by Martha Heller

Here’s a CEO who sees the power of mobile apps

Jul 29, 2015
Business IT AlignmentIT LeadershipMobile Apps

Stuart Thorn, the tech-savvy CEO of Southwire, an electrical wire and cable company, supports a social network for employees and mobile apps for customers

What impact has technology been having at Southwire? As we grow internationally, we want to keep our family-oriented culture, which has been a competitive advantage. To help maintain a strong sense of connectedness as we grow, we designed a system called iAm, which allows employees to post information about their skills, knowledge, education and interests, and ask for feedback from anybody in the company. We call it iAm because regardless of where they work, people can declare, “I am here, I exist, I am part of this company, and I matter.”

What role is data playing in Southwire’s success? When you turn islands of data into a holistic view of your business, employees move from being functional specialists to total business people. It used to be that organizational skills were fragmented–the accountant was very different from the salesperson, who was very different from the financial analyst. But as information becomes integrated, people in siloed functional roles can stretch beyond their traditional areas of expertise.

Is that happening at Southwire? Ever since I arrived as CEO 14 years ago, I’ve been telling every employee, from the forklift driver to the extruder operator to the CIO, “You’re a business person first and a functional expert second.”

Throughout the day, employees gather in huddles to talk about improving the business. No one says, “Let somebody else worry about that.” Our executive team has weekly meetings with no real agenda–just a chance for us to be business partners unconstrained by title or division. This collaborative spirit is a part of our culture.

Do communication tools affect the way you lead? When I started my career, I worked with some senior managers who were proud of the fact that they didn’t sit at a computer. It was a badge of honor that they were senior enough not to have to use technology.

Having grown up in a newer generation, I shook my head at that. If you’re going to be a great leader, you should be on the leading edge of technology, and you should be using it yourself. I made up my mind to be an early adopter.

As soon as I downloaded my first mobile app, I knew how transformational it would be for our business. I said to my leadership team, “Apps are going to change the world. How do we adopt these more quickly than our competition? How can we get our brand name in the pockets of our end users?”

So we listened to our customers and developed a set of useful apps before our competition did. We’ve launched a voltage-drop calculator, a conduit-fill calculator and other useful applications. We’ve even developed an app that estimates how much cable is left on a reel based on an uploaded photograph. Now our customers are looking at our brand every day.

What is exciting to you in the world of technology? I am excited by healthcare technology that, for example, examines DNA for early signs of cancer or monitors health statistics on a real-time basis. Those developments are exciting to me not only as an individual, but also as CEO of Southwire because we want to help our employees lead safer and healthier lives.