When the name Jim O’Neill comes up in conversation, it’s typically met with a mixture of admiration “” for his 30-plus years in the technology industry “” and awe “” for his tireless, globe-trotting schedule as head of Siemens Enterprise Communications. A joint venture between the private equity firm The Gores Group, and Siemens AG, the company tapped O’Neill in the fall of 2008 to help capture market share in the enterprise communications and data networking space. So, how’s it going? O’Neill recently took a small break from his schedule to share the latest with ExecutiveBiz. Here he debriefs on how his first year at Siemens is unfolding. Plus, he weighs in on everything from the latest must-read book to the best business advice he ever got.
1.) You've been CEO of Siemens Enterprise Communications less than a year. How's it going?
Jim O'Neill: Well, actually it's six months but it seems like six years, to be honest.
2.) What do you most enjoy about your new role?
Jim O'Neill: Siemens is a truly international company. We're in 86 different countries, so I spend 1.5 to two weeks a month in Germany, then the rest of the time in Europe, the States, Asia, or South America. It truly is a global-based company. It's pretty exciting actually.
3.) With all that travel, how do you keep your team on the same page?
Jim O'Neill: I take a complex business and simplify it by holding basically three people accountable: one person Rainer Koppitz is in charge of services worldwide, Mark Vayda is in charge of sales, Eve Aretakis runs all of our research and development and all of our products.
4.) What investment is The Gores Group making to help grow Siemens?
Jim O'Neill: We have several acquisitions that we're looking at right now, between Gores and Siemens as equal partners or a 51-49 partnership. I wish I could comment more but right now all I can say is we are in due diligence on a very large companies that will basically double the size of our business.
5.) What opportunities do you see despite the economic downturn?
Jim O'Neill: More video conferencing and more collaboration on the network sharing data. We can still have people communicate efficiently without having to get on an airplane every day. Given these economic times that's the opportunity that I see.
6.) Speaking of airplanes “¦ how has all your travel impacted your family life?
Jim O'Neill: The travel has certainly been a challenge but my wife gets over to Europe probably once a month. I talk to my wife and daughter every day, email them, text them, etc. So it's not too bad, quite frankly. The only thing that's tricky is the six-hour time difference. I'm going to bed when they're getting up. All in all it's worked out pretty well, though.
7.) What one book would you recommend executives read now?
Jim O'Neill: Simplicity by John Maeda.
8.) What's the best business advice you ever got?
Jim O'Neill: Actually my father gave me the best business advice “” and he wasn't even a businessman; he was carpenter. He said if you ever have an opportunity to manage people surround yourself with the best and brightest. Hire people who are smarter than you are, then support them.
9.) If you had dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
Jim O'Neill: I could pick Jack Welch or somebody like that but we'd just talk about business. So, probably my father because there are all the things you want to say to somebody when they're gone.
10.) Anything else you'd like to tell the Beltway community?
Jim O'Neill: We are very much committed to North America and the federal government, state and local, as well as the large companies within the United States. We are starting a proxy board so we can do business in the U.S. intelligence community; Admiral Fallon is going to chair the board. We've hired Denzil Samuels to run our worldwide channels business and are focusing on our federal government sales with an announcement expected soon on who will be running the federal side. We want to get our business in North America to represent at least 50 percent of the revenue in the next three years. You'll see a big focus.
Interview conducted by JD Kathuria
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