and your access to customers is a good indicator of future success. So I think the example would be that if the customers don’t love what you do and they don’t want to talk to you, then your ability to take them on the journey is difficult but here because the customer satisfaction is so high we have a unique opportunity to take them on this journey with us as we innovate and change what we can do for them. So I was truly excited about coming to a company that had such high engagement scores.
Q: What are these innovations and changes that you are hoping to achieve during your time at the company?
A: I think that the industry is changing rapidly. There used to be a lot of change in consumer technologies, in mobile phones, cameras and so forth and now it’s becoming more about business technologies. So we see big shifts in the way that our market is changing, the way which we are connected through devices, the way which we can automate technologies and the way that we are moving to cloud. Really the focus for us is in figuring out how we harness those capabilities in order to provide next generation technologies for our customers.
Q: What skills and experience do you bring to the table that will benefit IFS?
A: I have been doing this for about 20 years now and I’ve spent my entire career in enterprise software companies. So the experience and skill set that I have which is relevant is having done this before, having grown large software companies before and helping them to scale before. I think that’s very relevant to the challenges that we will be facing in the market.
Q: Could you give us a background on your past work life experiences?
A: For the last 15 odd years I’ve worked in two companies out of which I spent nine years with software AG who were the second biggest operating company in Germany. When I joined them in 2005, they were just under Euros 400 million in revenue and by 2010 they were a billion. So we grew that business both organically and inorganically. A lot of the challenges we faced there were as to what we were going to do with our ecosystem and how to expand geographically. These were all lessons that I had a fair amount of experience with at software AG. The last four odd years I was with SAP, the largest global e-vendor. I was first involved in growing the European business and then in growing their global plans.
Q: What do you hope to achieve as CEO and how do you define success?
A: I think at the end of the day, our business is owned by our shareholder EQT and success is in delivering value to our shareholder. In 2018 in a modern day, you really have to drive holistic stakeholder success and we have a big impact on the community here in Sri Lanka. I want to make sure that we deliver a good return to our shareholders but along the way there are different ways to do it. I like to believe that we could have a positive impact on the community here; we can drive gainful employment and have a situation where people are proud to work at IFS. There are nearly 4,000 people who work at IFS globally and if I can have a positive impact on their lives and their families that would be great as well.
Q: Could you share some facts and figures of the IFS employees here in Sri Lanka?
A: We have employed just over 1,000 people in Sri Lanka at the moment and that has grown by 30% within the last two years. I expect that we will continue to grow at that rate in the future as well. I have not been here long enough to put together a specific but I would think that we will be accelerating those numbers in the years to come.
Q: How would you describe your management style?
A: I am very passionate, enthusiastic and very driven. I like to get things done and I don’t like to take a long time to get it done. I love being in front of the people who I work with and getting in front of the different teams. That’s what I am doing here now. So I am very engaged in what I do as well.
Q: Do you anticipate there being a lot of change for customers, partners and employees in the company’s journey ahead?
A: I think that there will be the right amount of change for all of them. The nature of the world that we live in is that no change is a bad thing. If nothing is changing then the end of your business is probably pretty close. Because the world is changing, the business of our customers is changing and therefore they need IT departments that can change with them. I think the trick in modern day is trying to get the balance right. How do you change enough so that you are creating a support mechanism for your customers but not change so much that it becomes disruptive and they can’t keep up. I think especially in technology, customers need to adapt with what you are building, they need to be able to consume it and figure out how the technology adds value to their environment. If you are changing too much or too fast, then it’s difficult for them to adapt and they will fall behind which is a very bad thing. So we check very closely as to how many customers are using which versions of our software and how they are using it. These are important measures.
Q: You spoke about changing according to the right time and to the right space. How do you plan on doing this?
A: You have to talk to the customers a lot. Communication is key. If you have a culture in the organisation of engaging with your customers and talking to your customers so that you know what they are looking for, then that’s really important. A lot of companies don’t do this whereby a lot of these companies have lots of very clever people inside them, especially technology people and they think that they know better than their customers. That’s a big mistake. So I think that one of the reasons IFS has been so successful is because of the customer intimacy that they have. I spoke earlier about the customer’s desire to talk to us and their willingness in wanting to talk to us and when they want to talk to you and they love what you do then it helps to open the dialogue. When you get that dialogue then you can find out what they need and what they want you to do in the future.
Q: Will IFS’s operations in Sri Lanka continue to be key to the company’s global business in moving forward?
A: IFS’s operations in Sri Lanka are very important. We have more people in Sri Lanka than we have anywhere else in the world and that’s an important statistic. Nearly a third of our total global workforce is in Sri Lanka and I do expect that to continue. When you have a third of your people in one place then they are immensely important to the success of a business.
Q: Why do you believe that Sri Lanka is a good location for software research and development?
A: It depends on who the company is, how long they have been around for and what existing infrastructures they have. IFS invested in Sri Lanka 20 years ago now. They just celebrated their 20th plus anniversary a few months ago and that means that it is a really good fit for us. We already have a reputation here and we have a good understanding of the infrastructure. We have good processes in place to engage with the universities and attract the right label of talent. So for us it’s a great solution.
Q: What makes IFS different in comparison to the other software companies that you have worked with in the past?
A: At software AG, it was a software infrastructure business and we didn’t have the kind of customer intimacy that we have here. What would happen is that we would provide the software and then the customers would build their own solutions. At SAP, it’s a different scale of business and they have nearly 300,000 customers globally. Therefore the ability to communicate with them is different. I think that the customer engagement for me is the biggest difference between where I have worked for in the past and here.
Q: You emphasised on customer intimacy and how important it is to build a strong relationship with your customers in order to truly succeed. How do you build customer intimacy?
A: In my experience it is a very engaging process. People love what we do at the moment and therefore they talk to us. The more value they get, the more they want to talk to us. So my responsibility is to make sure that as we go out and engage with customers, we ask them what direction they feel like we should take and what they need from us. The more we give them what they want, the more they want to communicate with us and the more engaged they will be. That really is the strategy for me, to make sure that we get that customer communication going, make sure that we are able to identify real things that customers want rather than things that the market or shareholders believe in. When it comes to what we do from a technology perspective, we have to remain customer centric and we need to be obsessed with our customers. That customer obsession is a very virtuous circle.
Q: Could you share some view points from your previous MEASA region work experience?
A: I haven’t done a lot in this region so it’s fairly early days for me. I think what I have learnt from having worked in 60 different countries globally is that everywhere is a little bit different. What I mean by that is that probably 90% of every region is the same. What people want is the same. What people need is the same. Maybe how they get there is a little different and the trick is to figure out what that 10% is and not to get the wrong 10%.
Q: What are IFS’ biggest challenges and how do you plan on overcoming them?
A: I think the biggest challenge that we have at the moment is that IFS builds great technology and the customers that we sell to get great value from what we do. Our challenge is that lots of people don’t know who we are and lots of customers don’t know who we are. Our brand is not as world recognised as it needs to be for us to have the impact that we have and to show the true potential that we have. My biggest challenge is figuring out how to get that impact and how to take the brand to the next level.
Q: What has been your focus for the past few days since joining IFS?
A: Just getting around to as many people as possible. I have been to Sweden, I’ve been to our US offices, to our Canadian offices and now I am here in Sri Lanka. Later this week I will be in Germany, so the focus right now is in listening to people and finding out what they love about IFS and what they feel we could do better. Likewise, I need to learn from the people who have been here for a long time and from those who have been here longer than I have.
Q: As the newly appointed CEO, what are your plans for IFS this year and in the years to come?
A: I’ve said that my process at the moment is to get around all the countries and listen and get ideas as to how we can make the business better. This year is really going to be about getting the basics right. At the moment the business is quite fragmented. We run the business with eight different regions and these regions are run fairly independently. For me this year will be a lot about getting a better understanding of the business and trying to standardise what we are doing globally so that we operate more like one company.