Six years ago, in the midst of the most severe global economic downturn since the Great Depression, my systems integration business (Autoware) was suffering significantly. A series of concurrent factors—some outside of my control, others linked to choices made (or not made)—led Autoware into a very difficult financial situation. I remember the fear I felt on the many nights I spent thinking about what might happen tomorrow.
Today, fortunately, Autoware's situation has changed dramatically and I am now much more confident of what the future will bring. Looking back on that time, I realize that I learned many lessons about what I did right as well as the errors I made. Through these recollections, I continue to come back to three things that contributed significantly to the success of the company.
1. Reaching Out. Autoware's situation changed for the better when I started doing exactly the opposite of what the financial situation seemed to advise. Instead of reducing travel and broad industry participation, I began to travel more and participate in international conferences and events where I came into contact with people who ran businesses similar to mine. This allowed me to consult them about the issues that were jeopardizing our business and understand how problems were experienced and resolved in contexts very similar to mine. Not only was this business travel a great source of ideas and solutions, but the confidence it gave me in understanding that my situation was not unique and unsolvable was critically important. Much of this learning came from my decision to participate in the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) activities. Exposure to information, ideas, business models and cultures constitutes an exceptional opportunity for any business. This kind of travel brings new insights that find their way into your traditional way of thinking, allowing the generation of new ideas that, properly cultivated and implemented, can make a substantial difference. The most important lesson here is that none of this can be done sitting behind a desk every day.
2. Control. One thing I often struggled with was the feeling of being subjected to the whims of the market and having to adapt myself to varying conditions without any ability to define the direction of my company. This caused me a terrible sense of helplessness and danger. Not having a definite direction made it impossible to evaluate if any of our decisions were the correct ones. An important element of change was to take time to think about the markets in which Autoware could best express its full potential and imagine how I could achieve these goal starting from where we were. Defining the destination and the milestones along the way allowed us to maintain a steady and consistent concentration on the objectives and to periodically check to see if we were deviating from the planned route. It's important to note here than any goals and milestones you determine early in this process cannot be static and unchangeable. Indeed, all steps must be periodically challenged to assess the soundness of your plan.
3. Sharing goals. No positive results would have been obtained if all of the above information was not shared within the company as widely and continuously as possible. Doing so is the only you can count on everyone’s power to push in the same direction. Having a shared mission, of which everyone can feel part of and to which everyone can contribute their passion and dedication, makes the result much greater than the sum of individual contributions.
The lessons I am sharing here are not meant to be a universal recipe. Your success story may not event contain the same ingredients. But for Autoware, these three points made all the difference. I try to work on these points every day to not lose the positive energy that allowed our adventure as a system integrator to be a little more easy and interesting. My hope is that someone else can find inspiration in them – and maybe even a better night’s sleep.
Luigi De Bernardini is chief executive officer of Autoware, a Certified Control System Integrators Association member based in Vicenza, Italy. For more information about Autoware, visit www.controlsys.org.