As a president at sketch-to-scale vendor Flex, Caroline Dowling is used to taking ideas scrawled on the back of a napkin through design and production to delivery working with a global ecosystem of partners within a matter of months.
It's a big part of what makes her job exciting. The other part, of course, is that the futuristic technologies she is helping to develop will have a positive, even life-changing, impact on the world and its inhabitants -- and the impact factor is what's driving Dowling's work as President of Communications Infrastructure Enterprise Computing at Flex (Nasdaq: FLEX).
That is also what is making it easy for the company to attract young employees -- the focus on impact and making a difference, while also walking a fine line with data, privacy and security. Dowling has been with the company for 15 years and splits her time between Ireland, the US and Asia, covering 12 different business segments including medical, automotive and wearables. She has garnered a truly global perspective on the role technology has in the world.
Dowling, also a member of Women in Comms' Board of Advisors, sat down with WiC for a recent radio show, which is now archived on the site, to share her thoughts on how technology is improving the world, what it means for young people and women and more. Here are a few of the highlights. (See WiC Radio: Flex Takes On the World's Problems.)
Women in Comms: Does a cultural transformation need to take place in an organization to enable new technologies and services on a global scale? What's Flex's culture like?
Caroline Dowling: We believe you need to have an environment of exploit and explore, and exploit is exploiting all the capabilities of the core foundation. Flex's platform is our global footprint and scale. We couple that with our sketch-to-scale ability. It really allows you stay nimble and able and keep bureaucracy out. Bureaucracy creeps into a company when there is a low level of trust in the environment, so we drive hard and always have to keep it out and fight against it very strongly. Our culture is very important to us. We believe in having a lot of humility in how we go to market, but equally having the confidence in our team to develop and do some level of exploration, and then deliver those products to market in an environment where they leverage all the core capabilities of our foundation and platform.
We also like having a mix of generations from the baby boomers right into the Millennials and of course right now, what we would call the new cyber kids. Some of the interns we're bringing in now are from the cyber kid community. So having the combination of baby boomers, Millennials and cyber kids makes us able to challenge the way we operate, challenge how we think and go to market and keeps us agile.
For example, in my sector alone last year, we produced $2 billion of new product, launched it and built it out in 12 months. That equated to about 290,000 new products being introduced. That requires a very agile team, a very committed and focused team and a high trust environment. I'd liken it to American Football or rugby in Europe. When I have the ball and am going to the touchline, I don't have to look back, I trust my soldiers right and left of me are right there when I need to pass on. That is really how we operate as a company. It's a very positive environment. We believe, culturally, the biggest competitive advantage we have is our people. They make the biggest difference for us.
WiC: Does talking about outcomes and solving world problems rather than the technology itself help you attract that younger generation of cyber kids?
CD: It certainly does. We've seen it with the Millennial employment history over the past few years -- what motivates them is that noble cause. Being able to be an integral part of solutioning for healthcare, solutioning for smart farming or automotive, where we are saving lives or really impacting the lifestyle of people.
A new McKinsey report reckons that the information age took about 700 million people out of the poverty line, so if you think about what the 1750s industrial revolution did for us, it significantly lifted the standard of living out of Victorian times. We then went through the modern age where we had cars and steam engines, which opened up economies to trade, again lifting our GDP significantly worldwide and lifted the standard of living and people out of the poverty line. And, the third one is the information age, where McKinsey's studies tell you we would've taken 700 million people off the poverty line. That is a powerful statistic in what we're delivering whether its storage solutions or sensor technologies, that it is actually affecting people's lives very positively.
WiC: Are we, as a global community, ready for all of these technology advancements? What about emerging economies?
CD: Only 47% of the world right now has access to the Internet, and I use access broadly in that they can walk into a store and get access, but don’t necessarily have a device themselves. Half of the population still has to come online into our new digital world. We still have 3 billion people well below the poverty line, so we have a ways to go with globalization. The advanced economies will adapt these technologies, as we've seen over history, and they will deploy them first. Then, of course, our hope and what we are striving for is to bring the technologies to emerging economies and improve conditions. Perhaps, this revolution will lift the remaining 2 to 3 billion people off the poverty line, which would be really exciting.
WiC: How can access to the Internet help women in emerging markets?
CD: Twenty-five percent of the global workforce is female, and we still have a ways to go. When we look at even basic rights of getting the vote -- some countries in the Middle East, women still don’t even have the basic right to vote. I believe these technologies will help us in the future, and help us to impact that and give people access to information. Information is very powerful. Access to education is powerful.
WiC: What is your biggest piece of personal advice for women in the next-gen comms industry?
CD: To me, the biggest challenge for most people, whether you are male or female, is to overcome fear. Fear is something inside yourself. It's not necessarily something other people understand. I've always been a big believer in embracing that fear and leading the change for yourself. Stop being afraid. Get over the fear. Envisage what it is you want, and go about the business of continuously brain-training yourself to go and take that role and make it yours. It actually works well. You can train your brain really well. You just need to teach yourself to envisage and assume the role, and I guarantee it can become yours.
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms