Infor CEO Kevin Samuelson - ‘If we are not making money for our customers, we are not succeeding’

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez November 21, 2019
Summary:
Samuelson was appointed Infor CEO earlier this year and he is putting customer success at the centre of his strategy for the vendor.

Image of Kevin Samuelson Infor CEO

In April of this year I sat down with Charles Phillips, then-CEO of Infor, to talk about the third phase of the company under his tenure. The piece centred around Infor 3.0 being all about people and the future of work. However, little did I know that just a few months later - after almost a decade in the top job - Phillips would be standing down as CEO, to be replaced by Infor CFO Kevin Samuelson. 

As such, my claims about Infor 3.0 were somewhat premature. Whilst the future of work and productivity will no doubt still play into Infor’s strategy, last week I got the opportunity to speak to Samuelson about what he wanted to define his leadership of the company by. The answer? Customer success and outcomes. 

But before we get into that, by way of background, when Phillips joined the company back in 2010, Infor had an impressive customer base, but its apps and technology had been ignored for years and there was no fresh thinking in the company (Infor 1.0). 

When Phillips joined, bringing with him a number of new, keen executives, Infor entered a new phase. Infor 2.0 was all about rewriting Infor industry apps for the cloud, running on the new Infor OS, hosted on Amazon Web Services, created with UX front of mind, and centred around a strong API strategy. Other developments have been introduced over the years - such as a new BI platform (following the acquisition of Birst), a new AI platform (Coleman), and the acquisition of GT Nexus (now Infor’s supply chain network). However, the focus has always been the same - multi-tenant industry vertical applications, hosted in the cloud, beautifully designed.

Being private has helped Infor invest where it needed to and it now has some impressive cloud numbers to boast about. Not only this, but it has attracted some seriously high profile customer names in recent years, and has had two multi-billion dollar investments from Koch Industries. We at diginomica have been impressed by the cogent nature of Infor’s strategy and that it has taken a long-term view of what is required to succeed. 

So what will Samuelson be prioritising as he takes the rudder from Phillips and leads Infor into its next phase? Samuelson has worked at Infor for close to two decades and was previously CFO of the company, so he’s been central to the work that has gone on in the business in previous years. And observers will be pleased to know that much of what has been implemented will be staying - continuity is key. He told diginomica: 

There’s a lot of continuity. Charles [Phillips] is going to be on our board, as Chairman. I’ve been at Infor at 17 years. The other [leadership] changes we have made, they were all internal folks. I don’t think there’s any other perspective really other than things are going in the right direction. 

I think everyone is pretty excited about the momentum we have and where we’re headed. I don’t think there’s any need for any sort of radical change in direction or to do anything materially different.

Infor wants to make you money

However, as noted above, Samuelson is entering his tenure with one overriding objective - customer success and outcomes. diginomica has written a lot about the importance of customer success in a modern digital business, so this is a welcome move from our point of view. 

And, unsurprisingly, given Samuelson’s financial background, he wants success for customers to mean directly measurable financial outcomes. He explained: 

I think what I’m most focused on is how do we take all this amazing technology that we’ve built over the last decade or so - where we’ve spent $3.5 billion on R&D, we’ve cloud enabled the most industry leading cloud applications, with lots of industry functionality - and turn that into fantastic outcomes for our customers. 

If I think about the industry, it doesn’t have the greatest reputation. Customers are concerned about long implementations, or achieving ROI with product investments. I think there’s a huge opportunity for the company that can deliver both the best technology and the best customer outcome. 

My focus is how do we pull the entire company together and work with customers to get them live, more quickly. Get a measurable ROI and really positively impact their business.

And if you weren’t clear about what this meant, as a customer of Infor, Samuelson said: 

I think, to be very explicit, if our products are not either generating more revenue or more profit for our customers in some way, they’re not succeeding. In its most simplest form.”

Whether that manifests itself in better employee retention or better customer retention, there are a lot of ways you can get some more growth or more profit. But at the end of the day, if we’re not delivering that for customers we are probably doing something wrong.

Other updates

Samuelson also offered some insight into areas of the business that are performing particularly well. Interestingly - and it’s taken some time to get here - manufacturing ERP is finally getting some serious traction. Samuelson told my colleague Jon Reed last year that manufacturers are solving complicated problems, so getting them to the cloud is more difficult. However, that’s changing. Samuelson said: 

Interestingly enough, the fastest growing area in the cloud for us is manufacturing ERP. Which is a bit of a surprising answer, I guess. It’s grown at over 100% year on year, for almost the last year. It is the largest segment of our business, half of our company is manufacturing focused. 

It’s a bit of a surprise because it took a long time for that portion of the market to really embrace the cloud. But I can tell you that that’s changed dramatically in the last few quarters.

Samuelson also believes that ERP in the cloud, more broadly, is entering a phase of growth, having historically been one of the last pieces of tech to migrate (given it supports running a business at the core). He said: 

I do think that we are at a tipping point with ERP. I think it is one of the last bastions of technology to embrace the cloud. You didn’t really see scale customers start to get excited about cloud ERP really until the last couple of years. 

But it does feel like that has reached a tipping point, and if that continues, I do think it has huge implications for the entire market. 

My take

I’ve crossed paths with Samuelson a number of times over the years, but this is the first one on one I’ve had with him. And much like Phillips, he is thoughtful and entirely customer focused. I was reassured to hear that ultimately the strategy is continuity, with a renewed focused on customer outcomes. I don’t think many people will argue with that. 

Samuelson also gave a couple of other interesting bits away. For example, he talked down the company’s much anticipated IPO, which Infor has been hinting at since earlier this year. He said that whether the company is private or public, it will likely still have similar ownership and the same long-term view of success. In fact, Samuelson said “the capital market side doesn’t make a big difference to us”. 

Interestingly, Samuelson also said that Infor may do some more thinking around its hybrid offering for customers. Infor has a large customer base and whilst it has had a lot of success in the cloud, Samuelson recognises that he needs to put in an effective plan for its on-premise customers to get there. Infor has done some of that already, but I got the impression it might be a renewed focus for 2020. 

However, it’s fair to say that Samuelson is primarily focused on achieving success for the customer. When I asked him what success would look like for him in a couple of years, he simply said: 

Honestly, I think it’s having an extraordinarily high customer satisfaction. I feel like in our business, if you can actually delight customers and drive that value and deliver that value, I think everything else falls into place, whether it’s financial metrics, employee satisfaction, whatever. I think if we can get customers in our industry happy, which has always been a challenge, I think that puts us in a very unique position.

Image credit - Image sourced via Infor

Disclosure - Infor is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.

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