Brian Doubles became CEO of a consumer financial services company Synchrony earlier this year. Since then, he has touched areas ranging from strategy to organizational design and operations. We recently talked about the change, Synchrony’s new strategy, and how working remotely has helped its team stay aligned.
Karen Walker: Brian, you’ve only been in the job for a few months. How was this transition for you?
Brian doubles: I was named president of the company in 2019, and we announced in April of this year that I would also take on the role of CEO.
The biggest challenge? Not being able to engage face to face with employees. It’s a very different dynamic than I had imagined. I’ve thought a lot about taking on this role over the years, and I never thought I’d be doing my first town hall as CEO on a Zoom call. But it was fantastic. I love this company, and it’s the company I wanted to lead as CEO.
Walker: What are the main principles of your strategy for Synchrony?
Double: We are doing so much to transform and diversify the business right now. We are not just a credit card or private label company. We are a technology company. We say we’re an 80-year-old startup, given our GE heritage.
After I took over as CEO, we announced a major reorganization.
We have moved to five sales platforms aligned by sector. Digital, with partners like PayPal, Venmo and Amazon, Home and Auto, Health and Wellness, Diverse and Value (eg Sam’s Club and TJX) and Lifestyle. This allowed us to better anticipate the needs of our partners. We have also created a product organization. Leveraging our full line of products in the industry and facilitating the integration of these products are important parts of the strategy.
Walker: You have three overarching initiatives: innovate, replicate, and evolve. How does your new partnership with Clover support them?
Double: We used to fit in only one way: directly with a partner, one-on-one. What’s most exciting about the Clover announcement is that it allows us to build once and expand to all Clover merchants.
Our app, accessible in the Clover terminal, can be downloaded by our partners, and they have instant access to Synchrony financing products – such as our cards, buy now, pay later, etc.
It’s a great way to adapt our products to thousands of merchants by developing a single technological solution.
Walker: Let me share a quote from Carol Juel (Executive Vice President and Chief Technology and Operations Officer of Synchrony) about the GE spin-off. She said: “We were in the process of building a business. We rebuilt the technology base, which was an amazing experience for a Fortune 200 company. I still remember the meeting I went to with the request. Just 20 minutes into the meeting, the CFO said, “Make it happen.”
These are moments of a career that we remember. I assume you were the CFO.
Double: I remember that day very well. We hadn’t necessarily made all the investments that we needed when we were part of GE technologically.
I could tell she was a bit uncomfortable because it was a big budget she was asking for. But we knew what we wanted the company to look like five or ten years from then, and we knew it would take a big investment. So I prepared for it. I also have huge faith in Carol, and it took a lot of courage for Carol to come in and say, “Hey look, this is what I need.” I wanted to make sure she knew she had my unwavering support to build what we needed to build. She and the team absolutely delivered.
It was one of the best decisions we made before the IPO.
Walker: How do you keep the rest of your team focused and aligned, growing as fast as you are?
Double: I think working virtually helped us move faster. Before the pandemic, our leadership team flew everywhere for in-person meetings with our partners and to meet our teams.
It was difficult to identify the management team to make crucial decisions. You could get half of us together, or maybe 70% of us, but it was hard to schedule all of us. One of the things we found when we started working virtually was that we were so much more accessible to each other and our groups.
Decisions were made quickly. We have eight strategic imperatives in place and we met as a leadership team on those once or twice a week, whereas before the pandemic we met on those maybe once per month. Our teams make decisions much faster.
We also moved the majority of the business, including the ELT, to an agile mode of operation. One of the first things I did as CEO was eliminate our traditional staff meeting. We had a staff meeting on Monday afternoon from 2-5pm. People came and presented different topics, like a traditional staff meeting.
And we moved that to two 45-minute stand-up meetings on Monday and Wednesday mornings. As a leadership team, we’re in sync on the most important things we’re trying to accomplish this week. We share things that are relevant to each other. We have a scrum master who moderates this and keeps us focused and aligned.
It was a game changer for us. We move so much faster as a team. Back to Carol, she was such a big advocate for agility, but it wasn’t until we started moving our meetings to agile methodology that I got a good appreciation of what she can do in terms of speed and velocity.
Walker: Sounds like this is something you would continue even after the pandemic?
Double: I will never go back to the old way of working. We are trying to figure out how to adopt Agile and make it even better and faster. To develop this, the companies we compete with are small companies. They just get together, and they go. If we want to be competitive, we have to operate with the same speed.
Walker: I think of this on a continuum, what I call the SOP continuum from “seat of the pants” to “standard operating procedure”. And when you get big, you often find yourself too far off the standard operating procedure side of that continuum. What is your cadence for coming together and looking at the big picture?
Double: If I look back five years, we created an annual strategic plan, like most companies do. We have changed recently because while we still create an annual strategic plan, we also now have a process where we meet monthly and challenge that plan. We ask, “Are we always investing in all the right areas? Are the things that we approved in the strategic plan, the big initiatives that we are working on, still relevant? »
We now make adjustments monthly and quarterly, whereas ten years ago you would set your strategic plan and budget for the year and then execute it with your head down.
We constantly question and make resource reallocation decisions. If something works better than expected, we invest more and don’t wait to do it. We do it on the fly. Conversely, if we have things that aren’t working as well as we thought they would, we’ll stop those things and redeploy resources to other areas.
It’s exiting. The business is changing at a speed I have never seen.