Inforum 2020: The digital experience Day 2 led off with a Special Guest Session: A fireside chat with Infor CEO Kevin Samuelson and Koch Industries Chairman and CEO Charles Koch.
“Koch’s recent acquisition of Infor is an absolute game-changer, both for Infor and the overall enterprise software industry,” Samuelson said.
Since Infor was fully acquired by Koch Industries this spring, customers have been asking if and how Infor will change and what that could mean for them. Samuelson chose Infor’s largest customer conference as the ideal space to answer those questions publicly, and to introduce Infor’s customers to Koch Industries through a chat with its chairman and CEO, Charles Koch.
Samuelson began with some background, noting Charles Koch became president of the Rock Island Oil and Refining Co. in 1967, a business started by his father. He renamed the business Koch Industries to honor his father and, over 50 years, has grown that small business into the second-largest private company in the United States, with more than $115 billion in revenue and 130,000 employees around the world. Koch owns diverse businesses in a variety of industries: Georgia-Pacific in pulp and paper, Molex in electronics and fiber-optics manufacturing, and Guardian, which makes glass, automotive parts and high-value coatings.
“I am struck by Koch’s success across so many industries and economic cycles,” Samuelson said.
Koch said his company has successfully navigated the current economic turmoil by having a long-term view rather than a short-term view, and “always thinking of how we can create long-term value for others — starting with our customers and employees.”
“There is always uncertainty,” Koch said. “The future is unknown and unknowable, and we have prepared ourselves for that is by building capabilities that will make us successful under a whole variety of conditions, which means having more flexibility, more optionality, more diversity.”
Then, knowing the future will be different than the past, he said, Koch continually develops new capabilities, and with those, it can then pursue additional opportunities, which in turn require other new capabilities, and on and on.
“This creates what I call a virtuous cycle of mutual benefit—with continual improvement and growth and diversity,” Koch said. “It’s how we deal with creative destruction.”
Samuelson said, “There’s probably never been a time when creative destruction was more of a force than what we are going through right now. We see customers moving from heavily customized software to cloud software. That involves a lot of change and, to some degree, creative destruction. What do you advise managers or companies that are working through change and really struggling?”
Koch replied, “We try to get our employees to understand that change is a risk for all of us. But not changing is suicide; it is a certainty that you are going out of business. And an individual employee, if you are not changing and improving and working on that every day, you’re not going to keep your job.”
Samuelson asked: “You talk about the tenet of mutual benefit. We have really embraced that at Infor — and I would say in software, there is not enough focus on that — of us building software that helps our customers and in turn those customers creating innovations that help us. How do you think mutual benefit applies to companies like Infor, and how might our customers profit from Infor leaning more heavily into mutual benefit?”
Koch said: “We need to understand what will make our customers successful, not just today but in the future, and then build the capabilities to do that. So Infor needs to continually transform itself by building more and more capabilities and keep investing and building these knowledge networks so we can all draw on them.”
Samuelson asked: “What got Koch interested in investing in technology?”
Koch said: “We’ve invested $30 billion in technology over the past 10 years. It is transforming everything we do. It is transforming our people’s jobs, turning them on, enabling them to invent their own virtuous cycles. It’s transforming our operations to make it much more efficient. It’s transforming the value of our products as we build more technology into those products.”
Samuelson asked: “Our customers want to know what about Infor piqued your interest to invest in and then fully acquire us?”
Koch said his company started as an Infor customer, so it knew Infor had good products. “The first thing that appealed to us was Infor’s industry-focused solutions and services, not just generic, and the other was Infor’s emphasis on the cloud. As we started to invest, we found real mutual benefit with Infor.”
Samuelson noted that many Infor customers in industries where Koch has no presence are wondering what Infor’s acquisition by Koch means for them. “A ton of the innovation we’re doing in Koch labs and with a number of Koch entities actually serves those customers just as much. For example, a lot of the great work we’ve done around HCM and Birst analytics has huge application for our hospital customers. Those virtuous cycles really do ripple out across our industries.”
Samuelson asked: “When you’re not busy running a $100 billion company, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to make people’s lives better. What good can come out of the current upheavals we’re living through now, and what are you concerned about?”
Koch said he has just co-authored a book with Brian Hooks, CEO of Stand Together, titled “Believe in People: Bottom-up solutions for a top-down world.” It encourages more people to become social entrepreneurs, to go find what will really help overcome the obstacles of today, to have a society of mutual benefit, where people assist one another rather than like today where so many people seem to want to denigrate people they don’t agree with, and hold them back. “We see part of the problem as this top-down approach. Rather than empowering people so everybody has the opportunity to realize their potential, and have the best life they can, it’s more about controlling them and making them dependent. We’re working with social entrepreneurs to show there’s a better way for society to thrive.”
Koch concluded: “We are proud to have Infor as part of Koch, and we hope we can help Infor create more value for your customers.”
View the full Special Guest Session: A fireside chat with Infor CEO Kevin Samuelson and Koch Industries Chairman and CEO Charles Koch
Other Inforum Day 2 highlights
The day continued with live product demos, live ask-the-expert and sponsor sessions, peer connection communities, and hundreds of on-demand breakout sessions, focusing on specific industries and products. All of the sessions are available on demand.
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