Jim Kavanaugh endured difficult times, but persevered to now leverage a powerful network of businesses.
Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, a Missouri-based technology integrator, had to endure difficult times, but persevered to now provide advanced design, configuration, logistics and deployment capabilities to Fortune 500 enterprises from around the world, leveraging a powerful network of business and technology partners across industries ranging from healthcare to oil and gas.
It is very difficult for Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of privately-held World Wide Technology (WWT), to imagine the role of a leader taking the reins of an organization already in place, instead of keeping in mind what he and his company have had to endure and live through since its establishment in 1990.
“When I go back to the early days, probably the first five years of WWT, some of the main things were the big learning opportunities, and the relentless focus on needing to close business to stay in business,” Kavanaugh says. “In the first 3 to 5 years there were challenges that you wouldn’t normally think go with running a business. It’s a little different than thinking about the innovation, and growth and leadership programs.”
The experiences obtained in those years, from finding the right people for the right positions to maintaining a rigorous financial management to achieving the correct attitudes toward the business could serve as the basis for a book on the dos’ and don’ts of being an entrepreneur. “Those are some of the things that we’ve done a good job of figuring, learning through the years and continuing to create what I’d consider a learning leadership organization, that we continue to keep our eyes and ears open, looking at that practices of companies around the world from how they manage financially, how they manage innovation, who they manage people and culture,” he adds.
Also, it was no small feat for an executive then in his mid-twenties to convince the likes of Cisco, for example, of the soundness of WWT’s business plan and of the benefits of partnering up, Kavanaugh explains. “It is something that I continue to do today.”
World Wide Technology employs over 4,000 and collects FY16 US$9.4 billion, annually in revenue
Adding value to technology
WWT has come a long way since its humble beginnings. The company now employs thousands of engineers across the globe to help clients deploy the best technology solutions by helping them determine exactly what they need and then helping create it with the help of its vast, premium network of tech partners, which include large names such as Cisco, Intel, Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard.
Three Integration Technology Centers (ITCs) in Saint Louis, Amsterdam and Singapore bring the business closer to customers in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Beyond that, the company’s 24/7 Advanced Technology Center (ATC) has created a collaborative ecosystem for all stages involved in standing up IT architecture, from design to demonstration, to implementation to training.
Those capabilities are key to WWT’s differentiation as a value-added partner instead of a simple technology supplier, Kavanaugh says. “There are times when you can be doing business with an organization, but there is a very small added value there and you end up at risk of being displaced by the customer, which can decide to do it by itself. So the focus was: how do we add more value? And that’s one thing that we looked at as we were building our ATC, this ecosystem of labs that we built around all the different technology products, platforms and solutions that we build, from cloud, cyber security architectures, hyper-converged application development solutions, voice video and collaboration.”
That cloud-based infrastructure, created around 8 years ago to move up on the value proposition to customers, has been “incredibly well received” by customers and partners alike. Also has also helped the company better train its own personnel and make it easier to build and reshape systems and solutions in what the executive calls a “sandbox environment.”
That environment also helps with another pillar of the technology paradigm the world is living in, as constant change means there has never been a bigger need for constant learning, he says. “People need to understand that coming out of school, whether you got a four-year degree or your Masters or PhD, in this world, in this space, you’ve got to focus on relentless learning every day, because the world of technology is continuing to change.”
A unifying set of values
Growing from a small systems integrator on the banks of the Mississippi River to a global technology company has demanded not just to convince suppliers of the convenience of doing business with WWT, but also the creation of a set of internal values and even a shared business language, Kavanaugh says.
“Everybody speaks the same language, whether you’re in China or you’re in St. Louis, they understand the behaviors they’re expected to respect, and teamwork, and the mantra of doing whatever it takes to get the job done for our customers and our partners.”
The executive takes pride in the fact that WWT has managed to outperform itself, doubling its bottom and top line every five years to achieve its current, over US$9.3 billion top line. That, he mentions, has a lot to do with taking the right risks without overexposing the operation, and warns about the risks of losing sight of the long-term goals vis-à-vis immediate success. “There’s a lot of organizations that will have a successful quarter, or a year, and then do some things that drive the organization under. Some owners just get infatuated with the money that they’re making at that point so they lose sight of what got them to where they’re at that point in time, so they basically want to cash out, or they just don’t want to work as hard as they did in the past, or they just don’t know how to put the boxes in place to continue to grow.”
Regarding the company’s future growth, Kavanaugh says he is looking into the continued strengthening of its supply chain infrastructure and its increasingly complex network of knowledge around tax and international law required to supply large global companies across different geographies.
Another goal is to continue reinforcing the role and brand of WWT as a trusted advisor for its customers. “Instead of a customer going to Cisco, Dell EMC and Intel and asking them ‘hey, how’s your product here?’, we want them to come to us so we can show them, for example, five different firewalls and see how they work within their environment.”
“EMC, now Dell EMC, and WWT have enjoyed a great partnership over the years… Jim has created a fantastic culture at WWT that reflects his personal passion and drive for innovation. is is evident with WWT’s Advanced Technology Center, which is a great example of how we are working together to disrupt the market with solutions and services that enable our customers to transform their businesses for the future”
— CHRIS RILEY, PRESIDENT, AMERICAS ENTERPRISE SALES AND CUSTOMER OPERATIONS AT DELL EMC.