Leading a digital transformation that will never end – Interview with Duncan Macdonald of UPC Switzerland


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Today’s interview is with Duncan Macdonald, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at UPC Switzerland, which is part of the Liberty Global group. Duncan joins me today to talk about leadership, what it takes to really empower people, his journey to where he is now and how he had to unlearn a lot of things in order to lead the way that he now does.

Thanks go to the folks at Pega who help set this interview up after I saw a video of Duncan talking about his work and leadership style that was featured as part of Pega’s Customer Engagement Summit (CES) online event on April 1st.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Customer experience, innovation, artificial intelligence, culture….a look inside Amazon – Interview with Claire Whitaker – and is number 341 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Duncan:

  • The main reason that Duncan is in Switzerland with UPC is that he is co-sponsoring a very large digital transformation of the entire business. It’s a 3-year programme and they are now halfway through.
  • We call it a programme. But, actually it’s a transformation that will never end.
  • You just keep evolving, keep evolving, keep evolving and evolving and change becomes the norm.
  • But, that’s a big mindset change from the old ways of working.
  • The interview came about after I saw a video of Duncan talking about his work and leadership style that was featured as part of Pega’s Customer Engagement Summit (CES) online event on April 1st.
  • My leadership style is a tough leadership style in that I put a lot of energy into constantly pushing the team.
  • I believe we’re all responsible for driving the business forward and we all have to protect the customer.
  • I’m not wedded to a 9 to 5. It’s outcomes that matter.
  • The more people know, the more we can all make the most sensible decisions.
  • But, everything is done with a customer in mind.
  • I definitely don’t believe that knowledge is power. I think that’s that’s a fundamental blockage.
  • I also believe that anyone has a right to, raise questions.
  • Duncan doesn’t characterise his style in any particular way. He says that it just feels natural.
  • You do what is right and you trust people.
  • However, he says he had to learn these things.
  • This happened over the course of a few years through working with a good coach. She helped him see and learn that being hard nosed and only focusing on getting things delivered will only get you so far.
  • Part of what she taught me is if you look after people, then it becomes almost like a virtual circle………if you look after people, they’ll look after you.
  • And, that goes for your customers, your clients and your colleagues too.
  • There is a potential contradiction and conflict between trusting and empowering your people and the desire to measure and monitor them.
  • I believe in not controlling people.
  • Monitoring and measurement are a means of control.
  • Trusting the team is enabled by building their resilience and creativity.
  • If you think about 100% of the things that you are stressed about and how much you can actually control then you’ll quickly figure out that you can only really control about 4% of that list. So, worrying about the other 96% is a waste of time and energy.
  • You have to hire capable people and then you have to let them work the way the way they work best, which is normally their own way.
  • So, hire the best then trust them, be very open with them around what you’re trying to achieve so they understand the desired outcomes. And then, give them independence and the right sort of help and you will get where you need to get to.
  • My role really is helping clear the barriers that are stopping them from doing what they need to do.
  • If you give people the freedom to work the way they want to work then you will get more productivity.
  • Two things: protect the external (and internal customer) at all costs and make sure the quality is there at all times.
  • If your internal customers know that you are fighting for them, then they’ll support investment back to you.
  • The other thing is that you have to be absolutely open and transparent with internal customers too. There should be no difference between how you treat internal or external customers.
  • With the move to complete remote working (as a result of the virus outbreak) there is an increase in the intensity of communication so we have to be very careful to make sure that people don’t burn out.
  • Manage your time and focus. Make sure you put aside some thinking time.
  • It is not an easy transition to this style of leadership. It’s a fundamental mindset change because you are no longer judging value by how busy people are, you are judging value by the output and how well the team performs.
  • Duncan’s coach told him: There’s no justice in business. Sometimes, the world is not a fair place. So, you have to learn to put things aside and move on.
  • Everyone has responsibility to speak up. There’s been a few cases where we have stopped massive deliveries because a junior member of the team put their hand up and said ‘I’m not sure about this’.
  • Duncan’s Punk CX word: headless architecture


About Duncan

Duncun MacDonaldDuncan Macdonald is a highly accomplished Chief Information Officer, demonstrating a consistent track record of delivering Digital Transformation and high profile leading-edge programmes.

He has served as CIO of UPC Switzerland since October 2018.

Currently he is joint owner of the creation and implementation of a 3 year Digital transformation strategy where the aim is to evolve the business from a telecoms provider to a digital service provider .

From 2016, Duncan held the role of VP of Consumer IT & Digital Transformation across the 11 European operating countries in the Liberty Group. Before that, he led IT, Delivery and TV operations for Virgin Media as Executive Director from 2013. Before joining Virgin Media in 2007, Duncan held a number of senior positions in leading management consultancies.

He is a graduate of London University with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with Management.

From his corporate bio:

I am… a little bit eccentric, but always focused on doing the right thing (in my own way).
I can’t… just be comfortable. I always want to learn new things.
I have… to be creative on a regular basis.
I won’t… be unreasonable or closed to new ideas.
I like… the journey but with the destination always in mind.
I live… in a secluded valley in a national park surrounded by nature.

You can find out more about UPC here, say Hi to them @UPC_Switzerland and do connect with Duncan on LinkedIn here.


Thanks to Randy Heinitz for the image.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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