Carlos Moreira, Head of Digital Transformation at SUMOL+COMPAL, shares his strategy for making employees his biggest evangelists for company-wide digital transformation.

Ulyana Zilbermints: Carlos, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today in this Lisbon edition of Leaders inStudio. Please introduce yourself and your company for our audience!

Carlos Moreira: I’m the Head of Digital Transformation at SUMOL+COMPAL, a food and beverage company focused on the Portuguese market. In fact, it’s hard to come across any cafe or restaurant here that doesn’t carry our products. We have our own brands, but we also represent a portfolio of brands like PepsiCo. 

About 70% of our revenue comes from Portugal, though we also have a presence in Mozambique and export our goods to some 40-50 companies around the world. One interesting fact about our company is that we are one of the only countries in the world – if not the only country – where The Coca-Cola Company doesn’t have the largest market share, which shows that our brands are deeply rooted in Portuguese culture.

UZ: What are the biggest challenges you’re facing today as a digital leader in the food and beverage industry?

CM: When I arrived at SUMOL+COMPAL, there was no need to sell digital transformation. Everybody was already on board, partly because of the challenges the food and beverage industry faced during COVID. My role is focused on preparing SUMOL+COMPAL for significant growth. 

Our digital transformation strategy is two-pronged. One part is focused on digitalization, by which I mean ensuring that our own internal operations are future-proof and prepared for significant growth. This is my strategic priority since internal transformation paves the way for the second part: exploring new business models, going deeper into corporate innovation, and pushing boundaries in a way that respects and adds value to our mission and values. We’re prioritizing systems, processes, and operations so that we can leverage them to build new partnerships and business models down the road.

UZ: What’s the project you’re most excited about?

CM: For my first six months at SUMOL+COMPAL, I ran workshops with each department to understand where I needed to focus. We collected 700 requests that we then consolidated, organized, and prioritized. SUMOL+COMPAL spans everything from agriculture to last-mile delivery, so connecting the dots for every department was a massive initiative. Many times, departments described symptoms of an underlying problem related to project management.

Every company does project management, but not every project manager has adequate training and the right tools, which was a frustration point we saw throughout the company. So we took the most difficult workflow process – the creation of new products – and bought a tool for the workflow. Now more and more people are asking to use this tool for their departments. We grew from 20 users to 400. The company from bottom up said they needed it, which meant I didn’t need to convince business leaders or force it on the users. 

I’m very proud of this, because it’s exactly what I think digital transformation should be: you open doors, and people realize how helpful those new possibilities can be, so they walk through the required change voluntarily. 

UZ: To be honest, I’ve never seen digital transformation done this way, and it sounds extremely successful. 

CM: As leaders, we do need to push people to adopt technology, because digital transformation shifts the focus from siloed operations to integrated, end-to-end processes. But changing a technology doesn’t ensure a change in mindset; people can still bring a legacy of old operations to new technologies. 

That’s why we need to democratize the understanding that technology can transform our work and open new possibilities. One of the techniques I’m using is showcasing technologies in different areas. I’m not presenting proposals or roadmaps,  just showing what’s possible. Suddenly this empowers the end users to make the best decisions so I’m not superimposing change on them.

UZ: How do you implement creative thinking and design thinking into this process? 

CM: The answer might surprise you: I use it, but I don’t say anything about it. The tenure at SUMOL+COMPAL is twenty-two years. People here want change, but change itself can be difficult. Words have power, so I prefer to show people the tools and frameworks in action instead of talking about them. 

For example, in the workshops I was talking about, we used practices like customer journey mapping without ever talking about the term itself, and suddenly leaders from other departments who see the processes I follow in action are asking to apply them to their projects. This makes change so much easier. One of these days I’ll put terms to the practices we’re following, but there’s no need to advertise that I’m changing legacy systems. 

The other important difference here is that we’re not focused on things like service design and design thinking for end customers only; our focus right now is actually on using all of these for our internal teams. Every technology platform is a service, and it needs to deliver a service within the company, which will probably affect lots of departments and teams, so you have to figure out how you’ll be delivering value to those users in their particular environments so they have a better user experience. For incumbent companies, this is the right approach.

UZ: It sounds like you’re reverse engineering the process! I have a question about that twenty-two year tenure: how do you motivate new talent to join, and how do you merge newcomers with those who have been in the company for so long?

CM: Looking at the personas within SUMOL+COMPAL, you have very ambitious people (maybe 10%), very cautious people (about 50%), and people who are averse to change (about 30%). Part of my job in entering the company was to understand who fell into which camp. My focus has been on the ambitious and cautious personas. I’ve tried to open doors for the ambitious people to run through so that the cautious people can observe their success and become open to change.

We have four plants across Portugal, plus some logistics sites, and I managed to go to most of them to run local workshops. I did this alongside someone who had been in the company for decades, and he was the one presenting use cases for SUMOL+COMPAL for new tools like Salesforce. It was important that I wasn’t presenting new technologies and advocating change as a newcomer. Instead, I partnered with the ambitious people within the company to act as evangelists. 

UZ: So how did you identify these ambitious people?

CM: I opened doors and watched who responded enthusiastically, and I also asked each department to nominate a digital transformation ambassador. Talking to 400 people within the 2-3 months that I ran my workshops also gave me an idea of who these people might be. The workshops were also useful to employees because it gave them the confidence to approach me with ideas and questions.

UZ: You have a very unique leadership style! I don’t see many leaders coming alongside their team to incentivize change from the ground up.

CM: We have to be flexible. Some digital tools will need a strong implementation program with mandatory training, but there are some subtle things we can do that may not at the moment offer the highest ROI, but they pave the way to unlocking that ROI. I’m doing things that allow people to be faster, more efficient, more empowered, and more likely to want to stay with the company. 

This also attracts new talent because we are a company that wants to change but is finding it difficult to get there, so tech-forward people can help us transform. We want to be very careful to implement the right structural solutions and technologies that will support our growth down the line.

UZ: I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, Carlos, and learning from you about how you’re implementing digital transformation in such a unique way. Thank you for joining us today and sharing your leadership style!

 

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Ulyana Zilbermints

Ulyana Zilbermints is the Chief Revenue Officer at Avenue Code.


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