Welcome to a new episode of PC Business Talk. Today we invited Michael Ganser, member of the Prime Computer board of directors, and CEO of Windage AG. Michael and Sacha talk about how CISCO used technology to help refugees, the impact of digitization in today’s world, how sustainability will change the world in the next 5 years and much more!
Make sure to watch to the end, as Michael Ganser shares his experience of how to prevent stress and burnout in a leadership role.
Tune in to watch this interesting business talk with Michael Ganser who worked for more than 20 years in various executive roles at Cisco, the worldwide leader in networking for the Internet.
[0:00:00] Sacha: Welcome, Michael, welcome to the Prime Computer Business Talk. I’m really, really glad to have you today here, and I would like for you to introduce yourself so our listeners and viewers can have an opinion of who you are and why you’re here.
[0:00:14] Michael: Cool. Great to see you, Sacha, always fun to see you. Many things are going on, and I’m also looking forward to the chat we’ll have here this morning.
So, who am I? Three thoughts on who I am I. One, I’m a proud European and an optimist. So, what does that mean? I’m born, raised, grown up in Germany, spent half of my life in Germany, but now, the other half, literally, the other half I’m spending in Switzerland, which is too different, but ultimately, as you know as well, there are differences.
And then, I have the opportunity to spend also a growing amount of time in Spain. So, I look at things from a different angle. The touchy times we’re in right now, it was so interesting to see how different countries are just so close together dealing different with things.
And then, I’m an optimist. What does that mean? I don’t know. I just love looking for opportunities, right? We’re in really tough times. There are many challenges, many changes, many people are concerned, and it’s all true, but I believe in every challenge and in every situation is an opportunity, and I love to do that, looking for ways how to move forward and being an optimist.
The second thing is I’m driven by vision and significance. So, I love, based on the challenge, to think big and dream big, and with this one thing, and I really work on things that matter. So, I’m all for the bigger things are very possible.
And the last thing, so what I do with my time, after literally 30 years in corporate and big companies with big teams, I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve got my own company. I’m working with startups and young companies who I either invest in, advise, sit on the board, or try to help them growing and take a significant role.
[0:01:53] Sacha: Oh, thank you so much for the great introduction, and what I love most about you is your positivity and your optimism towards the challenge onsets we all face. And as you always mentioned, in every challenge or crisis, there’s an opportunity, and that’s what I really like about your personality.
So, when we met, you taught me that when you’re engaging in a project or a company, that you actually have three defining criteria where you decide if it’s actually a match, right? I think that is people, purpose, value. Can you elaborate why you and why Prime Computer fit together with you so well?
[0:02:32] Michael: Yeah, there may be more, but I think there are situations where we need to simplify things, right, and have a known system so you can move much quicker. And for me, it’s actually really the three things.
So, purpose, because in mind, what I’ve said before, real problems, real challenge, I know we don’t mention them all, but everything around trust. Who can you trust? Fake data, fake products, right? So, digital identities for things, the entire health situation, not only with the pandemic but everything behind. The climate situation, the data, ownership and all of that, security. So, there are real challenges.
And for me, it is important to work on significant things. So, I mean, I may like chewing gum, but I don’t want to be engaged in chewing gum with my time. So, I believe for me there’s something—there’s a big why, there is significance, and if I feel there is something, and also, there’s something which helps to address some of the real problems, and it excites me, and I love being part of it.
So, the second, which is the most important, is always people. There’s nothing more powerful when people come together who are inspired, whoare driven, which have a passion and want to work together and do things.
And the opposite is toxic people, so people who have “Me, me, me,” energy suckers who just want to complain and tell you why not. Time thieves which want to just talk to you without any purpose. And I don’t like that.
So, I like being with people who are driven, inspired, appreciate a challenge. But you know what? It’s hard to do this always. Because I want to do it, right? And so, I check people. And throughout my years, I’ve met many, many, many people in different countries, different cultures, different nationality. And for me, being selective on people is even, or at least as important as being selective on purpose.
And the last one is just very personal, it’s value. I’m not looking for jobs, engagement, or something. I want to make a difference. And you can make a difference if you bring value. And value can be anything. It can be learning from the mistakes I’ve been doing and the experience I gather through the mistakes and through a few things, which eventually worked out. It can be my thinking, it can be my network, whatever it is. But I’m going to be able to bring value. If I don’t bring value, I don’t want to bother people.
So, for me, those are the three criteria.
And bringing that back to Prime and why we fit, I remember the first time we met in that small café, and we wanted to go in a nice cafe, and we couldn’t get a place, so we went to the other cafe. But from the beginning, I just liked you, Sacha, and not just as a person. Obviously, you’re a wonderful, humble, lovely man with great values, but your passion for the topic of sustainability and climate and combine that with doing business. I mean that excites me.
And then, we met Remo, who is a great businessman as well, which is a major shareholder of the company, and some of the other people. So, I like the people.
So, for me, Prime fits all three boxes. It goes after sustainability in IT, its wonderful set of people, and well, the third one, you need to judge if I’m able to bring value, the future will tell, and you have to judge on this one. For me, still I would check the box today.
[0:05:49] Sacha: Thank you so much. Yes, you do, indeed.
[0:05:53] Michael: And so, that’s a lot about me, Sacha, but let’s shift gears maybe. So, yesterday, or the day before yesterday, a Federal Court of Justice in Germany took a groundbreaking judgement. I’m sure you saw that, right? But they said climate protection is a human right. And the laws in place and the rules in place in Germany are not good enough.
So, the government now is poor, so the current climate protection laws are insufficient. So, the government now is really forced by the law to have much more specific goals and initiatives to address critical topics.
Now, for you, you’ve been a big advocate for sustainability, and you must have heard a lot of pushback, opposition because people don’t want to change for the right thing. Typically, they only change when it’s in front of them.
So, what are the big challenge and what has changed over the last couple of years since you’re engaged in the topic?
[0:06:52] Sacha: Wow, that’s a fabulous question, yes, thank you so much. Yeah, you’re right. So, the decision two days ago was something like a milestone in history in terms of the government and restrictions and regulations that really, really founded—well, it might have been able to come a little earlier, but as you said, 99 percent of everything in the public or in the private sector comes when we face a crisis and only 1 percent is apparently a company or person or government that’s trying to be proactive.
But I really liked the decision, and now with that, we can go further and make the right thing.
But we always change—challenge still today is the fact of acting on issues, on different issues. So, there has been a lot of talking all over the years since the Kyoto Protocol, and then the Paris Agreement, but since then, I mean there’s not enough ongoing.
And that’s why I also think that realign a little bit, it’s more about acting, about really doing something about that because the projected goals of 2030-2050, well, they’re nice to have, but there needs to be having something. And it’s to make the right choice now, and that’s a big challenge for a lot of companies and the government sector.
Though, the awareness arises. 2021, it’s a huge, yeah, awareness year towards a different topic, health, climate issues, but also, stuff like economy, and we need to make decisions not only as a consumer, but especially, we need to be hard and fast to regulations in governments but also in the transition and acceleration of a sustainable and social economy.
There’s a huge gap, and we need to make this change in perspective to get the whole masses. So, the companies in the public sector see and feel it now, although I think everything which is good needs to be cheaper. Doing the right thing needs to be cheaper than doing the bad thing. And that is more so in terms of coal, fossil fuel, etcetera.
So, I personally think there needs to be sanctions in that capacity at the right time but to accelerate the right things.
However, in the last 7 years, Michael, and nearly seven—the last 7 years of nearly 22 years, you have been an executive at Cisco. You’ve been leading, at the end, in 28 countries, and have been responsible for kind of billions of turnaround. So, what are you most proud of in your time back then?
[0:09:29] Michael: My “proudest”, is one of these words, I don’t really react to. So, the first thing that comes to my mind is probably more grateful than proud. And so, I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to learn so much and be with the company and the market through several market transitions and see all different elements and see wonderful people in so many different countries.
But I’m really grateful for, then, family and friends, for who they are and what I got so that I could do what I could do, travel a lot, be away from family, be away from friends, and they’re still there with me, which is great.
But I want to really stress this, I don’t want to be shy on answering on proud, and it’s not a result or win the market share. I think that isn’t right. It’s more what has been done with the infrastructure because selling, over years, billions, multiple billions of infrastructures to companies and countries, to see how industries could change, how companies could change, how countries actually could evolve and build these things they couldn’t do before and increasing quality of life for its citizens. That’s kind of like cool to see.
And I think all the discussions on the digital age now and sustainability, it’s kind of like the same, but it’s really not selling it. It’s what you can do with it. So, this goes back to significance and purpose.
And then, the second, I would go back to people. So, what I’m proud, but even more grateful than people, but I mean I just believe people and culture will define success in any transformation, in any digital transformation. It’s that combination.
And yet, many managers still around which by feel. And I never liked that. I’ve been exposed to that, and people want me to put that on people. I never did that. I just did the opposite side. I love leading by moving forward with a vision of innovation, focused aspiration, people-centric, whatever.
And throughout the years, we’ve been rewarded several times as a great place to work, which I think now Cisco is in the US again, in many other countries. But I had an opportunity to work with the teams in many countries – Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Eastern Europe, several times. And creating gross shareholder value, but at the same time, being rewarded by the employees for a great place to work is something to be cool.
But there’s one thing I just may mention which stands out for me, from all the years, and I think you and I must have spoken about it, is years ago, when Germany was hit—well the world was hit, there was a major refugee crisis, and Germany has been overwhelmed with millions of refugees literally coming to Germany. And at that time, we’ve been with the team in Las Vegas, big kickoff, thousands of people, MGM arena, music, celebrating, change the world, and then you see the news, and you see that tragedy.
So, we didn’t really know what to do, but we said we knew we had to do something. So, we just used people and technology and innovation and asked just our people for ideas and concepts. And many things came – “We want to have time spending with the refugees,” “We want to donate…” do all those things to enable that. We achieved a policy in the company that every employee could spend five days working on the scene. But then, there was one team in Hamburg which came up with an idea to create a refugee first response center based out of containers, in many containers. And I loved the idea, loved the idea. With a partner, an innovator, an agency, and some key people from Cisco, we’ve been doing it.
And we had no time, no money to fund it, so we actually took sales expense, and you run organization, you know what that means if you take sales expense away. But we said, “It’s the right thing. Let’s do it.” And the team created something which had a massive impact.
So, they created that response center, super connected, high-speed program, connected to one of the leading university hospitals in Hamburg, which is one of the leading ones in Europe, connecting translators, 180 different languages. Created all of that. And seeing the impact it had for the refugees, to children which lost their parents, their family, have been alone, don’t speak anymore. But then, when you switched on the media and they could speak to people in their own language, it changed their lives again.
And being able to do something, seeing how you can use technology to have an impact to people is really cool. And actually, today, that evolved to be a key product for Cisco in kind of like a different way or shape but being able to do things like that with technology, I think, again, makes me grateful and it’s really cool, yeah.
[0:13:58] Sacha: Wow, really personal. Yes, I’ve heard, obviously, you told me that, and I just recapped that story. And it’s right. Connectivity is something that is really, really important. And you mentioned a few things. You always mention people. And to not be able to, in some sort of crisis, you stand alone, and you had the opportunity to connect somehow. I mean, see the 2020 and 2021 ongoing. The way of how humanity now is some sort of connected but kind of also disconnected, but still connecting each other through media is sensational, and that helps us to go through those different times.
That comes to the topic of there are mega topics all along, so in the digital world, and this Tech Age we can pick up, if you might, three mega topics – digitization, AI, and sustainability. So, do you have an idea or an opinion of how they match? What do you think about that?
[0:15:00] Michael: Probably more right, obviously, around key themes like security and other things. But I mean, again, we’ve said it a few times, the world is going through fundamental change. So, the climate, we’re at a point of no return, super critical. Society in the Western world. We have an aging, shrinking society. Other parts of the world we have hyper-growth, and we have urbanization. More than ever, people are living in urban centers, and that trend goes with massive speed. I think more than 200,000 people every single day move in an urban environment, causing other changes and the need for innovation.
And then, we have the hyperconnectivity you just picked on, where you have 3.something billion people being connected, but there are another 5 billion people who will be connecting in the next couple of years, which creates opportunities and things.
And then, obviously, it’s not only the people which are connected but billions and billions and tens of billions of devices. And that creates—everybody can communicate with everybody and everything with everything, so that creates, obviously, that monster connectivity layer, which leads into the world of data.
And here you are with AI and machine learning as well, which helps you get more out of the data in whatever way or shape, better decisions, faster decisions, anticipating things, critical elements like a pandemic, we can see things much earlier happening in any sector.
So, and that will have significant implications on jobs, but that is probably for another discussion.
Digitization, well, we’re on the digital age, so—and then we don’t want to bother people with it, but obviously, there is continuous disruption of existing business models and occurring of new ones, which makes it very exciting, and maybe the future of Prime as well.
But if you just look at the pandemic and the impact digitization had, take retail, the [indiscernible] and the change in the retail sector, in the last 12 months have been more innovation, more shifts in different models than in the last decade in the retail sector alone.
And then, we see, just imagine if we wouldn’t have had digital, how would we have worked from home? How would we have handled the situation? So, you already see the impact.
And at the same time, you see how bad things are in the education sector, in the health sector, how ridiculous it is today, was no progress over the last decade or two, so there is pressure on digitalization and sustainability. Close to your heart and to so many people in our generation. It is clear that technology will play a key role in enabling a sustainable world, and at the same time, we’ll need to lead by example, which I know you do at Prime Computer, and on the future Prime Computer, we always will have both in mind on delivering sustainable IT solutions and being a role model on our teams.
So, if you combine those three, you make a trend – AI, sustainability, digitization – that indeed could be like a magic triangle and a winning formula. There may be a few more colors on it, like I said, security and others, but those three are obviously super, super important for now, for the next decade.
And executing on those will define the success of companies, cities, and countries, without a shadow of a doubt.
[0:18:15] Sacha: Totally agree, yes.
[0:18:18] Michael: Now, let me go back to you, Sacha. Because otherwise, I speak far too much, but you are also, I think this is why we enjoy being together, you’re also a visionary. So, visionary thinker and actor, and always, one, two, three steps ahead. So, what do you think? What are the biggest changes you foresee over the next five years? And I know it’s kind of like an infinite question, but what would you pick as the biggest change coming?
[0:18:42] Sacha: I think our answers would align pretty much, and if I repeat that, that would be boring. So, but you’re right. I agree basically on everything you mentioned earlier. But I think this decade is going to be the fast-developing and the fastest-growing in the history of mankind. That’s basically because we are driven by connectivity by spreading ideas, information, and innovation.
And those things, in this 10 years, I mean it is scary because it will be so advanced, that by 2030, actually, 75 percent of the jobs that will be done do not yet exist, and this is in 9 years. And this is scary because this comes back to education. What should we teach our children? This whole system and everything takes way longer to be implicated. So, you need to be more resilient, and you need to be more adaptable; you need to learn on the go into the future. And if you’re not willing to adapt and learn and change, you will be having problems in the future, as a company, as a person, as a government, and that’s for the long-term.
Looking on products or on development, I think the biggest changes, in my opinion, will be in circularity adapting, which means supply chain, manufacturing, yeah, products and services, actually all aspects of life. Because we need to be more about reusing, reducing, and recycling.
This is just, not to be on this green wave, but we are, as you mentioned, in societies where people are getting older and there’s less working force, but at the same time, we’re growing exponentially over the last 60 years in numbers of people around the world, we’re getting healthier, kind of, that way that we can combat crises as we do now, also will be.
However, this gives us future problems. So, we need to have—we have energy and resource scarcity, and those need to be adapted. And this can be adapted through a circular model along the way.
I think we’re going to make huge advancements in quantum computing in the next five years. Therefore, accelerating speed in calculation, and that’s going to be advancing us so much as human beings, and also making projections and models to go forward.
I think also clean energy will be designing hopefully more and more of our life. So, that’s a huge shift. And seeing that this is accelerating this fast, I think in the next five years is going to be. You see already countries like Denmark that have more renewable energy than coal energy, than black energy.
As well, I will be thinking that we are more dependent on ICT. We’re already dependent and kind of—yeah, doing all aspects of life into that.
So, we are going to make decisions—they are going to make decisions for us, but it also takes a lot of risk. And you mentioned that earlier, security. Our life can be hacked, where we’re really dependent on some sort of things. But also, in the dependence of humanity towards companies and governments because who controls ICT? That’s mostly someone, institutions, and that’s going to be also a point where we need to take care of regulations as well, which is going to be really, really important.
[0:22:12] Michael: That sounds like it ain’t going to be boring in the next couple of years listening to you. I always rule by the best is yet to come, clearly, and it is. So, we have an opportunity, with just the examples you gave, to improve so much quality of life, people, citizens, to create new business. And yes, it’s change, and change will be tough, but it’s going to be a great time ahead. I love the challenge.
[0:22:35] Sacha: Yeah, I just want a lot of people to be aware that it is—it will help other things, but to be aware also about the ethical reasons. Because there will be decisions made, there will be companies. I mean we see it all over with social media, that take that as it leaked, but whatever, but we are actually in an attention world where time is our currency. Because time cannot motivate. We only have each other 24 hours, and time is what everyone wants from us. Money can be multiplied, but time not.
And if there is a solution how to make more time, well then, you’re going to be a billionaire. But that’s the next step.
However, I mean with huge responsibilities, it is really important not to burn out, I mean not just on a professional basis, but with all coming, with life going faster, with too much information. So, we need to balance, and we need to get our mind free.
How do you balance it in your private life?
[0:23:42] Michael: Oh, that’s a good one. I guess my mind is probably a bit weird. So, I’m not sure I’m a good role model because I’m typically in a good mood, I get that in the genes, and when I wake up in the morning, I’m happy and grateful in the morning by then. Typically, I have a lot of energy.
And strange enough, I love challenge and I love change. So, actually, I hate things go slow for too long. So, I need to move on, and I can find crazy people with it.
But then, I firmly believe, and it has been true for my life, for me, is I believe when you love what you do, you have amazing energy. It’s just right—and even in tough times, you have a lot of energy, and even if it hits you and it gets—you have a lot of energy because you love what you do. And that’s true private into business.
But yet obviously, there are times when it’s just getting too much and you need to destress, or you are tired. So obviously, you need to take care on your nutrition and your sleep, take that again.
But what I think what really helps and what helps me is being surrounded by great people. I talked about that, by energy givers. You have people; you have energy suckers and energy givers. And I think we all need to make sure we have energy givers in our life, and you’re an energy giver as well, Sacha.
And actually, I really think, everybody talks diversity, but really believe if you just only hang around with the same people, then it’s nice and valuable, but if you have different people with different experience, different age, different ideas, it also helps you to free up your mind.
And I guess my very personal [indiscernible], if I really have some of those days where I’m super stressed, I’m not in a good mood, it comes down to a few basic things. I mean for me, it comes down to sports, doing sports, not consuming sports but doing sports, reading, and learning, playing games, and being with friends.
So, when I actually really need to calm myself, pretty much every time, if I take a good book or read a good newspaper, or whatever digital content, and read it and learn, or be able to dream and be able to go in a different way, it helps me, and just getting out and moving, whatever it is in sports, just doing those two things helps me in whatever time to really settle down. And I’m always up for a good game and playing games. So, that helps me. So, that’s what I do when I have those days. But I do it if I have good days as well, which is actually much more fun.
[0:25:59] Sacha: Well Michael, thank you so much for this great answer, for sharing this knowledge, for being inspiring here. We are at the end of this interview.
About our Interview Guest: Michael Ganser
Michael Ganser has more than 30 years of management experience in the IT industry. He worked for over 20 years in various executive positions at Cisco. He was CEO Germany, CEO Switzerland, and Senior Vice President Central Europe at Cisco. Today, as founder and CEO of Windage AG, Michael Ganser invests in next-gen start-ups and advises them on sustainable IT and on many other areas. He is also a highly valued member of the Prime Computer board of directors.
PC Business Talk is an interactive interview series, where Sacha Ghiglione, CEO of Prime Computer invites CEOs & industry leaders for a relaxed interview about different topics.