Change is hard. It’s even harder for some of the biggest companies in the world.
Three executives—NYSE president Tom Farley, CVS Health EVP Helena Foulkes, and Hewlett-Packard EVP Dion Weisler—took to the stage at this year’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference to explain how they were turning the corner, so to speak, in their respective businesses.
The New York Stock Exchange, founded in 1792, is working to stay relevant in a digital world.
CVS is clarifying its mission to support the health of its customers and turning its back on otherwise lucrative businesses to do so.
HP, the Silicon Valley icon, is carefully untangling the bloat of a 75-year-old global tech company and starting a new chapter as two companies, each large enough to merit a top ranking on the Fortune 500.
“On the day a company starts, that’s when you’re really openly focused”—not inward looking, Farley said. It’s all about focusing on customers, not corporate silos.
NYSE was founded more than 200 years ago. Unsurprisingly, you face “fundamentally different cultures” when you work at a “startup” within an old company. But for NYSE, it’s necessary to think like that to move into the future.
“It’s really not a choice if you want to be the leader in tech listings,” he said. “You can’t act like a 200-year-old company.”
“We’ve been on this journey of trying to become a healthcare company,” Foulkes said. CVS’s decision to exit the tobacco business “has been a catalyst” internally and externally for the mission. “The power of our company comes from how we work together,” she said.
In business school, Foulkes said, she thought classes about culture “were soft and unimportant.” But “now I realize the most important thing I do everyday is set the culture of the company. Being an entrepreneur in a big company, you can make a tremendous amount of things happen.”
The tobacco decision emboldened her organization to do bigger, bolder things and gave it a stronger sense of purpose. “There’s a real sense of pride at the company,” she said. “I really underestimated the power of purpose.”
Weisler said he recently visited “Bill and Dave’s garage,” the storied place where Hewlett-Packard was founded in 1939.
“I had a quiet moment in the garage by myself looking around at effectively was the center of Silicon Valley.” Now, HP is a $110 billion company, as measured by revenue.
“How can we propel the company at a faster pace” than before? Weisler asked. “This is not for the faint of heart.” Creating two multibillion-dollar companies, which is effective August 1, is daunting, he said. “It’s an incredibly complicated journey to transform. We’ve had to make some tough decisions over the course of the last nine months.”
One example? The supply chain. “I have to ship one thing every second,” he said.
New opportunities is another way the company is catalyzing change. Take 3D printing, for example. It’s still early, and that magic formula of “speed, quality, and cost” has yet to be determined, Weisler said. The wide spectrum of predictions for how big the 3D printing business will be “means no one really knows.”
“If we can solve those issues it sets up a really bright future,” he said. (HP is applying its core ink-based technology to 3D printing.) “Thirty years of intellectual property!” Weisler exclaimed. In the next five to 10 years, “I think it will be a really big, core part of our business.”
For more coverage of this year’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech, click here.