Sun, 20 September 2020
Jim Heppelmann is the CEO of PTC, a technology software company with 6,500 employees in 30 countries. Jim was named one of “7 IoT leaders to Watch in 2017” by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, he was recognized as “IoT CEO of the Year” by PostScapes, “Technology CEO of the Year” by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, and he received the CAD Society Leadership Award for his work with the Internet of Things.
Together with Harvard Professor, Michael Porter, Jim has co-authored three highly influential articles on the transformational impact of the Internet of Things on business.
Jim grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota as one of eight children. It was during his upbringing on the farm that he really learned the value of hard work as well as the ability to take things apart and put them back together, which is in part why he was successful as a mechanical engineer.
It was actually one of his older sisters who inspired him to attend college and study to become an engineer in the first place. After she graduated from college and got her first job she was already making as much as their parents, and Jim was amazed by that. So engineering brought him to college, but once he got there he fell in love with computer science. He studied at the intersection of where software meets engineering, which turned out to work great as he is now the CEO of a company that produces software for engineers.
An inside look at the role of CEO
A lot of people may think they have an idea of what CEOs do throughout the day, and of course it differs a bit for each CEO depending on the organization. But Jim shares what it is like for him day to day as a CEO.
He says, “I don't want this to sound derogatory in any way, but maybe I'm responsible for herding cats, because there's a lot of people that are part of a lot of initiatives, a lot of programs, a big organization. And I'm trying to keep all of that moving in the right direction generally. So I'm not doing the precise tweaks, but try to keep everybody understanding where we're going. And make sure they're moving in that direction, and they're moving at the right pace. So that, you know, it all comes together each quarter when we're delivering products or projects or trying to make the quarter quarterly results happen.”
He also shares that a large part of his day is made up of meeting with his people to check in to see how things are going, what projects they are working on, how they are solving problems, etc...He doesn’t try to tell people what to do, but he makes suggestions and tries to guide people in the right direction.
One part of the job that gives him a lot of energy is interacting with customers. He really enjoys figuring out what it is they are trying to do, how PTC can help them, and getting feedback on the good and bad aspects of their products.
All in all Jim sees himself as the vision guy. While he realizes the need for internal meetings and keeping the organization on track, he really loves working with the engineers on the next generation approach they are building and working with the customers on where the company is going and the vision for the future of PTC.
Why CEOs should have a short attention span
Jim often wakes up in the middle of the night with new ideas or ways to solve a problem. And the joke at PTC is that about the time Jim gets bored with something that is when it really starts to work. That’s because as long as he is focused on solving something he is going to come in to work with those middle of the night ideas to keep tweaking and fixing certain things.
But Jim believes that CEOs should be a little impatient and have a short attention span. Why? Because Jim says the biggest problem with CEOs at his level of tenure is they have become entrenched in old thinking.
About some CEOs, he says, “They made a decision five years ago. Maybe even eight years ago, and for a couple years, they improved it a little bit. And then they've just spent the last five years tell everybody why it works. And saying we're not going to change it. And I'm a little bit of a different cut. I say, hey, we did this, we improved it, it's working. But we’ve got to think about what's next. And then let's not wait until it's not working to think about what's next. Let's some of us start thinking about what we're going to do next, even while this is still working pretty well.”
Jim is always looking for the next round of changes that make PTC better, or that protect them from a new threat headed their way. This is a quality that he believes all CEOs should have. Always looking to the next thing, don’t just ride current success.
Achieving work-life balance as a CEO
As the CEO of 6,500+ employees, Jim seems very relaxed and happy. He doesn’t seem stressed out at all. One thing that has helped him with this a lot is having a work-life balance. He not only leads the organization, but he also makes time to spend time with his family, take care of the animals on his farm, and cook. But that wasn’t always the case.
Jim says when he first became a CEO he burned the candle at both ends, he tried to do everything on his own. And overtime he learned that was not sustainable. When sharing what he learned he says, “what I should do is focus my energy where I really bring a lot of value to the table, again, which tends to be around product strategies, marketing strategies, marketing messages, competitive strategies, and so forth. And let somebody else manage the financial plan, let somebody else manage the professional services margins, and things like that because I don't need to do that and I don't bring a tremendous quality to it, you know, nothing super unique or special. And at the end of the day, you’ve got to pick your battles, there's just not enough time for a CEO to be in charge of everything. So I got a lot happier after I realized I should roll with the punches and just really add value where I think I have the most value to add.”
This is such great advice for all CEOs, don’t try to have your hand in all the cookie jars. Don’t take everything upon yourself and don’t think you have to have all the answers. You will get burnt out that way. Surround yourself with people who are good at what you are not good at and rely on them.
Three ways to battle entrenched thinking
No matter what industry you work in, you may find that people around you are entrenched in old ways of thinking, especially if they have been in a certain role for a long time. People don’t like change, it’s just a fact of life. So how do you change that? Jim has three ways that he battled entrenched thinking inside of PTC when he first joined.
The impact of augmented reality on the future of work
One of the major trends Jim is paying attention to at the moment is augmented reality and the impact it is having on the future of work. There are so many applications for this technology. And one way it could help has been magnified by Covid. One quarter of the world works behind a computer screen and digitalization has done amazing things for knowledge workers who are in these positions especially in these times when they can easily work remotely from their homes. But for the other three quarters of the world the front line workers don’t have any other option but to go to work physically at a specific location or they can be laid off or fired.
Augmented reality (AR) could really solve this problem for frontline workers. It can also help people make fewer mistakes, do their jobs more efficiently, and it can even help with the current skills gap problem.
In the US the demographics have changed, and we no longer have new generations of workers going into factories and industrial work, for a variety of reasons. People felt like this work was moving overseas, this type of work is no longer seen as desirable, etc...So what we now have is a majority of people in this industry reaching retirement age with no one younger coming in to take their places. This is the skills gap problem.
How could AR help solve this problem? It could record the knowledge of the current workers to be used for training in the future and it could also be used to show potential workers what the work is really like to convince them to go into that field of work.
As Jim shares, “AR can play a huge role. Because for example, we can capture the expertise of the retiring worker, that kind of AR YouTube idea. We can capture that expertise, store it, and when a new worker shows up through a Hololens, or phone or tablet actually redeploy that coaching that's been digitized into the physical environment for the benefit of the new worker. So the new worker can be coached in the actual environment by somebody who retired two years ago. It's just a very powerful idea.”