He’s an old-school tech guy who’s also a creative at heart.
Across the span of his career, Michael has worked at three digital/design/marketing firms: Schematic, Method, and Code & Theory, where he served as CEO. He’s also invested in multiple startups, including Shazam.
At McKinsey & Company, Michael cofounded McKinsey Academy, a digital-first professional development platform. Says Michael, “It’s kind of an MBA from McKinsey on the internet. At least, that’s what I tell my mum.” Later, as part of the company’s digital practice, Michael helped create the Digital Quotient and Digital Capabilities offerings, both designed to help clients along their digital journeys.
Now at Havas Worldwide, he serves as the Chief Commercial Officer, Americas. In a chat with Michael, he tells us what he’s set out to accomplish in this role, the steps companies can take to embrace an agile culture, and the one platform he can’t live without.
The Mag: Tell us about your role here. What are you excited to accomplish?
MK: What my title really means is that I go around and find interesting pieces of IP or nearly developed products and services that we can formalize. I then turn that into commercial offerings, thus growing our value, satisfying our clients, and diversifying revenue streams. I’m also identifying spaces we need to be in from a competitive and differentiation point of view and looking at firms that we should partner with, or potentially acquire.
The Mag: Why did you decide to join Havas?
MK: McKinsey was great for sharpening the mind. But at Havas, I’m able to connect with more of my people. I’m a creative guy, although I didn’t start out that way. The culture and the zeitgeist of what we do here is what makes me happy. And life is short.
The Mag: Why New York?
MK: I grew up in the UK. I came over to the US on vacation in the early 90s. It was the “sponge off the relatives” tour. I spent my last night in New York, and I thought, “Oh, this is an interesting place.” So a couple years later I got myself a job here. I left in 1999 with another company during the internet bubble to run their European offices. And with Method I was running their UK office as well. I was basically commuting to London every Monday for six months. So part of the reason I love New York is because sometimes I leave New York.
The Mag: What’s the biggest barrier to innovation?
MK: Ultimately, the challenges are around change management and culture. That’s where things get stuck. Almost equally as challenging are budget and use of funds, as well as cycle times around approvals. The reason huge companies have innovation “garages” is because the corporate counsel and finance function and the current culture typically kill the agile decision-making model. You’ll see more enlightened companies embracing these ideas as the norm as the people used to command and control start aging out. You now have people heading up digital who are digital natives, which will have a significant impact on the ability to innovate.
The Mag: What can companies be doing to better embrace an agile culture?
MK: The best thing they can do is to develop a learning agenda. Learning needs to be framed around: “That worked. That didn’t,” as opposed to: “That failed. Let’s fire that person.” The forcing function is the learning agenda; it boils up a lot of points of discomfort around change into a single driver. It forces faster decision-making, it forces new budgeting mechanisms, it forces the notion of multi-disciplinary teams, it forces a more modest horizon around strategy with more zigging and zagging towards a north star.
One of the more interesting videos I’ve seen in the past year is from ING Bank. Essentially, they’ve changed the way they operate in their headquarters to embrace agile principles. They’re embarking on a big learning journey. There’s obviously real risk around that, but just think of the rewards. Everyone needs to evolve, and it helps to look at the interesting ways others are doing it. Learning about what others are doing is a pretty low bar and something everyone can do.
The Mag: Why do we need to evolve the business of advertising?
MK: There’s an opportunity to challenge ourselves in our work. The internet was a scary thing at one point. So was e-commerce, digital publishing, and social media. The scary concepts right now are machine learning, the Internet of Things, and Big Data. We need to evolve because there will always be a next wave of technology or innovation that we need to transform from the thing we worry about into the thing we really lean into.
At Havas, we are a company of creatively-led problem-solvers with a center around brand communication and consumer experience. We need to think about the next set of business and technology disruptions that we then bring to that. We need to always look at the next area that customer experience will evolve into. That will become the engine that drives us forward.
The Mag: What are you reading? Where do you get your news?
MK: Every day, I go to TechCrunch. I look at TheSkimm. I read The FT. I read The Guardian. I think it’s important to read things outside of the US. And whenever I don’t know about a product, I always check it out.
The Mag: Are you on Snapchat?
MK: I am, but not very effectively. My daughters make fun of me. The other thing I do is I download and use each new app as it comes out. I’m on Tinder, but I’m happily married. I’m on Hotel Tonight, but I have a home here.. I have captured exactly two Pokemon.
The Mag: What’s a tech platform that you can’t live without?
MK: I don’t have one. The most valuable thing I have is a whiteboard. That’s the thing I can’t live without. I draw pictures, that’s how I communicate.