Digital transformation is such serious stuff that it affects not only old-fashioned retailers and the like, but technology companies too.
To back up, this is no longer an argument that needs making but rather a cautionary tale that needs heeding. No sooner did Mickey Drexler, the onetime impresario of Gap’s resurgence and then private-equity-sponsored leader of J. Crew, admit that he’d missed the whole digital thing than he was out. Howard Schultz, the failed hander-offer of the CEO job at Starbucks (SBUX) once before, is so serious about digital that he’s made a former IBM (IBM) and Microsoft (MSFT) executive the coffee maker’s new boss. (Read Beth Kowitt’s insightful look at Schultz’s second effort at mastering the art of handing off the baton.)
But what I’d really like to draw your attention to this morning is a short interview in the current issue of Fortune with Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe Systems. Adobe (ADBE) is a tech company, after all, with its Photoshop and Acrobat products staples of creative corporate work. But Adobe has worked hard to convert its software line to a subscription business, a tedious, painful and scary transition that nonetheless has worked. I also was startled to see that Narayen has been CEO of Adobe for a decade. That’s quite an accomplishment for any CEO, particularly one in an industry that changes as rapidly as Adobe’s.
Narayen’s example is a reminder that while digital disruption is hugely relevant, so is leadership. (Drexler and Schultz offer examples too.) The world is watching one of the tech industry’s brashest disruptors, Uber, grapple with its own leadership challenges. Just as surely as Uber threw the taxi industry for a loop, now its ability to get its leadership issues settled will be matter of corporate life or death.