You have to engage your employees in the vision of the company, but also in the equity of the business via options or shares. While this may seem obvious, it’s worth pointing out that CEOs have to share the company vision and motivate employees towards achieving it. The key thing is empowering people within the organization to think like an owner of the business, rather than an employee. It’s also important to prioritize your customers and how business partners feel and act, because it’s not just you who has skin in the game and feels the effects of success or failure. If the company’s successful, your customers and partners are also successful.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alastair Bathgate, CEO of Blue Prism, provider of the world’s most successful Digital Workforce that is used by many banking, consumer and professional services companies that make up the Fortune 500 such as Walgreens, Fannie Mae, Johnson & Johnson, Ernst & Young and Pfizer. Alastair has worked in the enterprise software field since 1996 which has given Alastair a unique understanding of operational business processes and how technology can be used to improve efficiency and service. Under Alastair’s leadership, Blue Prism announced its IPO in 2016 and the company has been a driving force in one of the newest waves in automation — robotic process automation (RPA) in the process becoming the fastest growing public software company in the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I studied business at Manchester Polytechnic and started out as an accountant — I quickly realized that I wanted something more exciting. I spent some time working in the printing industry in the UK in the 1980s. This was a time when we went through tremendous peak disruption through digitalization which inevitably had a significant impact on labor relations. This disruption of the ways things were done in the printing industry was ultimately good for everybody, including the employees, and certainly the customers.
After a few years at a UK bank, where process flow charts were non-existent and computerization was at an early stage, I went to get an MBA at University of Leeds and came out of the qualification wondering where I could go. The software industry interested me and led me to work for Lynx Financial Systems, where at the time I worked on collections and recovery software applications. During my time at Lynx I learned more about digitization in terms of knowledge work. I experienced firsthand how poorly automation, particularly in business processes, was documented in the banking and services sector. I knew that software was the key solution for this challenge. At about the same time I came to this conclusion, I also realized that I was sick of making money for other people. I thought, “Why shouldn’t I change the world myself?” That combination helped spark the notion of Blue Prism.
And, since having an idea is one thing and executing on it is another, I knew that I needed many other people to help me make a difference. I started with my co-founder and Blue Prism CTO Dave Moss who understood my and other people’s frustrations with business process automation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Blue Prism was founded in my house. I moved to a larger property so Dave and I, the only employees of the company at that point, could have a room that we could use as our office space. We wanted to make it look like a professional office space and since we named the company Blue Prism, we thought it would be a good idea to paint it blue. One day, Dave and I jumped into our overalls and started painting the room. As we were getting close to finishing it and we were at the last part of one of the walls we realized we were running out of paint. So, we washed it down a bit, then washed it down a bit more, until the last bit of wall was painted. We didn’t want to go to the store to get a new can of paint for just a square foot. We finished painting and we used the server box to cover that space. From that day forward, it became a soft image of the mentality and the culture of Blue Prism — not frugality, but value for money, innovation and the importance of branding and professionalism.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We democratized business process automation, and by that what I mean is we hand the power back to BizOps, so they can handle their own automation. In essence it’s like business users training robots, rather than the traditional IT approach of technical people writing software code and all the associated project infrastructure that goes along with that.
We ran into this challenge at a tier 1 UK bank which was Blue Prism’s first customer. They had basic processes that people were doing and they couldn’t get IT to automate it. In order for a new request to even make it on the IT task list it would take nearly 12 months to negotiate a potential proposal for automating these processes. Once this proposal was approved and made it to the IT task list, out of 250 items only 5 were delivered in the span of another 12 months. It was at this point that we recognized that there was this burgeoning automation need because IT didn’t have unlimited resources and many automation requests could not justify the expense of an IT program.
We knew that creating one more piece of technology that added things into that list clearly wasn’t going to break the back of this problem and change the world. Whhe paradigm shift in our approach is democratizing automation so that business operations teams can automate their own business processes, once the preserve of the IT department, by training robots rather than writing code.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We’ve got the new intelligent digital worker on the way. The technology we’ve developed is disrupting human beings in the workplace with invisible software. But, it’s not just about developing software, we’re changing work cultures. We’re extremely excited about the future of work. Our experience is that, far from being a threat to humans, digital workers assist humans and free them to do things that add more value, like building reltionships.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
You have to engage your employees in the vision of the company, but also in the equity of the business via options or shares. While this may seem obvious, it’s worth pointing out that CEOs have to share the company vision and motivate employees towards achieving it. The key thing is empowering people within the organization to think like an owner of the business, rather than an employee.
It’s also important to prioritize your customers and how business partners feel and act, because it’s not just you who has skin in the game and feels the effects of success or failure. If the company’s successful, your customers and partners are also successful.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people who have been integral, but one individual that stands out is Jason Kingdon, Blue Prism Chairman, who I met in 2007. It was interesting to engage someone who had walked this same path before — building a software company, specifically enterprise software. If you engage someone who has relevant experience in building a business you can gain some transformational learning. It helps guide your execution, in finding people, structuring the business, whether it be presenting the business to the outside world, or simply lifting the level of your mission. Being able to leverage that external POV was priceless for me as we started out in this business.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We’ve removed hundreds of boring tasks that human beings could be doing and instead found a way to make work more meaningful and exciting again. It’s one of the pieces of goodness we, as a company, have brought to the world.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Don’t let people (e.g. non-execs and investors) meddle with your vision. Although they can help in many other ways, it’s important to stay true to the original vision of the company and only the founders truly “feel” that.
2. Make sure you are well funded — cash crises are what cause all the stress.
3. In relation to (#2) source all the cash you can from customers and avoid investors until you really have a market opportunity identified and want to fund expansion.
4. People matter — find your corporate culture and hire ruthlessly to match. This is even more important than people’s ability to do the technical job.
5. Impatience is a virtue. There is no time to stand and stare when you are building a company.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
It’s not a single life lesson quote, but I suggest reading Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s my recommendation for any budding entrepreneur to read that book. It’s truly transformational.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I’d love to hear the early Oracle stories from Larry Ellison. There must be a lot of parallels with the kind of businesses and technology challenges we’ve dealt with.
When you are done with this, please include 2 or 3 good pictures — one of the interviewee in action with others, and another, a classy headshot. A landscape orientation picture is needed for the top picture that will be the thumbnail preview. Ideal pixel size is 1100 / 700 at 72 res. Please do not send a picture that is smaller than 1000 pixels wide, — it will not show up well.
Originally published at medium.com