Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with
helps you in your leadership.
Name: Todd Thomas
Organisation: Aiden Auto
Todd Thomas is the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of Aiden Auto and Founder of Fast Lane Innovations. Todd joined Aiden from his most recent position as the CEO of a stealth startup within the SBD Radical Innovation Accelerator. He is a recognized voice in connected products & services, connected vehicles, telematics, mobility, IOT, AI and data science.
Todd’s projects include GM’s OnStar Guardian and Verizon hum, and was the 2020 Google Android for Cars Open Innovation “Shark Tank” Champion. He has an Economics degree from Claremont McKenna College, has studied Strategy Execution at the Harvard Business School, and has an MBA and an MS in Data Science from the WP Carey School of Business, ASU.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
One of Bill Gates most famous quotes is, “It's fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Straightforward and simple advice. Simple, but not easy. It is difficult and can even be painful to accept failure and even more difficult to really examine and learn from it. However, the payoff is well worth pain. "Failing Fast" is a hot catch phrase for good reason. Don't be surprised by failure, plan on it. Build it into your process: Build, test, fail, adjust, build, test... whether this is product or process the faster you can accept and learn from the failures, the more you can accelerate your improvement cycles.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Leaders have vision and inspire others to help them turn vision into reality. At Stanley Black & Decker I was charged with leading innovation. The challenge was that I had no direct reports and limited budget. But, I had a clear product vision and business plan. The product and plan would require resources from nearly every department within the company. So, I started sharing my vision and recruiting. We were going to build the first truly connected tool delivering meaningful data back to our client’s construction software, accelerating work site progress, reducing lag, reducing overall time and cost. We also were going to build our tools using recycled or bio based and replenishable materials - zero carbon! I was ultimately able to recruit a team of over 80 fractional team members from all over the company who volunteered their time. I was even able to get some other departments to fund material costs under other related projects. We built a fully connected zero carbon tool with an army of volunteers who all bought into a sustainable technology vision.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Every leader struggles with balancing time between day-to-day vs time to strategize and innovate. Many people, people smarter than me, have suggested leaders should spend 25% of each day in thought. Scheduled, set aside time. I prefer to get the daily tasks, inbox, request for time, etc out of the way first so I can tackle strategy without a list of to do’s nagging the back of my mind. An early start is a great way to get a jump on this. If I can grab a cup of coffee and be on my computer a couple of hours before anyone else, then I can clear my inbox, tackle priorities, and maintain scheduled time for thought in the early afternoon. This leaves the end of the day to tackle new issues and anything else that needs attention before the end of the day.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Mark Driscoll said “Everyone has something to teach you if you are humble enough to learn.” A great sentiment to keep in mind as a leader. I have an innovation workshop that I like to run that leverages this approach. Step one is to involve people from every part of your organization and at all levels, very purposely not just department heads and managers. You do want them, but you also need the end of line people who are hands on with your product/service/client on a daily basis. Bring everyone together and facilitate an open white board all ideas welcome workshop. Ideas can come from anywhere and differing perspectives are invaluable and can be amazingly insightful. You’ll never know what you are missing if you limit your input to leadership teams only. It can be very powerful to run this workshop with your clients as well.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I am a pretty big reader and aspiring life long learner. I think every book we read impacts who we are, how we view the world, and impacts how we interact with others. I have a long list of favorites I could recommend, here are some of the, imho, essentials: Sapiens by Harari, Guns, Germs and Steel by Diamond, Atlas Shrugged by Rand, The Warmth of Other Suns by Wilkerson, The Heart of Everything That Is by Drury & Clavin, East of Eden by Steinbeck, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway. I think 99% of business books are crap. Most of them contain one good idea, but in order to monetize that idea, they have to package into a book. Just read the inside cover and you’ve usually got it. One exception is The Challenger Sale by Dixon & Adamson. The concept is that truly successful sales people approach their customers with unique insights and challenge them to think differently about their businesses. The book provides a framework and repeatable processes for modeling this approach and embedding it throughout your salesforce.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Be humble, be an eager learner, expect failure.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
The challenge was to connect Insurance providers to Volvo’s connected cars fleet in order to deliver insurance based use cases into the vehicle. The problem was that Volvo had a very typical Auto OEM cloud architecture that provided data which was limited, static and anonymous.
The data did not support the use cases which Insurers wanted to deliver into the vehicles. This is the same problem identified by other Auto OEMs. All capture data points that are pre-defined potentially years in advance of manufacturing the vehicles. The data points are static, limited, and are delivered with high latency. These limitations do not support most cases and limit any personalization. During the same time period, the Volvo infotainment team led by Niclas Gyllemram (the future founder and CEO of Aiden Auto), was simultaneously working with Google to develop and roll out the first Android Auto Operating System (AAOS) vehicles.
Niclas made the bold choice to abandon the Volvo cloud architecture and to build a brand new platform based on the new AAOS. The new platform would connect insurers directly to the connected vehicle and stream real-time data. The platform was built to provide insurers with a dynamic platform that would allow insurers to select which data points they wanted to receive and at what frequency. The platform enabled insurers to set up triggers to pull specific data based on selected thresholds and because the platform is dynamic, insurers can modify the data points, frequencies, and triggers as they need.
Additionally the platform establishes 2 way communication, enabling Iinsurers to not only receive data from the car, but to also send active web pages back to the vehicle to engage and communicate directly with the vehicle/owner/driver. Finally, the team also wanted to provide more than anonymous data. They wanted to be able to utilize personal data.
So, the team built consent management directly into the heart of the platform. No data leaves the vehicle without the owner/drivers explicit consent. The platform is GDPR and CCPA compliant and empowers the use of personal data. The new platform was the first connected services platform to provide streaming 2-way communication directly with the vehicle and to include simple and intuitive 100% GDPR compliant consent management enabling the sharing of personalized data.
This new platform opens a world of possibilities in terms of the personalized services that could now be delivered directly into the connected vehicle. Abandoning the legacy cloud architecture was a huge and risking step. Niclas had a vision, he shared his vision with his team, and they built a truly transformative technology. Over the coming years watch for the delivery of services directly into cars, without the need or use of a phone, to explode!