Longtime CEO sees changes coming, advises colleagues to be more data savvy, global

John Schwarz says it's time for a fresh approach to the CEO position. (Visier)

Veteran CEO John Schwarz says the times dictate a fresh approach to the chief executive position. Upheaval is on its way and it will take some tactical and even remarkable steps to handle it, feels Schwarz, who is now CEO of cloud-based software platform-maker Visier.

CEOs must be “the chief strategist and planner,” he told FierceCEO. “Their primary job is to ensure the long-term success of the company.”

Many things need to be done

According to Schwarz, Here are some of the tasks in front of them:

  • CEOs will have to become more data savvy—big data analytics will soon be the tool on every CEO's desk to model and support virtually every decision he or she makes.
  • They will have to navigate dramatically changing global markets. China will be the largest economy by 2025, perhaps earlier. In the absence of U.S. rational leadership, China will dictate the global trading rules and perhaps the language of business. Nearly 50% of the Global 500 will be Asian businesses by 2025.
  • CEOs must make wrenching decisions about the automation of their businesses. Robotics and AI will displace all but the most creative roles in the business. Automation will generate massive productivity, but will create disruption in processes, supply chains, service ecosystems and customer and employee relationships. Not doing anything will not be an option, as the competition that automates will have a vast advantage.
  • CEOs will have to deal with social upheaval driven by automation and job changes. Every worker will have to substantially retrain him/herself every 10 years during their work life to keep up with the pace of technology change.
  • CEOs will need to learn how to use cryptocurrency as in many areas of the economy, it will replace traditional business currencies used today.
  • CEOs will have to develop emergency plans to deal with climate-driven changes—storms, rising sea levels, fires and diminishing water supply energy supply disruption.

Follows own dogma

Schwarz said he practices what he preaches. To remain informed and maintain a strategic advantage, “I am constantly searching the internet for what’s happening with labor, the financial system, the economy, regulation, trade and politics,” he said.

Schwarz has been a CEO at various companies for 18 years. Right now, he holds the top spot at Visier, a maker of cloud-based software platforms for analytics and planning for human resource departments.

Visier’s analytics technology uses big data to help companies like BNY Mellon, Yahoo and Pitney Bowes make decisions about hiring, retention and recruiting. 

Software tenure

Schwarz is a 40-year software industry veteran. He was CEO of Business Objects for five years. During his tenure, Business Objects doubled its revenue to more than $1.5 billion, improved profitability, and made seven acquisitions. The company was acquired by SAP for $6.78 billion.

After SAP’s acquisition, Schwarz oversaw continuing expansion of Business Objects as a member of the SAP Executive Board. He left the board in 2010 to co-found Visier with Ryan Wong, his former chief technical architect at Business Objects. Wong is now CTO at Visier.

Fast Five with John Schwarz

What keeps you up at night?

My biggest concern at the moment is the disintegration of the world’s trading regime.

What's the key to finding new opportunities for revenue?

Finding the key questions customers need to answer using big data.

When have you had to adapt and what did you learn?

Dealing with growth—the hiring challenge and integrating employees into the company.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 lowest and 10 highest) how much of a priority do you place on the following at your company: people, process and technology?

  • Technology—10
  • People—9
  • Process—5

What are some tips for motivating employees?

Honesty, transparency and integrity.