As CarMax\u2019s executive vice president and chief information and technology officer, Shamim Mohammad has led his company through significant digital transformation in recent years. But his story isn\u2019t just about transforming a company; it\u2019s about disrupting an entire industry.\nThe recipient of MIT Sloan\u2019s 2020 CIO Leadership Award and named a Forbes 2021 \u201cCIO Next\u201d Innovator, Shamim oversees digital innovations, all technologies and product engineering at CarMax, where his teams have also won awards for their leading-edge digital innovation work. They aren\u2019t just supporting other functions of the organization; they\u2019ve cultivating a kind of entrepreneurial spirit that permeates the entire business. And Shamim is continually looking ahead, anticipating the future and making sure the organization is prepared and willing to pivot when necessary.\nWhen I spoke with Shamim for the CIO Whisperers podcast, he talked about how the company\u2019s emphasis on customer-centricity has revolutionized the automotive industry. And that customer-focused approach relies on a strong foundation of data and technology. After the show, Shamim shared some of the lessons he\u2019s learned in his career and delved a little deeper into his leadership philosophies and experiences. What follows is that off-air conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.\nDan Roberts: You were at Blockbuster during their peak. What was that like?\nShamim Mohammad: I joined Blockbuster right after working for a startup company that I helped to build, so I\u2019d seen what a can-do attitude and a focus on innovation and pace of change can do for a company. What I saw when I got to Blockbuster was, here\u2019s a company that\u2019s very successful, there are some wonderful people, but they\u2019re not changing fast enough. Blockbuster became a market leader by disrupting an industry, but it did not disrupt itself again fast enough to remain a market leader. I was with Blockbuster only for three years. However, that experience was extremely valuable and influenced my future decisions. \u00a0\nHow did that experience influence your leadership philosophies and decision making today?\nSince leaving Blockbuster, the last two jobs I\u2019ve had, including CarMax, I\u2019ve been where I know that we always have to disrupt ourselves before somebody else does. Blockbuster had a perfect opportunity to disrupt themselves, but they didn\u2019t. And at CarMax, we have the opportunity to disrupt, and we disrupted and we\u2019re disrupting it and we\u2019re not going to stop. So that\u2019s the big, big lesson I had.\nDuring our conversation for the podcast, you intuitively touched on some of what I call the 7Cs of successful leaders: courage, customer centricity, change, cultivate, communication, collaboration, culture. These are the traits I\u2019ve observed over 30-plus years that separate the very best leaders from the rest. Two we didn\u2019t hit on as much are courage and collaboration, and I\u2019d love to hear your thoughts on those.\nI think courage and collaboration are critical elements of a successful transformation because all transformations are risky, especially when you are trying to change the culture of a successful company and say, OK, we\u2019ve got to inflict the pain and it could have gone wrong in many different ways. But that did not deter me or our leaders because we knew that we had to take that step. So, courage is extremely important. And then I think part of that is the culture\u2014experimentation, creating a safe environment for people at every level to be able to experiment and make mistakes and learn from it.\nAnd that\u2019s what really has happened when we shifted from project to product, because the product teams are experimenting all the time. And a lot of these experiments are successful, but some are not. But every experiment, they\u2019re learning something new. So, giving the team the feeling of empowerment and they\u2019re feeling like they can make mistakes and they\u2019re OK with it, and then they have the leadership to support them, has been a big part of the transformation.\nCourage, culture, and communication\u2014they\u2019re all very critical elements of what I believe a successful company needs to go through to remain successful forever.\nI find that leaders who really know their customer seem to be able to act with courage even more and make the bold moves. It\u2019s almost like they\u2019ve got that confidence level to make those calls because they\u2019re so in tune with their customer. Do you find that yourself?\nAbsolutely. I think that is probably the biggest shift that happened when we went from project to product, because with the project mindset, we kind of assumed that we know what customers really want. Within the product organization, the way they work, they\u2019re actually experimenting with the customers and validating along the way what the customer really wants, and they haven\u2019t told you that they want. You can find out through data and analytics.\nAnd that\u2019s true also for the associates. We don\u2019t want to assume we know what they want and how they need to work, but we give them tools and capability and experiment with them so we can provide a good experience for them. So, I think the customer obsession is really, really key.\nIt's really CarMax\u2019s secret sauce, isn\u2019t it.\nI think early on in our discussion I shared with you that, as Bill [CarMax CEO Bill Nash] has outlined, our goal and our primary objective is to be the most customer-centric company in the one-trillion-dollar ecosystem that we operate in. And that means we have to be obsessed with customers all the time, as customer expectations are changing. We need to make sure we are not only able to meet those expectations, but we\u2019re able to exceed and deliver new experiences for them so that they know CarMax is the place to go for anything related to a used car.\nTune in to our full discussion wherever you listen to podcasts, and see the full line-up of guests and upcoming episodes here.