Marne Martin of IFS Service Management

We Spoke to Marne Martin of IFS Service Management on How to Rebuild in the Post COVID Economy

As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure to interview Marne Martin.

Marne is President of IFS Service Management. Underpinning Marne’s drive and focus to elevate the position of IFS’s service management portfolio, is the belief that complexity shouldn’t be simplified. It should be seen as an asset and with the right technology, embraced to improve customer experience, efficiency, and to drive innovation. Strategy at the core, she ensures customers receive the business value they expect from a global industry leader in field service management (FSM).

Before joining IFS, Marne was already accomplished in the sector. Serving as CEO, she led the executive leadership team at ServicePower Plc, an FSM software company. Innovation-led, she was responsible for the transformation of their go-to-market strategy, shifting focus to SaaS, which reaped rewards year on year. This is part of a successful track record that also includes time spent as CFO of Norcon Plc, a UK-based defense and telecom consulting firm. Her initiatives took the company from dominance in the Middle East out into the US, Europe, and Asia Pacific. Earlier in her career, Marne was part of the team acquiring licenses and launching the first GSM cell phone companies in the Americas.

Well-respected in the field as a strategic businesswoman unafraid of embracing a challenge, Marne has won a number of awards including 2016 CEO Gamechanger of the Year (FSM) from ACQ 5 Global Awards and 2015 Field Service CEO of the Year from Executive Awards. She also features in the Software Report’s 2019 list of Top 50 SaaS CEOs.

Taking her passion for precision beyond work, she enjoys competing in dressage. Marne is also committed to supporting girls and women pursuing STEM careers.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

It’s been quite the journey. I grew up on ranches in Oregon, Montana and Wyoming (graduating from high school in Wyoming) before college and graduate school education and my business career took shape. Thankfully my upbringing on that ranch, achieving my MBA, studying and working internationally, and the network I’ve grown through family and mentors helped pave the way for some incredible opportunities to travel the world and work for some amazing companies. I’m grateful for the opportunities to immerse myself in various cultures and have been inspired by the leaders I worked for to become a leader myself, including most recently in a rapidly growing software company like IFS.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

When you start your career, you want to show intelligence, energy and motivation. But, how to adapt and fit into cultures and how to best manage diverse employee groups is something that has to be learned over time. Fortunately, I learned fast and my blunders were “innocent” ones, whether it was how to dress depending on who I was meeting (including when nylons were mandatory or optional as I have shared before as a funny moment), or how to be effective across the various countries around the world. I have lots of stories.

When I first went to China 15 years ago, I was learning Chinese culture and they were also learning Western culture. So we had moments of cross-culture interaction, actually similar to what I found in Japan as well, where everyone is trying to be polite. But how to be polite was a work in process and a learning on both sides as we create an organically “international” culture.

Early last year, I was complimented in Japan on my chopstick technique, but if only they had seen the practice attempts 20 years ago, they wouldn’t have been as gracious! Once in Paris, at a highly rated Michelin-starred restaurant, I had a snail fly across the table when it slipped out of the snail fork. While embarrassing at the time, it is funny now.

A story that might surprise people involved a female-only dinner with the Saudi royal family. One of the royal princesses had a strong sense of humor and tried to convince me that eating ghee on its own was a delicacy. I didn’t know a way out of it other than to do it, which she found highly amusing and we all had a good laugh. The lesson in that is sometimes some humility, and most certainly laughter, enables bonding in ways that more “sterile” business interactions don’t always allow.

Whether things like that or mis-pronouncing names accidentally, we have all been there at one point or another in our careers!

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

I love to read. As part of having an ‘always learning’ mindset, I want to read new and different perspectives as life. Business doesn’t stand still. In the last 15–20 years, I would say overall the two most impactful sources of ongoing content has been the Harvard Business Review magazine and the TedTalks podcast.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

I have been involved in many start-ups, as well as transformations over my career. My vision is always to be excellent in what we do and bring innovation to the sector. Of course, also growing revenue and having a positive, ideally highly profitable, exit is also important.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

One must love what one does. Yes, financial matters are important, but not sufficient by itself. I believe it is the love of work and making a difference in the lives of our customers, our employees and our society that keeps me going and working this hard. I also firmly believe in both a Growth Mindset and a Learning Culture personally and have brought this to every company I have led or managed. My most recent LinkedIn article also speaks to this.

Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis?

One always worries about at-risk members of one’s family. My great uncle, a WWII veteran, passed away at 95 in March. While we were expecting it due to his age, it was still really hard to not be able to travel and be with him and also my mother. My mother is taking it seriously fortunately, but not being able to travel and get together has been hard.

I have friends who have suffered very severe financial hardship losing their jobs or their businesses have been closed due to the rules around the pandemic. That has been very worrying. It of course has impacted everyone financially in some way, including our customers. We are doing our best to support them through this.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Personally, I have modeled adaptability and being positive, working with those I am close to, employees and customers as needed in this crisis. My husband and I are enjoying the extra time together, and although it seems very strange to not be traveling, video conferencing, being able to eat and exercise more at home, and enjoy our horses and Giant Schnauzers have been positives. We are in a way an oasis on our small farm and I have tried to use this time effectively. I do hope that there will be positive impacts from this related to community, i.e. that we only travel when we really need or want to after this. Before COVID, when I look to 2019 and Q1 2020, the amount of travel both domestically and internationally that I was doing was immense.

Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic?

Staying the course of our plans to grow and innovate at the same (or faster) pace as we did before, while increasing our customer support — all without overextending our resources and maintaining the safety of our employees and customers. Our teams moved exceptionally well to working from home and engaging with our customers that way, but it of course has constituted change in a time that they were worried about health and safety matters and the economy. As times have gone on, my efforts center on keeping people positive, feeling heard and making sure that technology doesn’t get in the way of us feeling part of one team and close to each other regardless of where we are in the world.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Now, more than ever, our customers are relying on IFS to support them through this, without compromise. We not only need to operate at 100%, but we need to continue developing innovative solutions so that in cases of future disruption, our partners will not only survive, but still remain in a strong position to operate at full capacity — and potentially grow. With this in mind, we have taken great measure to ensure our people have job security, and secure confidence in our partners an stakeholders that our business can operate in a capacity to meet the demands we have today, and the increased demand we anticipate, while keeping cash flow on the up and up.

For example, we have realigned people to areas of the business that needed extra oversight during these turbulent times like our go to market teams in order to keep selling and meeting our customer needs, our consulting and service teams and support area, as well as R&D. We have also implemented new guidelines on our travel and expense policies to keep costs of doing business down, not only now, but after the pandemic has finally seen its end. This will be important in the longer term to work life balance as well as environmental sustainability.

While remote work is nothing new in our organization, many employees have had to make a large adjustment working from home, or not traveling. I know many are wanting to get back in the office, and we are phasing office reopens as appropriate to local state, province, and country guidelines across the globe. We are supplying PPE equipment and new security protocols to ensure people feel safe to return to the office when they are ready. I am grateful to have such a dedicated team that are trudging through this. They are committed to our customers, and to our business even with the drastic changes we have all endured in our personal lives.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Embracing mindfulness is really important if the issue is anxiety versus sickness or financial strain. Whether that means exercise, meditation, talking via video with friends, mindfulness and the right kind of engagement is important. At times, I have recommended turning off the news and focus on what is more controllable. This is advice that I also take myself.

We know this won’t be forever, but with the press and media attention, sometimes the pragmatic and practical good advice was lost to the expense of panic at least at the beginning. It was also hard for some people to put things into context, and many don’t think of risk in purely a statistical way.

Related to where people are ill, obviously medical care and assistance is what is needed. For those with financial harm or strain, we each need to help as much as we can. Those who have been the hardest impacted are those making less money, those who are younger without savings and those without a safety net.

I have said a lot of prayers, but also made sure to keep people positive, and be pragmatic that we take the business and personal actions to manage through a downturn.

Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?

Digital transformation is getting a closer look by many customers and businesses we are engaged with. The current state of the economy added with operational lockdown has given executives time to pause and evaluate where to repoint resources, as well as consider new revenue streams like servitizing their product lines. They are discovering the need for a strategic shift in their operations and technology stacks, calling for a second look at digital transformation projects that have been put on the backburner.

I am seeing this more and more, especially in my position overseeing the service business unit for IFS. Service keeps the world running, and for many of our customers who maintain critical equipment, stopping operations isn’t an option. For example, one of our customers implemented remote assistance to their international field teams in just 2 weeks. This allowed them continue maintenance on their air quality systems, stay compliant under their service agreements, all while maintaining the safety of their technicians and customers. Due to that success, we are getting a lot more requests to implement more remote assistance functionality in other companies.

We are also seeing more influence of artificial intelligence in day to day operations. For example, providing virtual customer support through customer engagement platforms is critical with most offices having temporarily shut their doors. Service does not stop in the wake of a crisis — it increases dramatically. So you can imagine the need for intelligent, automated solutions for the increased volumes many have seen over the last few weeks.

How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live

Leaders have been forced to look at their operations in more detail than ever before. Business continuity plans will be revisited and likely revised to shorten time to adjust and minimize revenue risk in times of future disruption. It’s hard to plan for the unknown, but there are predictive modelling tools available that allow you to test what-if scenarios, look for efficiencies, and potentially identify new service offerings that will lend to a more competitive edge.

For example, companies across multiple industries like manufacturing, utilities, and construction are looking to servitize operations, because there’s opportunity to not only produce products, but service them as well — or offer outcomes as a service altogether. Customers no longer want to deal with break/fix scenarios — they just want things to work and be maintained as required. They’re more open to paying a premium for a service, plus offering as a subscription allows customers to mark it as an operating expense versus capital that will depreciate over time. This lowers the total upfront cost to the customer and gives the service provider predictable revenue. What service providers will need to understand that servitization calls for different business models than they are accustomed to, requiring a look at what technology and personnel they have to support this transformational shift.

We are also seeing a growing interest in businesses considering cloud solutions. We remain steadfast in offering customers choice in deploying on premise or in the cloud, but the flexibility, scalability and ability use software applications on any device is really making cloud an appealing choice for many of our customers. I believe we will see these trends grow rapidly in the months ahead.

We will see greater work from home, less congregation and less traveling at least over the next five years. It is natural that we work in cycles, and of course we see that related to socio-economic cycles and generational change generally. I do hope that we find ways to address the loss of wealth and issues facing at a disproportionate rate the millennial generation. It is not only important for economic matters but is also important because for us to be developing our workforces, our leaders and our managers, work experience is necessary.

Personally, those who have at-risk conditions will need to be cognizant for quite some time even after a vaccine is available. Immune-compromised people also might not have enough immunity from a vaccine. And I think that there will be people on the margin that for a long time won’t go to crowded restaurants, sports stadiums or get on an airplane, or public transport for example. But I hope with time, and appropriate caution, we evolve and can enjoy this decade so that, when we are celebrating 2030, we see progress in public health care, our economics, and also diversity initiatives as measured in economic terms at least.

Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?

Thankfully we haven’t fallen too far behind where we wanted to be at this time pre-pandemic. But this wasn’t because of luck — it has been really hard work. We have been diligent in making sure we can keep all the great talent we need for the future and come together. We know the challenges we face today will not last forever, and we’ll need the same intelligence and dedication from our teams to ensure we can rise from this. This will help us maintain our competitive edge. We intend to continue innovating our solutions, receiving guidance from our customers on what they need to help themselves rebuild their business as fast as possible, as well as support their digital transformation journey in the long term.

Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?

Many of us have reviewed where we can be more efficient in our businesses, implement new technologies, business models and work processes, and even automate processes at an accelerated rate. At this point, you’ve done what you can over the last quarter; now is the time to be proactive and think about opportunities to save, and even make money — especially in the face of an economic downturn. Use the data you have to pinpoint where the low hanging fruit might be, and where there’s a more innovative play to potentially transform or develop a new operating model from the learnings of today’s challenges. When there is a prominent event like with COVID, often change is easier as there is already stress and less “comfort.” Timing is therefore ripe to drive digital transformation, new ways of working or new business models, as well as areas where one can minimize uncertainty, and do one’s best to guarantee a long and healthy financial future.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Even going back to high school when I was reading Ralph Waldo Emerson, this resonated: “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” I get asked why I left Wyoming to go to Georgetown University in Washington, DC at 17, and started my international work career at 21. It was with this in mind.

As I have progressed in business with more and more decisions coming to me, the value of what Peter Drucker said became more and more apparent: “In every success story, you will find someone who has made a courageous decision.” I have found this to be very true.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow me on LinkedIn, or through Twitter, and the IFS Blog. I am also very happy to engage with people on an individual basis.