As corporate leaders, we are in a unique position to elevate humanity through business. This is especially notable as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) disrupts long-established business models, especially manufacturing. 4IR, the melding of the physical and digital worlds, is changing how we produce and track things, add intelligence to products, and attract and retain the labor force required. As with previous industrial revolutions, some manual and physical labor roles will be replaced by automation. However, there is opportunity to create more value from existing employees through “upskilling and reskilling” as new types of jobs are anticipated. If it wasn’t a priority in the past, leaders must make decisions that put people at the center of their strategy, and enable employees to learn new skills, continue their professional growth and achieve individual prosperity.
While the term Fourth Industrial Revolution was first used at the World Economic Forum in 2016, the indicators were visible earlier. In 2013, I joined PAR Technology, headquartered in Upstate NY, to lead the Restaurant/ Retail business. At the time, PAR’s was a POS hardware supplier and systems integrator to the restaurant and retail industries. The quality POS hardware manufactured by PAR was being commoditized by low cost, highly reliable products from Asia and the company was at risk of losing market share without a major change in direction. At the same time, the industry was being disrupted as new fast casual concepts leveraging AI and digital technology threatened major fast food brands. Moreover, consolidation of restaurant tech companies including PAR’s competitors intensified. Most significantly, demand for frictionless dining experiences increased from consumers. At this time, we saw an opportunity to leverage the disruption to our advantage.
I committed to transitioning the business to a cloud software solutions company with a Software as a Service (SaaS) revenue model within a ‘hardware generation” or 10 years. I recognized that only 25% of companies succeed and believed that we’d succeed because of our people who like a family care for each other, our customers, suppliers and communities. It was at this time that I was introduced to Conscious Capitalism and the philosophy that embraces pursuit of profit for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Our digital transformation was hard, and we experienced all sorts of challenges. We focused on our people, nurturing an authentic, trusting, caring culture that was able to embrace change. We connected with our higher purpose – “to recognize and unleash possibility… for good” and through focus, grit and perseverance, we shifted the business from low margin hardware to a recurring software model. The company grew, we added jobs, bridged gaps between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ and navigated the transformation to ensure our future success. During this time, the valuation of the company increased more than 700%.
PAR’s success created a buzz. In our Upstate NY community, we created a Conscious Capitalism CEO forum to exchange ideas. These leaders were the ‘early adopters’ of Conscious Capitalism in our area and from industries including brewery/beverage (Saranac Matt Brewing Company), electronics and semi-conductors (Indium Corporation), executive search and strategic HR (M3 Placement), global logistics services (Mohawk Global Logistics), government contracting (PAR Government Systems Corporation), human placement services (Human Technologies), insurance (Gilroy Kernan and Gilroy), musical group / artists (moe.), restaurant technology (PAR Tech, Inc.), telecommunications (Northland Communications), and wealth management (Strategic Financial Services). Through our years of forum meetings, we confirmed that we are outperforming our competition by developing conscious leaders, shaping opportunities for our employees to grow by learning new skills, creating value for our stakeholders including our communities, all while increasing the valuation of our businesses.
While the businesses in our CEO Forum are seeing success, our region, which is home to hundreds of mid-market companies, is overcoming challenges exacerbated by multi-decade populations decline. We are experiencing an uptick in our economy but not at a pace where the graduates from our portfolio of exceptional colleges and universities are able to find employment opportunities. Furthermore, the traditional mid-market businesses, often family / founder owned that are essential to life in the cities, towns and villages that dot the region, strain to find the labor pool and invest in technology to compete and grow. We are committed to the transformation of our economy and know the many strengths of the region including the solid mid-market business community, the creativity and innovation of tech entrepreneurs, the reliable infrastructure, our hard-working, industrious people, and the abundant natural beauty.
Leveraging this momentum and the success of our CEO Forum, we established an Upstate NY Conscious Capitalism Chapter to open the aperture of opportunity for companies in our region to unite around growing purpose-based business. We have like-minded leaders coming together to share ideas that increase opportunities and create a win-win-win orientation for our collective businesses, communities, and especially for our employees, the folks that call Upstate NY home.
The complexity of the transformation during this Fourth Industrial Revolution demands “new forms of multi-stakeholder collaboration”. We see a renaissance for our region in manufacturing related to robotics, nano technology, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, drones and autonomous vehicles. This wave of economic growth must include collaboration among leaders in business, not-for-profits, government and academia. We look to do this under the umbrella of Conscious Capitalism.