Shifting a Corporate Culture at Scale — and with Speed  

3 May 2018:

Ashok Vemuri is CEO of Conduent, a publicly held business process services (BPS) company. Based in New Jersey, Conduent was spun off from Xerox on December 31, 2016, as an independent company. To a large degree, Conduent traces its heritage back to Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a rollup of BPS firms that Xerox acquired in 2010. Vemuri, a native of India, was educated at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, and at the Indian Institute of Management. After working in investment banking, he spent 14 years at Infosys, rising to manage its manufacturing and engineering services division. He then served as CEO of iGate, which was sold to Capgemini in 2015. He joined Conduent as CEO in the summer of 2016, as it was preparing for its separation from Xerox.

In a matter of months, Vemuri had to assemble a new team, establish a new corporate headquarters, create a new company identity, and rationalize a sprawling, decentralized corporate structure. Vemuri sat down with strategy+business in the company’s Florham Park, N.J., headquarters to describe how Conduent’s trajectory has changed since its January 2017 debut as a publicly traded independent company.

S+B: As an outsider in a company that is being spun off, you’re expected to compete quickly in a very competitive industry. What particular challenges have you encountered?
VEMURI: I was first approached for the job in April 2016. This was a division of an [US]$18 billion company, so the amount of information specific to the unit was fairly limited. But the way I describe it is “this is probably going to be the culmination of everything that I’ve done — like a final exam. Everything I have learned and done in my past life would be useful here.” But I wasn’t fully informed as to the level and layers of complexity.

S+B: What specifically in your background has prepared you for this?
VEMURI: I joined Infosys when it had less than $100 million in revenues. I left it when it was up to about $7.5 billion, so I saw that journey. I joined as a business development manager and rose all the way to be on the board of the company. I learned the importance of structure, simplification, process, and being consistent. And Infosys had a very strong headquarters culture. To manage that kind of growth, you have to be driven by data and metrics, and you have to have very clear accountability and performance criteria. Then I went to iGate, a private equity–backed company that had a very clear mandate: We need to have an event here in 24 to 36 months. There I realized you can’t solve all the problems, but you have to very quickly identify the operational issues that you need to work on.

S+B: You started in July 2016, before the spin-off. Was that intentional?
VEMURI: Yes. The idea was twofold. The board of directors of Xerox wanted me to come in prior to the spin. It was important for the company that’s being spun off and the person who is running it to be part of the process. I also wanted to make sure we had a seat at the table in order to ensure that the terms of the separation agreement were acceptable to us. Many decisions remained to be made about what should come with Conduent and what would remain at Xerox, as well as the financial terms of the separation. All the decisions were being made in Norwalk, Connecticut [Xerox’s headquarters], and through the lens of Xerox. So in that context, I think it was better to have somebody from the outside rather than inside because [the outsider is] not bound by the history or views of the legacy entity or parent.

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Source: strategy + business

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