When business news crosses over into consumer news, it usually has to do with one sector: tech. The world is obsessed with the performance, stock price fluctuations, acquisitions, executive misbehaviors, and other updates from companies like Meta, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google, Airbnb, Uber, Tesla, and of course, the cryptocurrency giants. They are all appropriately credited with creating “disruptive” technologies that are, often, life changing.
To the uninitiated, it might seem as if the only things that matter in business are tech companies. But savvy business leaders and entrepreneurs know better: the bulk of business takes place outside of Silicon Valley. In fact, of all the companies currently in the Fortune 500, just seventeen were founded after the internet revolution in the mid-1990s.
Still, no company that wants to compete in today’s disrupted world can ignore technology completely. Businesses small and large must find ways to innovate, automate, and accelerate, even if they’re not operating within the tech sector.
This is particularly true of businesses seeking to attract investors. Portfolio managers at Capital Group, an investment management organization with $2.6 trillion in assets under management, encourage their clients to “look for technologically savvy companies outside the tech industry.” Anne-Marie Peterson, Greg Wendt, and Lara Pellini wrote in September 2021 on the firm’s website, “Today all companies are tech companies. Established, sleepy industries and companies are using tech to transform their businesses in compelling ways, creating significant investment opportunity.”
According to Peterson, most business leaders underestimate the opportunities for digital transformation in non-tech companies. But not Capital Group: relying on global data from Statista, a consumer and market data company, its advisers report that companies’ investments in digital transformation totaled $1.3 trillion in 2020 and estimate that such investments will nearly double to $2.4 trillion in 2024.
How will they do it? What strategies and decisions will drive those investments? We spoke to World Emblem International’s CEO Randy Carr to find out.
Reconfiguring Existing Technologies
World Emblem International (WEI) is based in Hollywood, Florida. A global company with 1,200 employees, WEI makes insignia patches seen on workplace uniforms, sports team attire, hats, and just about anywhere a logo might appear on clothing or accessories. On the surface, it might appear that the company’s products and operations don’t require much technological intervention.
Au contraire. CEO Randy Carr runs the privately held business, which he inherited from his father. He has grown it to $100 million in annual revenue largely by reconfiguring a technology (trademarked FlexStyle) borrowed from the high fashion industry that adds texturing and dimensionality—out-of-the-box thinking if there ever was some.
Of course, Carr didn’t implement the FlexStyle technology without adapting it for his company’s scope and business model. “We figured out how to make it less expensive,” he explains, adding that this is part of what helps the company compete against lower-cost Chinese-made emblems. Thanks to technology, World Emblem can take digital artwork from a customer and deliver an insignia product the next day. Similar products from China, while cheaper, take six to eight weeks to deliver. It’s what the market wants: WEI produces about 350,000 pieces each day.
But Carr says some of WEI’s most impactful technology applications don’t even apply to its product. Seeking to improve upon their people and processes, the company instituted a business planning software platform called Rhythm Systems a decade ago, which he credits with tightening WEI’s operations, engaging every employee in meeting key performance indicators, and informing the company’s planning processes.
Stay Informed, Stay Connected
CEOs can always lean on their IT and R&D people for tech advice. But how do chief executives, who often lack a specialized knowledge of technology, know where to apply that information to broader company strategies?
Carr credits his membership and active engagement in the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), a cross-industry society, with providing him a cross-fertilization of ideas from disparate industries. “I meet people in similar businesses in other markets, plus I get info from tech business CEOs,” he says. “They give me a fresh balance of learning and perspectives.”
Remember What’s Most Important
World Emblem allocates an aggressive 10 percent of its net revenue to technological innovation, more than twice the industry standard. But that decision is in line with its deliver-it-overnight customer service proposition.
Still, if he had to list out his top priorities, Carr would without question rank product innovation and technology below process improvement and the people that WEI recruits, trains, and promotes. “By far, it’s the people who matter most,” he says.
Technology is indeed a great tool, but silicone chips and artificial intelligence have a long way to go before they replace human ingenuity and drive.