Inspired Execution

A podcast Series With Chet Kapoor

Episode 5

Going from 0 to 100 in 90 Days with Jackson CIO

Jackson CIO Dev Ganguly teaches us how the power of connection, the 10,000-hour rule, and the pace of change encourage us to have an outside-in perspective.

Published October 6th, 2020  |  18:04 Runtime

Episode Guest

Dev Ganguly

Dev Ganguly

SVP & CIO at Jackson

Episode Transcript

Narrator: Inspired Execution is a podcast where tech leaders from global enterprises discuss their journey to scaling billion-dollar businesses. Chet Kapoor is Chairman and CEO of DataStax with more than 20 years of experience working with global enterprises. Join us to hear about the experiences and mentors that played a role in their growth.

Narrator: A 20-year veteran of Jackson Financial, Dev Ganguly is SVP and CIO of their North American business unit. Dev has always been passionate about protecting retirement income so people can enjoy financial freedom for life. He has a passion for AI, loves a good Malcolm Gladwell book, and is in constant pursuit of new technologies. Dev tells us how he leverages his learnings from industry mistakes to become an influential leader. Dev's key mantras for Inspired Execution are feeling comfortable taking leaps, growing together through hard work, and constantly innovating.

Chet Kapoor: Dev, thank you very much for joining us for the Inspired Execution podcast. Really appreciate you making the time to make this happen. It is great to get back in touch with you after a few months.

Dev Ganguly: First of all, thank you for inviting me to do this. Looking forward to the conversation.

Chet Kapoor: Protecting retirement income so people can enjoy financial freedom for life is a very inspiring mission. It's one anybody that gets done with college gets going. They think about financial freedom for their lives. They think about it from the beginning, they think about it in the middle, they think about it at the end. You've been at it for 20 years. As you reflect on your own experiences that have led you to be a CIO, what came easy?

Dev Ganguly: First of all, thank you so much for this question, because even before I answer this question, I will start off on how important that financial freedom for life is to me, it's a passion for me, which is one of the reasons I have been at it for 20 years. I wanted to start off with that. But coming to your question as to what came easy, surprisingly enough, being in technology for the past 20 years, the technology part, actually came easy.

Dev Ganguly: Some of it is my background, I came from an engineering background. Some of it is because technology itself kept evolving at such a fast pace. The technology part actually came very easy. The other part which came easy was being able to form connections and being able to have good partners in that journey. Surprisingly enough, that part also came very easy, because there are a lot of like-minded people like you and me who want to make a difference.

Chet Kapoor: Do you think the technology part came easy because you're an engineer? Or is it something... We go to school, we go and do any engineering degree or do computer science, but it's different in the outside world. Was there a transition period where it became obvious, or it was just obvious from day one?

Dev Ganguly: I think there was a transition period and obviously the engineering background helped, but what happened is, I was fortunate to live in an age where the technology revolution far outpaced what I would need as toolkits to solve the problem, that also helped significantly. Now that transition did take time, because, if I remember early 2000s and late 1990s, we all wanted to build our own IP. We all wanted to build our own software. It was more competition than coopetition and as the world moved towards more of that open source mindset, more of that, "Let's share and grow together," that actually made the technology part even easier.

Chet Kapoor: And what was hard, from your own experience, that led you to become a CIO?

Dev Ganguly: The hardest part, from my own experience, bar none, was shifting the mindset of people. What I've realized is most people, most humans, are not naturally built for the pace of change we are seeing. One of the quotes which I use quite a bit, it's not my quote, but I love using it, is "The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again." And generally speaking, though people hear that, it's difficult for people to change their mindset and truly have that growth mindset. So the biggest aspect for me, not just as a CIO, but any of the roles I have, is how to inspire people to be not just comfortable with the change, but be excited about the change and drive forward progress.

Chet Kapoor: That's very interesting. By the way, the pace of change is something... It's definitely getting more and more rapid. And I feel like, for some of the folks that are, I call them born on the web or digital natives, it's fairly obvious to them. I mean, they just roll with it, and it becomes a part of them. But for those of us where we actually got adjusted to the web, got adjusted to a bunch of things around the web, it has been harder for us. The pace is something that we struggle with. We want to go back to the way we used to think about things when we grew up. Would you agree with that comment?

Dev Ganguly: I would completely agree with that. In fact, we are, I would say, the transition generation when it comes to technology. Because I would say the jump from, let's say the web to AI, the dot com to dot AI, though significant for a digital native, it's very natural, whereas transitions, we had to make to a dot com era and then to a dot AI era and so on and so forth has been more visceral for us.

Chet Kapoor: The World Economic Forum has these different waves, right? And it definitely feels like the fifth wave that's coming, it's AI. It's like very compressed. The industrial wave took a solid 60 years. The industrial, the AI wave will take five. So there's no disagreement on that. What helped you get people excited about the pace of change? Because I think I liked the way you framed it. It's not just letting them adjust to the pace of change, but get them excited about the pace of change.

Dev Ganguly: It's always been one framing for me, which is to keep the end customer in mind and the end customer may differ. So we are a B2B business. So for us, the end customer could be an advisor who recommends our solution. It could be the actual end consumer, it could be a distribution partner we work with, but if we always keep the end customer in mind and drive outside in from that point of view, that framing has always helped me to excite people to implement that change. And that's something which almost anyone can align themselves with.

Chet Kapoor: And the focus there obviously is that the customer behavior is changing. And if you keep the customer front and forward, like one of the things as product folks, we have this acronym that we call KISS, which is Keep It Simple, Stupid. And so if you keep it about the customer and the people that you're leading, that you are getting excited about the pace of change. It's not about them, it becomes about the customer and serving their needs. Is that a good way to think about it?

Dev Ganguly: Absolutely. Look at different aspects of customers when people can easily align themselves with the end consumer really well, but sometimes they don't align themselves as well with the intermediary. So in our business, absolutely, we want to provide financial freedom for life, for all those millions of people who are retiring every year.

Dev Ganguly: But we also want to look at that financial advisor who wakes up in the morning with the goal to help his or her consumers reach financial freedom for life and make sure we make her life better or his life better as well. So I think looking at the entire broad spectrum of your customers and driving towards that hyper-personalized experience for them, keeping that in mind can absolutely get your entire staff excited.

Chet Kapoor: I'm going to shift gears and ask you a different question now. I know you're very passionate about AI. You've spoken about bringing AI to address the retirement crisis. It's something you and I have talked about in the past. What progress have you seen and where do you it going?

Dev Ganguly: This topic is absolutely closest to my heart. In fact, any of the time I spend 12, 18 months out these days, I cannot spend more than half an hour without somehow getting into the weeds of this topic. So I really love this topic. And I would say one of the misnomers I've heard is, it's the machine replacing the human. And for me, it's very critical to start off on this topic by saying that it's a human plus machine experience.

Dev Ganguly: What I mean by that is coming back to again, examples. When the stock market crashes, and as an end consumer, when you look that market drop, you really do not want to go to a machine or a robot to get that empathy, to get that encouragement that do not act stupid and do something which will hurt your long-term goal of achieving financial freedom for life.

Dev Ganguly: You will want to talk to a financial advisor who you trust, who you have a good relationship with and who you know is looking out in your best interests to do that. Now saying that in the same breadth, I would say that AI can help us make that decision-making process for that financial advisor far more sophisticated than he or she could have done even five years ago.

Dev Ganguly: The quantitative aspect of his decision-making is going to improve. And it's also going to improve because of one fundamental thing, the amount of data that's out there now. Truly speaking, AI is important, but even more important for us is to liberate data, because data is the fuel of this new economy. And the more data we have, the more capable the cognitive models or the AI engines are going to be.

Chet Kapoor: I have not talked to a single CIO that does not believe that data and AI in that order is not their priority for the next decade. When you say liberating of data, what does that mean?

Dev Ganguly: So what it means for me is to start treating data as an asset. So if you look at one of the mistakes, I think we broadly as an industry did in the past couple of decades is... we saw our apps and the functional capabilities as our assets. We saw our digital capabilities as our assets and data was kind of supporting the build-out of those capabilities. We need to flip that model where data itself is seen as an asset and is managed as an asset.

Dev Ganguly: In fact, I would venture so much to say that for almost any organization today, after its associates, data is their biggest asset and that mindset shift needs to come first. And once you get to that mindset shift, then you get to like data lineage, Master Data Management, all of the... again, the technology part, again in this example is easy. Once you get that mindset shift, I think that's where you get to liberate data really how it should be.

Chet Kapoor: And tell me if I'm off on this. It seems like we need to go from a process centric world to a data centric world.

Dev Ganguly: Absolutely spot on, absolutely spot on.

Chet Kapoor: So as you make this transition, we've spoken many times before about the need for speed and our minds are mature and markets are not. And so reality is somewhere in the middle of those. How have you... I mean, I think you've inspired people by saying it's not about you, it's about the customer. How have you gotten them to move fast? And what are the tips and tricks that you have employed to get people to move quickly? Because left to our own devices, the transformation will take as long as we have.

Dev Ganguly: So Chet, this is a fun question for me because you have known me for years now. I have a strong bias for action. I always have been a believer of get stuff done, and I've always looked at how can we deliver value at a far more compressed timelines? When I took over as CIO, I think my two major themes was, one was around get stuff done, but the biggest team was 0 to 100 in 90 days or less, which essentially was, you need to deliver value in 90 days or less, whether you're delivering a new product, whether you are adding a new capability, whether you are building out even components of major ERP solutions.

Dev Ganguly: And that resonated very well with people because people can resonate with value delivery. Obviously, you can add new frameworks like Agile is out there in the industry for a while. We have been pushing the move to Agile quite a bit. But again, back to what I had said earlier, you need to answer the why, it's not to move from waterfall to Agile, is to achieve true business agility.

Dev Ganguly: And once you make that shift that you need to achieve true business agility, then the other things start falling in place. Whether it's a release pipelines, which you need for delivering code better, whether it's the digital architects, which you need to support your platform better, all those things start falling in place as long as you make the journey about the why in this case for us, the journey always has been, how can we provide more business agility?

Chet Kapoor: I love that. I've always used 0 to 60 frame. I like going at a hundred miles per hour, faster than 60. That's awesome.

Dev Ganguly: Me too. I have loved cars for that reason too.

Chet Kapoor: I'm going to use it. And every time I say 0 to 100, I'm going to think about you, Dev. I know Malcolm Gladwell is one of your favorite authors. Is there something particular in his work that has inspired you?

Dev Ganguly: Yeah. In fact, I think I have read almost all his books, but my favorite bar none has been the book Outliers. And obviously in that book, he talks about outliers. People like Bill Gates. But interestingly enough, he also talks about the importance of real hard work. In fact, one of the things which stuck with me from that book is 10,000 hour rule, which essentially says, for you to have mastery in any topic, whether that topic is dance, whether that topic is programming, whether that topic is AI, you need to spend approximately 10,000 hours for you to be considered a subject matter expert. And that stuck with me because what it says is in today's world of hyper-personalized context, switching, you still need to have depth, you still need to have time span for you to be an expert in a topic.

Chet Kapoor: Do you think the millennials actually understand the 10,000 hours rule?

Dev Ganguly: It's not just the millennials and I get this question, is it just the millennial generation? I think it's broadly speaking the negative aspect of our newly tethered world with our cell phones and with our google.com. I think it's end to end, we have this challenge. I think even people like us who grew up understanding that rule better are starting to figure out that as long as you can do a Google search, we should be fine.

Chet Kapoor: Now that's a great perspective. Ken Burns, who you know, wants to produce a documentary on how Inspired Execution impacted your company, enterprises, the industry and the world at large and how it came about. So when the documentary airs for the first time, what will the narrator say in the 30 second promo to entice all of us to tune in?

Dev Ganguly: I think the narrator will ask five questions. Do you and your company have a bias for action or get stuff done culture? Do you and your company make innovation a habit with discipline or is innovation just a one-off thing? Do you and your associates have a lifelong learning approach? Do you celebrate failures and learn from it? And last and in my mind, the most important question, is the pace of change truly exciting for you and your team? If you answered no to any of these questions, I would highly recommend that you watch this documentary.

Chet Kapoor: That was awesome. That was awesome.

Narrator: Zero to 100 in 90 days or less is the value pace we want in today's ever-changing world. With that at the forefront, remember the key points Dev concluded with in this podcast, celebrating and learning from our failures allows us to be agile enough to move forward without hesitation.

Narrator: Thank you so much for tuning in to today's episode of the Inspired Execution podcast, hosted by Chairman and CEO of DataStax, Chet Kapoor. We have many more guests with phenomenal stories to come. So stay tuned. If you haven't already done so, subscribe to the series to be notified when a new conversation is released and feel free to drop us any questions or feedback at InspiredExecution@datastax.com.