Inspired Execution

A podcast Series With Chet Kapoor

Episode 2

Our Front Door is Our Mobile App with Home Depot SVP of Information Technology

Home Depot SVP of Information Technology, Fahim Siddiqui tells us how to work in an agile manner while leading with fundamental grounding in terms of people, process, and technologies. Fahim shares the importance of velocity in decision making, at a time when Home Depot is seeing 'Black Friday' volumes every day.

Published August 25th, 2020  |  00:15:49 Runtime

Episode Guest

Fahim Siddiqui

Fahim Siddiqui

SVP, Information Technology at Home Depot

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. 

Today, you'll hear from the Senior Vice President of Information Technology at Home Depot, Fahim Siddiqui. He leads the team that delivers a seamless digital experience for all of Home Depot's digital visitors. Before joining Home Depot, Fahim spent three decades leading software development in retail, energy, and telecom sectors. In this episode, Fahim tells us how you'll never have all the insights and teaches us why together - a team - can do so much more in harmony. Among other fun metaphors, Fahim talks about music being an equalizer for people. Fahim also talks about the reality of today's digital-first world, when every day is Black Friday. Hear how he leads by scaling within Home Depot.

Chet Kapoor: Fahim, I'm very excited to connect with you today. Thank you very much for joining us.

Fahim Siddiqui: It's a great pleasure, Chet. Always wonderful to be with you.

Chet Kapoor: I wanted to start by asking you a little bit about your journey. You've spent time at Sprint, Staples, Home Depot, all different industries. Tell us a little bit about your journey, because it seems like they're very different industries and you've gone through and affected them in many different ways in different parts of the cycle.

Fahim Siddiqui: Yes, Chet more interestingly, I've had the opportunity to work both as... In large corporations, as well as being an entrepreneur. And as I reflect back on that, it's really the blend of entrepreneurship and disciplined execution, which informed my journey.

Fahim Siddiqui: So when I look at my leadership and mindset, these are the principles that are inherent in both environments, which is entrepreneurship, let's imagine the possibilities of the future, and execution, and especially within the context of large companies, ensures that you can deliver on the promises this week, this quarter, and over the period of years.

Chet Kapoor: That is a very interesting perspective. You would recommend to folks who are starting out on this journey or midway through it, that that combination of the art of the possible and staying focused on execution is a phenomenal blend of things. Would you agree with that?

Fahim Siddiqui: Certainly agree. And I was reflecting on just the concept of inspired execution and as reflecting on inspiration. And I think inspiration comes a lot from a joint vision of the future, which is better and at some level different, but better than where we are today. And as we look at aspiration, it really starts the journey, but it's execution that gets us to the finish line. So combining the two, I think is brilliant. And I think that's a brilliant insight that you have had, combining the two together.

Chet Kapoor: Thank you. And so Fahim, if you had to pick one of the two, which one came easier and which one did you have to work on?

Fahim Siddiqui: I think it's always easy to dream, right?

Chet Kapoor: Yeah.

Fahim Siddiqui: It's always easier to dream, but I think it really is grounding into processes, grounding into setting up milestones and follow up, follow through, and ensuring that things get done. Something I learned early on from my mentors was our word is our bond. We deliver on our commitments. There's something that one of my former bosses, he was the Chief Engineering Officer of MCI, at the time, guided me into. And when you say you're going to do it, people should know that you're committed to getting it done. And that is all about execution.

Chet Kapoor: You're absolutely right. Especially, if you're in startup land, right? Because that's why you... You're disrupting the status quo. Right? You're trying to do some things differently, but like I say ideas are cheap, smart execution is what matters. In large companies though you do have people that know how to execute and you do have to make them believe in the art of the possible. How have you gotten that startup mentality into some of the larger company... Larger company gigs that you've done?

Fahim Siddiqui: I think in this concept of inverted pyramid matters. Meaning the higher up you move into the organization, the less top down power you use, and the more you empower, you're never going to have all the insights, but a team together can. So, the important ability there is to really provide that servant leadership where you are, and I am in the service of our associates. Then in that context, you really can unite and inspire everyone. I'm a big fan of the symphony. And when you see the concertmaster who writes down all the details of what the execution will be and the maestro who executes and they bring everybody together. And that is about getting all the right cues at the right time. So that there's harmony.

Chet Kapoor: Shifting gears. You have now been involved with multiple transformations, you blend the physical and the digital platforms for a seamless experience. Given what we've just talked about and your approach of the art of the possible and execution. Do you think these digital transformations vary from industry to industry or do you think it is generally the same two things? The art of the possible and the execution?

Fahim Siddiqui: In every transformation, as we learned probably early on in our engineering classes and math, you start somewhere, you end up somewhere different. That's connected, but different. A lot of times, digital transformations have been viewed as… I'm going to put a bunch of technology and I'll still keep on doing what I was doing. And that works at some level of efficiency, but that's not the end objective. We really want to fully transform where technology enables a new business model.

Fahim Siddiqui: So, for instance, at the Home Depot these days, we truly believe in our CEO, Craig, recently said that that anymore, the front door to our stores is actually our mobile application and the Internet. So, when we think about digital transformation in that context, we think about interconnected commerce. We don't think about e-commerce as one thing and in store commerce as another thing, it's all on the same continuum of the customer journey.

Fahim Siddiqui: And I think if, as companies look at it that way and they look at how the customer experience and how they associate experiences is transformed, what you'll start seeing is this continuum. And that leads us to a much better and different place, and I believe that's true in any industry.

Chet Kapoor: How do you deal with speed? You need to execute thoughtfully, but you have to do it with speed. And startup speed is important because it is about survival.

Chet Kapoor: In a large company, you have momentum of a business model that is changing. Clearly, Home Depot as an example, didn't start by saying the tip of the arrow is a mobile app, right? The tip of the experience of a mobile app, it was first the store, and now it's the mobile app. So, you are in this transformation. How do you try to blend being patient and impatient? And the second part is how do you drive that through the organization?

Fahim Siddiqui: So there's a fundamental grounding in terms of people, process and technology, that one has to have to be able to have speed and acceleration. And that comes a lot in terms of what is your velocity of decision making?

Fahim Siddiqui: Are you looking at a hundred percent of all the information to get a hundred percent total estimate to what it will take to get everything complete? Or is that okay to test and learn? Is it okay to execute from one agile cycle to the next, be it on a quarterly basis, or be it from sprint to sprint. At the Home Depot, we did make that process and people transformation.

Fahim Siddiqui: There... We do work fully in an agile manner. And in that case, you can actually shift priorities from quarter to quarter or from sprint to sprint. But underneath that, the technology transformation just as important, which is having enough of technology that is agile, which is API driven, which is based on modern technologies and the cloud where you have the ability to use and reuse components that have been built, but also the ability to scale them as quickly as you need to.

Fahim Siddiqui: We saw an immense uptake in our online business when the challenges of COVID hit us. At one point, we started seeing Black Friday type of volumes every given day, and that had everything to do with having the people, process and technology basis to scale out and really provide unparalleled service. I don't think it's about the big companies or the small companies. I think it's about how we address decision-making and if we can address decision-making properly, that's when the things follow.

Chet Kapoor: That's awesome. I think so though, the point is the speed comes from, you see a problem, you solve it, you see a problem, you solve it, right?

Fahim Siddiqui: Undoubtedly. In some cases we deploy it, deliver from store, and buy online with curbside delivery within a matter of days and... Or less.

Chet Kapoor: That's awesome. By the way, I continue to love the curbside delivery stuff that you guys have done. It's been awesome.

Chet Kapoor: So, Fahim one of the challenges for you beyond speed, and I think you've definitely found a good way to solve for it and get to the essence of it is, as a technologist, looking at cool technologies that are coming up on the horizon, or might be six or nine months from now, at the same time being present with business needs. How have you found a way to balance that?

Fahim Siddiqui: I think at this point we are coming to a view that it's not about any one invention that will significantly change the customer or the associate experience. It is about a lot of how we arrange and rearrange the set of technologies and leverage them.

Fahim Siddiqui: For instance, data insights today give us a lot better view about the intent of a customer or intent of an associate. So if the customer does not have to click 10 times to get to the product that they're looking for, or the service that they're looking for, because we have the data insight about the intent and based on that insight, we can lead them to what they're looking for, it takes the friction away.

Fahim Siddiqui: And I think through all of this transformation at the end of the day, we want to reduce the friction. We want to reduce the overhead and deliver the most value.

Chet Kapoor: That's awesome. Anything that you're looking forward to maturing that you think will change your experience with customers?

Fahim Siddiqui: Undoubtedly, I think in the past, we always had a stack in technology where you had great user experience behind it. You had a good set of APIs, which were informed by a great amount of data. And I think now we are starting to add this layer of machine learning, which can understand what the needs might be. So if you're actually looking at some content, what products might be relevant to that.

Fahim Siddiqui: If you're looking for some products, what content might be relevant to that, to you, and be able to actually bring that together as a full solution.

Chet Kapoor: Yeah, by the way, AI and ML has so much potential. But I think as I talk about this, I think having, being a data-driven, we're all going to digital transformation, but being a data driven enterprise is actually a precursor to becoming AI-driven or ML-driven enterprise. And I think you guys are well on your way to do that. 

Shifting gears, you've been very involved in a variety of causes in Atlanta, like the symphony that you mentioned earlier. Tell us a little bit about that.

Fahim Siddiqui: At the Home Depot, a great gift that our founders gave us had been our values. Within those values, building strong relationships, giving back to the community and doing the right thing or something that are very important to us. I am passionate about music.

Fahim Siddiqui: I am passionate about music as being a great equalizer, which people of all races, all colors, all backgrounds can equally relate to. And it actually helps develop a level of confidence, develop a level of achievement. And in that context, being involved with the Atlanta Symphony gives us an opportunity to take this gift and really share it with the community, share it with up and coming artists from all different backgrounds.

Chet Kapoor: What inspires you?

Fahim Siddiqui: You always have to look ahead and expect that the leaders that are going to follow us, the leaders that we are investing in will be wonderful and great and better leaders, not just in technology, but in humanity, in entrepreneurship, in their risk taking, in their delivery.

Fahim Siddiqui: So all the wonderful leaders I get to work with, day in and day out, they inspire me because every time I look at them and I say, well, aren't they all amazing.

Fahim Siddiqui: And these are young leaders. These are leaders of color. These are leaders. These are women leaders that I've mentored. These are leaders in the organization at all levels. And I look at them and see the potential, and the future is so much brighter. And that's what inspires me.

Chet Kapoor: By the way. I would agree with that every time I look at the younger generation and I look at people around me, I'm like, I hope we were as smart as they were when we were that age.

Fahim Siddiqui: They just amaze me with the commitment and they amaze me with intelligence and so wonderful to see these leaders grow.

Chet Kapoor: If you take these leaders, they have a lot of potential. If there was a piece of advice you had to give either a younger version of yourself or to them?

Fahim Siddiqui: Specifically, when I look at the technical leaders, there's one thing I say to them. I said, there's always the content of what you're doing, which is generally informed by the technical training you have had and the experience. But then there's also the context. And the context is what informs why you're doing what you're doing.

Fahim Siddiqui: And I always ask them to invest in the context, be it a business context, be it from the customer view, be it a societal issue. So that outside in view which frames what you do, is quite important.

Fahim Siddiqui: And to do that, invest in reading about history, invest in understanding social issues, invest in understanding how customer preferences and societal preferences are evolving so that you're prepared and you anticipate the need and deliver solutions ahead of that.

Chet Kapoor: That is phenomenal, in essence, no matter how much you think it is about the code and the technology, it is as much or more about the people and the context that the context and with the technology is solving a problem. And so focus on that as well.

Fahim Siddiqui: Undoubtedly.

Chet Kapoor: Awesome. Fahim this has been a great, great discussion. I think anybody that listens to it is going to deeply appreciate it. Thank you very much for giving us your time and for the partnership that we've cultivated over the last decade or so, really appreciate it.

Fahim Siddiqui: No, thank you, Chet. I've always learned a lot from you and I look forward to doing the same over years to come.

Narrator: We hope you take away the importance of not only context and harmony within teams, but that combining aspiration and inspiration is fundamental to get a joint vision of the future. A plan that will get you to the finish line. 

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.