Andre Souza Ferreira, Regional CIO and Head of Software/Connected Vehicle and Services South America at Stellantis, explains the traits that make a successful modern CIO and gives us a peek into the practices that cultivate innovation within a company’s DNA.
Ulyana Zilbermints: What are the most important traits of a modern CIO, and how do you personally cultivate your leadership style?
Andre Souza Ferreira: First of all, the modern CIO is not solely technical. You can have a technical background, but the most important thing is to be strongly aligned with business objectives so that when you sit at the table with your board, you are there not only to talk about IT, but also to contribute to the business strategy.
Secondly, when you’re working with your team, you need to be able to adapt your leadership style according to the circumstances at hand. Sometimes you need to be a coach, sometimes you need to be a guide and a visionary, and sometimes you simply need to listen to your team. Adaptability as a leader is key to building high-performance teams.
The third skill I find important is the ability to create an environment where people work well together. By this, I don’t mean that you should share decisions, but that you should build decisions together. Sometimes there are challenges you need to share with your team, but sometimes there are challenges you need to handle on your own so that you can create a safe environment for your people. I’ll also note here that it’s important to be apprised of the issues your employees face on a ground level instead of staying distant in your office.
UZ: For two years running, your company has won recognition as a Top 100 Company in IT. How do you cultivate innovation at Stellantis?
AF: Let me set the stage by remarking that innovation is not the sole responsibility of one person or group within the company. Innovation should be embedded in the DNA of the company. This means being open to receiving and engaging new ideas. My team is in charge not only of digital transformation but also of how we can create methods that enable people to practice innovation. Each person in the company needs to assume ownership of innovation.
We have specific events like Innovation Week and Digital Challenge to stimulate this mindset. Last year, we also launched a global event called Star Up, during which each company region suggests innovation projects and then presents their top idea to our CEO and other company VPs. This is very important for us because it stimulates creativity and gives visibility to our innovation process and mindset.
Even with our launch of Star Up, we still keep our Digital Challenge event active because it’s very important for us to consider innovation not just as something that generates business but also as an opportunity to improve our processes and performance. This event enables us to mentor our employees, giving them the support they need to leverage their knowledge. In this way, we promote not only innovation but also digital transformation. In fact, we run surveys at the end of each event, and the evaluations represented on the NPS are always very good–people look forward to it every year!
These are only a few of our initiatives, but the most important focus is to have innovation in our DNA. At every layer of our company, our culture empowers people to try, fail, and try again. The people most equipped to innovate are those who own the process, but sometimes people have great ideas and are afraid to try them. When you have a culture that accepts failure as part of the learning process, you’re set up to innovate.
UZ: What are the new ideas and opportunities you see within your organization post-COVID?
AF: We rolled out the NEA (new era of agility) initiative within Stellantis where employees can work from anywhere and enjoy a more open and flexible environment and work hours. In addition to this, we introduced some common best practices due to the merger between PSA and FCA.
One of the clear objectives we received after this merger was to solidify one new organization, which meant defining one new model for governance and people. The second objective was to find new opportunities for synergy, which meant collaborating and integrating to understand the best practices that exist in each company, then adopting the best from each.
UZ: How do you identify which practice is the best?
AF: We are structured as clusters, and each area of the company uses common KPIs to determine which best practices should be adopted from each company. In my area of ICT, for example, we needed to compare contracts, practices, and systems to identify the best solution. In terms of collaborative tools, FCA used Google Workspace, and PSA used Microsoft Office. We started integrating these platforms on day one, but it was necessary for us to decide on only one environment. We settled on Microsoft, a decision driven by experience, cost-effectiveness, and company strategy.
UZ: How do you manage your personal life now while we’re working from home?
AF: I have two children, and it’s been difficult to manage everything, but thanks to my wife’s support, it’s possible. My kids understood the situation, too, and helped accommodate my work. On a personal note, I find that building in healthy habits like working out is very important, so I wake up before 6AM every day to go to the gym.
I imagine that this pandemic has not only changed our relationships with our consumers, but also the relationships between companies and employees. Whether you’re at home with kids or you’re at home alone, we all face unique challenges. But we’re learning how to adapt and how to accept that our partners and employees are also adapting. In fact, we created some special programs to keep our people engaged not only in work but also in entertainment to help them enjoy their time away from work.
UZ: Thank you for all of the new ideas you gave us about innovation and balancing life during this new normal. Everyone is living through a unique time, and the more ideas we exchange and collect, the better off we will be. It’s been a pleasure, Andre. Thank you for joining us!
Watch Andre's interview and learn more about Leaders inStudio:
Ulyana Zilbermints is the Chief Revenue Officer at Avenue Code.