Innovation during a global pandemic
Robert Baldock, Founder and MD of the Clustre Innovation Network, on a bright side of COVID-19.
Robert has 45 years of experience of conceiving innovative solutions, as well as selling and delivering them to major institutions.
Most of his career was spent at Accenture where he became one of the firm’s youngest-ever partners. Prior to leaving, he was Global Managing Partner responsible for the growth and success of Accenture’s Customer Relationship Management, Mergers & Acquisitions, and e-Commerce businesses within the financial services industry, where he achieved a global revenue target of £900m.
Upon leaving Accenture, Robert was the Global Leader of the Financial Services Industry practice within EDS where he grew an already large $3.4bn, 15,000 person outsourcing and consulting business. He was a top 40 leader within EDS.
Today he is the Managing Director of Clustre - the innovation brokers. He now helps major companies solve their most complex problems with certainty and speed by connecting these problem owners with companies with a proven track record of solving these problems, time and time again.
hyperlink to his linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/robertbaldock/
Sponsored by Microshare.
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The transcription of this episode is auto generated by a third-party source. While Microshare takes every precaution to insure that the content is accurate, errors can occur. Microshare, Inc. is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.
Michael Moran [00:00:17] This is manifest density. Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of Manifest Density, your host Michael Moran here to explore the intersection of COVID 19 global business and society benefits. Density is brought to you by the global smart building and ESG data company Microshare. Unleash the data. Well, today I'm unleashing Robert Bolduc, who is the managing director of Cluster the Innovation Network. Robert, welcome.
Robert Baldock [00:00:53] Welcome to you. Thank you, Michael, for having me.
Michael Moran [00:00:56] Well, Robert, you're based in London, of course, and your mission and the mission of cluster is quite an innovative one. Why don't you give us just start out by giving us a sense of what it is that cluster does and how you got involved in this?
Robert Baldock [00:01:13] So I should describe myself first as someone who's have a lifelong passion for innovation. I'm an out of the box thinker, and I always try to see if there's a smart, clever way of solving a problem rather than the standard way. Notwithstanding that, I spent the first 23 three years of my professional life with this large firm called Accenture, whose proud boasts at the time 20 client with the problem was We can solve every problem there is. We're a mile wide in capability. And for a long time that that was sufficient to be a mile wide and capability. But as the world got more more complicated and technology more and more sophisticated, it started to show us and in particular that if you're going to solve a complex problem you need to have at your disposal people who have solved that problem. Time and time again, so switch forward to 10 years ago when I'd left these big companies behind me. I started to think that the the way in which big companies should be solving their most complex problems was not by turning to the large companies like Accenture and IBM and Capgemini, but actually to try to put their faith of trust in some of these smaller niche companies that were popping up left, right and center who would apply very innovative thinking and solutions to these very complex problems. That said, if you buy into that argument, who would you turn to if you're a large corporation? Which of these thousands of companies offering to to solve your every problem quickly? Would you turn to if you've never come across before, never knew that existed and indeed was slightly nervous about whether they could actually do what they promised? And so we 10 years ago conceived this business cluster as a business that words, on one hand, listen to a client who felt that they had a problem. They were willing to be seen sold by one of these niche firms and would trust us enough to introduce them to just that firm. And so in life, we play a dual role. We help large companies meet small, niche players who are very well placed to help those large companies solve that particular complex problem, in our words, with certainty and speed.
Michael Moran [00:03:40] So you are kind of a human crowdsource.
Robert Baldock [00:03:45] Well, it's less about the crowd. Some people describe as laughing is the business version of Tinder is that we make companies get together rather than individuals.
Michael Moran [00:03:57] And so you essentially there was a very innovative firm here that's now must be 15 to 20 years old. Angie's List. I'm sure you're familiar with yes, of course, which is a service that essentially acted as a reputation broker for tradesmen. Yeah. And and was very successful, and I haven't really followed them lately, but I imagine they've branched out into other things. How do you how do you identify the smaller companies that that make the grade?
Robert Baldock [00:04:33] So I'd love to say that whenever we see a space where we need to have someone on our books that is a deep expert in that space, let's take artificial intelligence, for example. Actually, that's a bad example because they actually I'll explain how we found the best firm in that field in a minute because we did it the proper way. Would you believe it's true recommendation? Someone will say to us, you've got to meet this from here, they are just out of the world, amazing at what they do. And so we meet with them because if someone has recommended to us, why wouldn't we go and see them? And if we see what we like, we then basically say, right, we'll only represent you if you can introduce us to three large corporate clients that you have taken all the way to success. We will interview those three large corporate clients, and unless they give us a 10 out of 10 each, they'll give us a 10 out of 10. We won't represent you because we cannot risk you not giving one of our clients and 10 out of 10 service. Now that's that has been the norm by and large. But what we basically saw in the imminent interest in air technology this over 25 years. By the way, we said maybe we should approach this differently. So a friend of mine had recently compiled a database of some four thousand eighty seven companies who all said they knew a thing or two about A.I.. Now, there was no way I could sift through four thousand eighty seven companies, one by one. But he said, luckily, I've got a little search engine as well. So to cut a long story short, I went from four thousand eighty seven to twenty five to 10 to five two three two one, and I ended up taking on board the one of those four thousand eighty seven companies to to represent them as an all honest opinion. The best, though, there is an AI consultant.
Michael Moran [00:06:30] Well, Robert, hold that thought, we're going to take a quick break to hear from our friends at Microshare. And we're back with Robert Bolduc, who is the managing managing director of Cluster Innovation Network in London. Robert, you know, I've had the experience of vetting big companies for various jobs that the company I worked for wanted to have. So we we when I was with Nouriel Roubini years ago, we decided to hire a PR firm. And I remember the experience of sitting in the conference room and watching the young people from Ogilvy and Mather and Edelman and Ruder Finn one after another. These phalanxes of young, bright people kind of file into our conference room and then some senior guy would present what they're going to do for us. And we all we kind of knew right there that we were never going to see that senior guy again. It was going to be one of these young people who looked it looked a bit like, you know, the the the veteran surgeon making his rounds with students traveling along behind. And, you know, when they cut you open, it was going to be one of those students.
Robert Baldock [00:07:45] So what do I do next, boss?
Michael Moran [00:07:47] Yeah. So I mean, why? Why does the small company model that you are pursuing Trump these bigger, you know, big four accounting or infamous global firms?
Robert Baldock [00:08:03] Actually, you've partly answered that question yourself, Michael. Well, actually, when I was with Accenture, our proposal was what you saw was what you got. That is not the norm, as you rightly said yourself, you know, they went in there, the superstars, they dazzle you and then basically you get a bunch of young kids signed up to do the job. What you tend to find with these niche companies, the scale ups as they call them, is you absolutely because all they've got is what you see. They're small and they don't have people fronting them. But secondly, because they're small, they're hungry, they're agile, they're nimble. They bend and adjust much more rapidly, much more appropriately to the needs of the client than a big company will ever do.
Michael Moran [00:08:51] That makes a lot of sense, I think. I mean, just from my experience here at Microshare as opposed to the corporate career I've had before. You know, we tried not to be bespoke, but you almost have to be. Yeah, when you're when you're dealing with complex things like smart building technology or, you know, the contact tracing wearables. Of course, that was a giant experiment when we when we launched it. So you really co-development some of these things with your clients. And that's that's both a a challenge from a business model standpoint, but it's also really builds loyalty and trust among the client service provider relationship. So I totally see where that happens. I want to turn the conversation to one of the expertize is that you list on your website when it is sustainability. Obviously, you know, the ESG, the environmental social government term is everywhere in the financial press these days, and it's its equivalent CSR corporate social responsibility is also everywhere. How do you define sustainability and what kind of a filter do you apply when you're trying to find the right people to recommend?
Robert Baldock [00:10:12] So there are a number of terms are inextricably linked. You've not used a number of other terms that get used on net zero climate change, et cetera. So for only the second time in my professional life. We've come across a a need to change, which has been embraced by and large by every single company on this planet. You can describe that need as we've got to get to net zero. We've got to reduce our carbon emissions for the sake of this planet. But there's there's a broader need than that, which is we need to make sure that we are creating a good business, one that's contributing not just the economy, but to the environment, to the welfare of all manner of people that we touch on a day to day business. And so this this move, this drive to become sustainable is is a move to change the way you approach your business so that everything you touch people, companies, the environment, products, cetera are creating a positive effect rather than necessarily perhaps a detrimental effect.
Michael Moran [00:11:31] Do you feel as though you're getting. Back feedback from the corporate world that suggests they're taking this seriously for the right reasons, or is this really a box they have to check to avoid reputational damage or regulatory issues?
Robert Baldock [00:11:48] Well, guess what, you get you, you do get both. We've sort of got a rule of thumb, which is if the large corporate has appointed a chief sustainability officer. And if that person reports direct to the chief executive, you know, they're taking it seriously. Secondly, if every other word that the chief executive mutters is either sustainable or climate change or net zero or diversity, you know they're taking it seriously because, you know, those words are being recorded. And unlike politicians, promises they will live up to them. They have to because the stakeholders expect them to. Yes, there are some people that basically come out and say we will be net zero by 2050, 2016, 2017. I don't think some of those people have really thought it through as to what's really involved. So you do get a mixture, but there's a there's a tidal effect here and those are taking it seriously, almost forcing those who are taking it less seriously to take it more seriously.
Michael Moran [00:12:56] Robert, hold on a second. We're going to call. Go for a word from the sponsor and we'll be right back. OK, I'm back with Robert Belder, the managing director of Cluster Innovation Network. Robert, you are at the nexus of innovation. If I could put it that way. What is what are you seeing out there? That's not in the newspapers and in the in the financial media every day that seems to be really new and exciting.
Robert Baldock [00:13:31] Well, let's look at what COVID caused. That was actually beneficial. So I talk about the U.S. put on the March 23rd, 2019, we were all ordered to work from home. We have to leave our offices with very little notice and work from home. Can you imagine the scramble that that caused for companies to change their work mode from owning an office to no one in an office and all that they had to do in order to make that possible? And that was achieved in a very short period of time. Compare and contrast that to anyone trying to get anything done quickly in the past. There was all sorts of processes and forms and obstacles, and they got brushed out of the way, pushed out of the way by COVID. And one of the things that we expect to continue now that we never had before is this whole notion of hybrid working, it being OK to work from home. You've being trusted to work from home and not watch Netflix. And it's forced us to find ways of collaborating where we are not in the same space. Whereas before the only way we can imagine collaboration was all being in the same space. So what COVID has done is it's made us reinvent the way we do work and basically get rid of some of the obstacles to getting things done more quickly. And so our hope is notwithstanding, you know, there's a lot of exciting things going on about with A.I., with data, with sensors, with no code apps that we've broken the back of slowness and this in itself in the same way some people joke. It's COVID drove digitization. More than anything else, we'd like to think that COVID has also driven up speed and removed obstacles to change.
Michael Moran [00:15:48] You know, some of the guests I've had on some, some fairly well known thinkers have tackled issues like the effect on the labor markets. Of course, in the US, there's this ongoing mystery about what's going on in the labor markets here, still very tight despite the low unemployment rate. There's also questions about how it affects global supply chains and kind of redefined in some way the whole concept of national security. I had the chief defense correspondent, the New York Times, on a couple of episodes back and I put him this question. You know, we've spent billions and billions of dollars to protect ourselves from foreign invasion. And lo and behold, we get it foreign invasion. And not only did we not, we're we're not prepared for it, but we couldn't even unite to fight it,
Robert Baldock [00:16:41] or we couldn't even find out what the best answer was and all follow suit.
Michael Moran [00:16:46] Yeah. And you know, he conceded that the the Pentagon, for instance, is now classifying global pandemic as a as a an enemy. If you want to put it that way. So what is it done socially? To innovators, I mean, I mean, innovation, when you think of innovation, you think of Edison in his laboratory with his collaborators, you think of people who are in collaboration with other great minds. How had had COVID affected that process?
Robert Baldock [00:17:23] I've got the best possible story to tell. You had Michael. So one of the companies may represent is go flux. They are innovation consultants. And in the good old days that you got in that room, you got out your stickers and you brainstormed a solution to the problem. Now it's March 23rd or thereafter and you can't get in the same room again. And who knows for how long? So does that kill innovation stand that? No, when you're innovators, you innovate. And so what this firm did was basically work out how to innovate when you want in the same room. And what would you know, Michael? They bid for a project that they would never bid for before. It would never won before, but they ended up working with a global confectionery company, helping them to conceive new products and services. This global confectionery company is headquartered in Chicago. They've never been to the client. I've never met them face to face. But they basically were able to convince them that we can show you how to innovate on a distributed basis. Another example is the copy that that was used so effectively here in the UK to warn you if you've been in close proximity to someone testing positive for COVID. This was developed by one of our firms in six weeks flat using 75 people working in 75 different locations around the world. This was an app that was developed literally 24 by seven. When they went to bed in London, they passed it over to Asia and they said, keep working on it. But they weren't working on it from a single office in Asia. They were working from their homes. So if you're smart and clever, you, you, you basically reconfigure. And that's what firms did, the smart ones we convicted.
Michael Moran [00:19:12] Yeah, I'm I can't not fail to mention the fact that we did that exact thing at the beginning of the pandemic when we we repurposed an asset zoning sensor into a wearable contact tracing solution, which had the additional advantage of not being on your cell phone. So the battery never died and it didn't scrape up your PII.
Robert Baldock [00:19:38] Well, on top of that, the cloud that you're mentioning had a role that banned the use of mobile phones in their factories, so they had to find a new mobile phone based solution to ensure that they kept their employees safe and you guys rode to the rescue.
Michael Moran [00:19:54] That's right, and I'm happy to say we're allowed to say who that is. It's GlaxoSmithKline's, and we're now in, I think, 21 factories around the world of theirs to help them keep up and running and producing pharmaceuticals, which takes density. You can't get around density in a factory like that.
Robert Baldock [00:20:12] Guess what? My and I told you about the process we go through to vet people. We talked to three of their clients before we decided to represent microshare. We spoke to, among others, GSK and we got a ten out of ten from GSK.
Michael Moran [00:20:24] That's great. And we've had we've just done a slam dunk self-promotional moment there. Robert, listen, this has been fascinating. I want to give you an opportunity to tell people, how would they learn more about cluster and about your own work?
Robert Baldock [00:20:41] So very simply, of course, they just go to our website WW w dot cluster spelt c l t r e dot net. And then the next thing they might want to do is just sign up to receive our monthly newsletter because in our monthly newsletter, we'll have thought leadership pieces. We'll have notification of future events and your own child's promote did a great job for us on on sensing as a service and one of our events. And then you can also read the write ups of past events. Each of our events are literally showing people in the art of the possible. We've had people like Nassr talking about at our events about how they've gone outside of Nasser to find solutions to their problems. So go to our website. Sign up for our newsletter, see what catches your eye, attend this and learn.
Michael Moran [00:21:36] Thank you, Robert. That is great, and of course, you can learn more about microshare and how we helped get the world safely back to work during the early stages of the pandemic with our suite of products, ever smart solutions, boost efficiency, enable cost savings and bring safety and reassurance to the people inside your buildings, even as it produces data that is very relevant to sustainability and ESG. You can learn more about these things on the MICROSHARE website WW Dot Microshare Dot Io and there you can subscribe to Manifest Density downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, iHeartRadio, Spotify and many other audio platforms. And that's going to do it for this week on behalf of Microshare and all its global employees. I want to thank once again Robert Waldeck, and this is Michael Moran saying so long. Be well and thank you for listening.