MOVERS and SHAKERS Interview with Tony Saldanha

Tell us your name and a little about yourself.

Thanks for having me. My name’s Tony Saldanha. I’m an Advisor, Speaker, Author, and Digital Transformation evangelist. I retired a year ago as V.P. In global IT and Shared Services after 27 years at Procter & Gamble to start up my own companies and write my book. I’ve had the opportunity of running billion-dollar operations in almost all continents and creating global industry disruption ecosystems. I set up the first shared services center in the Philippines in 1993 and had the opportunity to program manage an 8 billion dollar outsourcing deal in IT and Shared services in 2003. I was interim CIO of the Gillette company when P&G acquired them in 2005 and I led the systems integration of the two companies. The one thing all these experiences have taught me is that the days of thinking about your role as either operational or transformational are over. Today, executives need to do both or risk slow obsolescence.


What exactly does your company do?

Transformant is a first of a kind advisory company that brings the latest thinking on improving success rates of digital transformation. 

The fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by disruptive digital technologies, is concurrently an existential threat and an opportunity of historic proportions are not lost boards and CEOs. Nearly half the companies on the S&P 500 will turn over in the next 10 years. In most industries, robots will make 40-50% of the workforce redundant in the next 20 years. Traditional organizational structures in most companies will collapse. This is why digital transformation is a trillion-plus dollar industry. But while leaders are highly motivated to act on this opportunity, the fact remains that 70% of all transformations fail. That’s an unfortunately high number. My work over the decades and across the world of leading successful transformations has given me insights into what causes failures and how to avoid the pitfalls. That’s what Transformant brings to senior leadership.


What were the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

Well, that’s a good question! I’ve faced a bunch of big challenges across many different transformational leadership experiences. If I had to pick a couple of the biggest items, I’d say they were in Strategy Sufficiency and in Organizational Change. Let me explain. Success in transformation is too often equated with anecdotal wins. A big project idea is identified, a strong team put behind it, and work is furiously progressed in the innovation team. Once the pilot is successful, the win is celebrated, except that this proves to be pre-mature in hindsight as the project never proceeds beyond the pilot stage. The two challenges mentioned above relate to this. Sufficient change hardly comes from one project. And, a pilot win doesn’t indicate a successfully scaled execution.

What I’ve always tried to do is to set up success criteria in terms of end business outcomes. Working backward from the ultimate “Wall Street recognizable” metrics drives discipline on the sufficiency of plans as well as helps distinguish between in-process wins and end-results.


What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

Hmm, let me see… For the first half of my career, I operated on the principle of “if you do good work, then good things will eventually happen”. And the second assumption I made was that you needed a series of good roles to progress in your career.

Midway through my career, I was trained at P&G on the PIE model of career management, which states that you need three things together – Performance (P), Image (I) and Exposure (E). That was eye-opening. Being self-aware of the image one projects and being honest with oneself about the amount of exposure with people who decide on your career were two important rounding-off elements that I had never thought about. Understanding all three elements also shifted the balance of ownership of my career from my manager to myself, which is the way it should be. 

On the second point about the importance of getting good roles, I learned over time that good people define their own roles. The job you get initially can just be a starting point. Once you deliver that, you can go and grow your job in any direction.


Who are your biggest influences and people you admire and why?

My biggest influencers in recent times have been Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. From an early part of my life, I’ve been attracted to bold change leaders who achieve goals more through diligence and influence rather than power. I found people like Martin Luther King and Mohammed Younus (Bangladesh micro-financing) more relatable than say Alexander the Great.  For me, people who achieve major change through hard work and via influence are models for each of us because they speak to how each of us can accomplish bold change via creativity rather than power.

Given this, the choice of Bezos and Musk may sound a bit surprising, but the reason why I believe they are worth following is for their ability for executing change (Bezos) and reimagining capabilities (Musk). Musk is a true disrupter. He comes out with mind-bending new solutions that create entirely new categories of products like electric storage batteries or the Boring company. Bezos is a bit different. He’s the true model of execution for digital transformation. He makes big transformations come to life.

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?

I truly feel blessed with having an incredibly supportive ecosystem that has been behind every little success. This has been true in the personal, social and professional world. While it’s impossible to call out one, or even a small number of people who played a key role, I thought I’d take the opportunity to call out and thank my mother and my late father.

Here’s a bit of context. Our family comes from Goa, in India, which used to be a Portuguese colony until 1961. While Goa was brilliant on art and culture it was hardly the hotbed of economic opportunity. My parents made their fortune with two major abilities – an openness to change and life-long learning. I believe these two tendencies which were passed on to each of their children has been instrumental to our development. They taught us that every change is also an opportunity. And that curiosity and learning are as essential in life as oxygen is to the body. So, while my parents had only relatively modest formal degrees, their desire to make sacrifices to invest in our formal and informal education has made a huge impact on me and my siblings. 


What do you see as your greatest success in life?

Hmm…That’s another difficult question for me because my culture tends to be a bit self-critical which doesn’t leave too much room for reflecting on successes 🙂

Perhaps I can reflect on where my passion lies and where I’d like to leave a legacy. That would be in an area of improving the success rates of digital transformation. True – this sounds geeky and corporate-speak, but I’m convinced that we need to make strides here if we desire the current Fourth Industrial Revolution to play out more like an exciting opportunity for every individual rather than a painful societal threat. Here’s the issue – the world is moving from the third industrial revolution to the fourth. This isn’t just a corporate or technology issue as every human being is now exposed to it the issue of a digital divide between the technology haves and have-nots. If 40-50% of blue-collar and white-collar jobs become disrupted in the next 20 years, what’s our proactive way to deal with this. We need leaders of companies and governments to take this on urgently, which to their credit they are starting to. Unfortunately, the digital phenomena are still too tech-geek and buzz-word driven, which is why 70% of all Digital Transformations fail. That’s relevant because digital transformation is the metamorphosis of human and technical capabilities from what is currently in existence in the third industrial revolution era, and what is needed to survive and thrive in the fourth.

I’ve made it my mission to improve the success rate of transformations by making the topic check-list simple and bringing in the latest thinking based on my three decades worth of practical experience. My book “Why Digital Transformations Fail” does that and that journey needs to continue. Fortunately, the message seems to resonate – the book was rated #1 non-amazon’s hot new releases list for organizational change. That’s an important start.

Please list your social media URLs

Twitter @tony_saldanha