Executive Education

My first 100 days as a CEO in a listed company

By Adolfo Hernandez, CEO, SDL
Executive Education
Published: 15 December 2016

Today, around the world, we are creating over a million terabytes of data every day and that pace is accelerating. If you take YouTube as an example, people are uploading about 300 hours of video every minute – that is 4x what it was a year ago. Because all this content is being consumed by people all around the world, that means the localisation market is also growing rapidly and is now worth almost £40 billion, yet the top 3 players, of which SDL is one, only have about 10% of the market. An opportunity like this was exactly what I was looking for when deciding what my next challenge would be.

SDL focuses on helping enterprises take their content global, which may sound simple on the face of it, but it is actually extremely complex. In a nutshell, SDL helps brands with content creation and management, content localisation, content delivery and publishing.

Having been interested in languages all my life and speaking English, Spanish, German, French and some Italian myself, I fundamentally believe that every person on the planet, regardless of the language they speak, should be able to participate in the global conversations that surround us. From a career perspective, I have spent half of my career in software and the other half in services, and have been the CEO of a start-up and a private equity firm, but never the CEO of a listed company so the opportunity to become SDL’s CEO seemed like a great fit for me.

During my first 100 days as CEO I made it a priority to meet customers, partners, employees, analysts, experts and even some competitors. If you don’t understand your stakeholders, you will never be successful. So I’ve been on the road, visiting multiple countries, offices and stakeholders every week. But I’ve also been learning all about our business. I have literally sat with translators as they work to see what gets in their way and find out from them what we could perhaps do better. I have gone deep into our technical offerings to understand what is core to our business so that we can focus on building the right solutions. And, needless to say, I have met with every leader within the business to ascertain our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

It’s definitely been a whirlwind few months as I’ve already visited 20 countries, and met with 70 percent of our employees. In an ideal world I would have met with everyone, but of course that is impossible. But I did want to give everyone the opportunity to tell me what they thought, so I launched a survey within my first hour of joining the business. I wanted to understand, from their perspective what we are doing well, what we are not doing so well, where our capabilities are strong, where they are lacking, and whether we are customer orientated. Just as the ability to communicate globally is the key to our clients’ international business success, simple, open communication within the company is crucial to ours. It facilitates understanding, fosters talent and ultimately it will make us more successful.

Understanding the business inside out – the good and the bad – and how SDL can do more to help customers, has been the greatest challenge I have faced so far. It is a massive learning curve and being a listed company that had run into difficulties over the last couple of years, I felt it was critical to assimilate this information quickly and come up with a plan that we could communicate to reassure our stakeholders that we are on the right road.

We need to differentiate our offerings based on varying industry needs, evolve our business and tailor our approach to each of our customers in order to be successful in this rapidly developing market.

How I measure the success of this plan will not singularly be based on results – it will also be based on how those results have been generated – pride in the teams, in our employees sense of belonging to a winning organisation, and in our customers relaying that we have helped him realise their vision.