Last year, GE Current went through a divestiture. The company, which produces LED lights and smart lighting solutions, was previously owned by General Electric before it was sold to the private equity firm American Industrial Partners.
The divestiture introduced a significant amount of change to a company like GE Current—operating as part of a large organization like General Electric is far different than being owned by a private equity firm. ASUG sat down with GE Current’s CIO (and ASUG board member) Mark LeClair, who was brought on during the divestiture, to discuss how he led his team through the transition and how the divestiture affected GE Current’s IT solutions and operations.
ASUG: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about GE Current and the customers you serve?
Mark: Businesses are transitioning to LED lighting in millions of commercial and industrial buildings throughout the country. While the immediate goal is energy savings and efficiencies, connected lighting has the potential to unleash a lot of productivity and revenue outcomes for these companies and to prepare organizations for the future.
We’re not just saving and conserving energy—we’re improving the work-life balance. That’s the root of GE Current. Think about automotive plants, cities, banks, factories, industrial lines, retail offices, grocery stores, and commercial offices. Those are all companies that we support.
ASUG: What was the entire divestiture process like for you as the CIO? How long did that process take?
Mark: GE Current was acquired from GE by a private equity firm, and I was hired to do the separation of all the IT assets as the CIO. I wasn’t on the front end of doing the deal, so the preparation work was easy—I just had to bring my experience to the table. The entire divestiture/separation process had a 12-month time frame.
A divestiture of this nature can be very difficult, as it is a carve out of a major corporation. The mindset of the people who stay on board with the divested piece of business has to change from the thought processes of a major corporation to a more agile/quick decision/every-penny-we-spend-counts kind of mindset. They need to think differently after going from a conglomerate company down to a $1 billion company. The things that you can do as a conglomerate are different than the things that you can do in a $800 or $900 million company. You get to make quicker decisions and move along quicker. You are not measured quarter by quarter by Wall Street or shareholders—but you are measured day by day on your internal parameters.
We had to shrink our application portfolio to meet the new company needs. Then, most importantly, we had to find the right business partners to help us get through this transition because we needed the right level of experience and knowledge. We leveraged a couple of SAP ecosystem partners to help us through.
ASUG: What’s the one piece of advice that you would give other CIOs who are facing a divestiture?
Mark: Simplify, simplify, and simplify. Get people who are not close to the situation to help and guide you.
ASUG: What sort of people were you looking for to help you, and where did you end up finding them?
Mark: I have been involved with ASUG for going on 10 years. Through my involvement, I have been introduced to a lot of great companies and people who have done this type of work before. The people we partnered with were NIMBL and SNP. Both of these organizations have done divestitures like this before, so they brought the process knowledge/experience/and technical know-how to the table that made this a success.
ASUG: What is GE Current’s SAP landscape like? Has it changed at all from when it was under GE?
Mark: We have a vast landscape. We’re not on SAP S/4HANA. We’re on SAP R/3 and using all the basic modules in Core ERP as you would expect. But we also have some of the cloud products in combination with that. We use SAP Ariba, SAP Integrated Business Planning, and SAP Concur. SAP Hybris is a big part of our front end, and we leverage that for our end customers to come in through our portal. We’ve got a pretty broad suite of products from the SAP menu.
When you are with a conglomerate, they dictate what solutions you use, what you use it for, and how you use it. Well, we’re not under that constraint anymore. One of the things that I’ve been challenging the team with is using Core ERP better than we could ever possibly do it before.
ASUG: Does part of your “simplify, simplify, simplify” process include chipping away at those bolt-ons and getting people trained to use the core ERP functions?
Mark: The fewer bolt-ons you have, the simpler it gets. But it’s a hard balance, too. You can’t make a ton of fast changes because you’re already going through an organizational transformation. The organization can only maintain and manage so much change at once. You try to simplify the best you can during the transition, but post-transition is what year one is all about. “Stabilization and optimization” is what I call it.
ASUG: What’s on your SAP road map? How have you needed to adapt during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Mark: The good news is that GE Current has a diverse workforce. They’re already a mobile bunch, and we have not needed to adjust too much. With the exception of our corporate team, we are all working remotely now. Optimization and stabilization are up front on our technology road map from an IT standpoint. We did this separation from the mother ship of General Electric, and now we need to stand on our own. Let’s get our IT operations humming, so they can then start to generate value to the company.
ASUG: You’ve touched on this a little bit, but what are some of the greatest challenges you are hoping to solve at GE Current using technology?
Mark: The lighting business is a very complicated world. There are so many variations in our products. You can only imagine how many colors, lumens, wattages, and all of the different features that we offer our customers. We’re simplifying how customers can make their selections so we can get the products in their hands when they need them. We’re making work and life a lot easier based on the information we’re giving people through their lighting products.
ASUG: Where is your team delivering the greatest ROI to your organization?
Mark: I would say streamlining our end-to-end business processes and leveraging SAP. We’re showing the business how it can do more with automation, where we don’t need all these other bolt-on pieces that we have. Because of where we are with this relatively new divestiture, that has delivered the biggest value.
ASUG: Are you doing anything like robotic process automation (RPA)?
Mark: Yes. Those are some of the things we're talking through with automation. Specifically in the finance area, but these are all options on the table for us.
ASUG: How does GE Current use data to drive better decision-making?
Mark: Think about your Amazon experience. Typically, if an item is not available, Amazon suggests what to look at next. What we call that is demand shaping. Let’s say they’re looking for a light that’s 50,000-lumen and it’s not available for two weeks, but we have a 40,000-lumen available, it fits their specifications, and it’s available tomorrow. Giving customers that choice—that opportunity to make a decision—is very important. We leverage a lot of our data to be able to help shape the customer experience and buying capabilities.
Obviously, the faster you get the product in a customer’s hands, the better off everybody is. That’s one area where we are leveraging our data/automation. We also are using data in our plants to help tell us how long it takes to do certain things so we can be faster and keep costs low while keeping our quality.
ASUG: You went through a divestiture in the past year, and now we are all in the COVID-19 crisis. I’m curious to hear, what do you think the secret is to leading your team through difficult times?
Mark: The glass must be half full. It must be. What I have been encouraging people to do is to take this time and think about how we can get better. The other thing I’ve encouraged the team to think about is value-add and non-value-add work. Value add is something people are willing to pay for. Non-value-add is the exact opposite. Let's eliminate the non-value-add things we’re doing and let’s do more of the value-add work.
ASUG: What is it like leading people and trying to encourage them to improve a product while they work remotely?
Mark: We use Microsoft Teams and Zoom to stay connected. You can still get a face-to-face interaction, and that helps. One of the things I instituted was a daily touch base with my entire direct leadership team. We do it every afternoon. Then we all get on Teams and look at each other in the eye and talk about what’s brewing for the day, what help we need, and what opportunities we have.
ASUG: How big is your team?
Mark: We have about 45 internal employees, and we leverage some outsourcing partners for part of our work.
ASUG: What personally excites you the most about working in technology?
Mark: Technology brings a lot of value to organizations. It certainly improves products and services that meet customer demands and needs. People can argue all day long that automation and IT are eliminating jobs. I believe these solutions bring people more opportunities and jobs. Technology brings a ton of business value. Companies can get more done using technology while improving their products and services. I love making a difference.