FROM shop floor to executive suite, print room to boardroom. Steven Capper’s rags-to-riches style rise from a Margaret Thatcher-inspired Youth Training Scheme in 1980s Britain to potential UK Chief Information Officer of The Year for 2013 was borne from a desire to make a difference.
For Steven – innovative and ground-breaking IT Director for construction giant Skanska UK – his “Put Your Name Above The Door” mantra has propelled him through a succession of exalted job titles and on to the higher echelons of the corporate world.
To coin a business phrase, he is one of life’s high flyers.
Skanska is responsible for building such iconic structures as The Gherkin, The Heron Tower and the QE11 Bridge. When they needed to rejuvenate its IT enterprise in the UK to shed their one-dimensional, debilitating ‘break-fix’ culture, it needed a man with moveable parts.
Since joining in February 2012, Steven has become the company’s Action Man.
He began his career with engineering firm Arup, where he went from earning £20 a week in a print room to becoming the IT Director for UK, Middle East and Africa commanding a salary of, well, it had a few more noughts on the end.
By his own admission, he simply ran out of challenges at Arup having achieved his goals in 23 illuminating years.
When Skanska UK came calling, he was tasked with transforming the IT department to help this multi-national construction and development firm with a £1billion-plus turnover – it is £12.5billion worldwide – could double its sales revenue.
Steven takes up the story.
‘The IT department was sweating its assets and running a lights on approach with minimal new investment’
‘It was sweating its assets, allowing them to become end of life. For instance I have since introduced a three-year leasing plan on computers. Every three years staff get a new one, which actually works out cheaper than the current approach whereby 44% of computers are over 4 years old.
“I was told I would need to work hard and realign the people to make the department work. There were those who were not interested in working as a team and they did everything they could to cause problems.’
Steven, responsible for a significant IT budget, dealt with the issues head on and recalls with a smile: ‘I had one-to-one meetings with a large number of the staff
‘One of them brought a 50-bullet point document and told me he was going to measure my performance and success by each point.’ Needless to say, the individual concerned did not get the opportunity to deploy his plan!
He credits Naked Leader founder David Taylor for ‘many messages that have stuck in my head’ over a 10-year spell and these have helped him totally transform his team’s vision. One of those is that the assistant to the CEO is the most important person in the company. ‘It’s so true,’ says Steven. ‘Because when an email comes from them someone always jumps up and gets the job done.’
He leads 112 staff, whose ‘customers’ are the UK element of the workforce, which numbers 4,000 among a global figure of 57,000. His results speak for themselves.
Steven has guided the Skanska IT team from the lowest-rated across all disciplines and support functions – 22nd – to number one in the company annual survey for Overall Satisfaction with a 95% completion rate across all 4,000 staff.
He has also achieved upper quartile “Great Boss” scores in the employee survey across Skanska’s global audience.
Another personal highlight for the 40-year-old was being approached by Apple to become the first person in Europe to appear in its Exec Talks initiative, to explain in front of a U.S. film crew the success of Skanska’s rollout of 3,500 iPhones.
That was all to come.
Firstly, on joining the company, Steven was unfazed by the obstacles he faced.
‘I knew I had to challenge people’s behaviour and we had to invest heavily in technology and up-skill the staff,’ he says. ‘It’s about getting teams together and being open and honest with each other which is David’s philosophy.
‘I’ve used some of David’s Naked Leader sessions because it opens up the team’s eyes and for them it’s not just about “how amazing Steven is”.
‘I have 112 in my team I can’t manage everyone. So we have a leadership of 5 and a second tier management team that is 20 strong.
‘I took those 20 people off site for a training session and asked them, how many thought of themselves as senior IT managers?
‘Only one person in the room put his hand up. When I asked him why he told me “because if they don’t look up to me as their boss then, I won’t earn their respect” which was absolutely the right answer.
‘The others said they didn’t have the confidence and didn’t feel they were able to make decisions. I told them all to go away and make a decision to see how they got on because I can’t make them all. Otherwise we wouldn’t achieve anything.’
An example of this reluctance to act was Office 2007. It was purchased in 2006 and yet when Steven arrived last year, ‘wasn’t on a single computer because they were waiting for somebody to come along and say they could go ahead.’
Steven is now 18 months in and the department have successfully delivered over 50+ projects!
Steven holds great store in keeping things simple and adds: ‘It’s not rocket science. And it’s not like we’re dodging bullets in Afghanistan a quote from a member of his leadership team. It’s about putting things in perspective.’
And he is instilling in his team the need to go the extra mile in giving a quality service. His new initiative about to be launched called the Five Per Cent Plan is an example (aligned to the company’s Zero Defects initiative), ensuring the basics such as the delivery of a computer with an unerring 95% efficiency rate is accompanied by a tick-sheet guide to be signed off by the user, so the customer experience is complete.
Steven has a passion to make sure people own things and on his team wide presentation he asked that people don’t take the approach “it’s not my job, we are all in this together as a team!”
Steven’s top-eight nomination for the Chartered Institute for IT British Computing Awards sees him up against IT Directors from major players such as HMRC, EE and LV= insurance to name a few. He will be interviewed in front of a panel at the end of this month while the ceremony will be in November. Steven is confident of picking up the title simply because of the dramatic changes he has made to Skanska which he views as ‘just not normal’.
He also has advice for those budding bright sparks who are embarking out on their own adventure. ‘You have to have confidence and David has given me a lot of that,’ he adds. ‘Go with your instincts. If you think what’s in your head is right then go with it because 9 times out of 10 you will be.
‘The single biggest tip from me is “Put Your Name Above The Door”. By that I mean imagine it is your company and think about how you would part with your own cash. It’s easy to say “it’s company money so I don’t care”.
‘Make it your own company, even when it’s not. And communicate. When I had to realign people, I sat them down on their final day and said told them we were not happy with their performance. Some asked why they hadn’t been told that before. It’s because people were hiding away and not making decisions.
‘So you have to become embedded in the culture, embedded in the philosophy. I also make sure I join in team building events. It’s a long way short of being their best friend but it’s so important.’
Now comes the moment of truth as to whether he will be recognised for his contribution on a national scale. The judges will surely see – as did Skanska – the Capp fits.