America’s former top soldier and Secretary of State turned venture capitalist Colin Powell believes that technology continues to change the world and the way that all organizations will do business. To win future markets – be it in education or for dollars – Powell says his bet is on technology that makes life as well as transactions simple.
The retired former four-star general spoke to a sell-out crowd of more than 450 people at the NC CEO Forum in North Raleigh on Wednesday morning, discussing his activities since his retirement and recanting stories from his more than thirty-five years of service to the United States.
“I’m as busy as I’ve ever been,” said Powell, “I’m also a venture capitalist.” Powell, who is a limited partner in the west coast venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, shared a story of one of the first major deployments of new technology at the US Department of State during his first few months as Secretary of State.
“I had to change the way of doing business,” said Powell, who ordered the replacement of 44,251 computers and a networking system to connect them all together. In addition to changing the equipment, said Powell, he had to train his staff to utilize the technology.
Systems are inefficient and ineffective, said Powell, unless people are trained to utilize them. “Plans don’t get things done,” said Powell, “people get things done.”
It is for this reason, stressed Powell, that computer literacy and technical education is important for the next generation.
Technology is developing rapidly, said Powell, and it’s important to understand “that trade work is not secondary to getting a B.A.”
“The world has changed,” said Powell, “we have to play a more nuanced game now.”
Powell, who described the EZ Pass as one of the greatest technological innovations, recognizes that, like the EZ Pass, “all business activities are moving towards instant transactions.”
“We already have wearable tech,” said Powell, referencing Google Glass, the FitBand, and numerous other consumer electronic products, “and I want to see what’s coming next.”
This is why Powell joined Kleiner Perkins as a limited partner. It’s why, said Powell, he enjoys his “speaker’s circuit,” around the country, talking with business and political leaders about building organizations and leadership strategies.
Business leadership and political leadership, said Powell, are similar. “The essence of leadership in an organization,” said Powell, “is to build the bonds of trust.”
“If you want a wonderful organization, that is tied together,” said Powell, “you need to understand that your employees are people.” Powell’s advice to entrepreneurs building companies is to understand your business objectives, or in his words, “your purpose.”
“Purpose is very simple,” said Powell, when leaders are able to demonstrate to their employees that they “are all linked together.”
Leaders must, said Powell, be able to instill the belief that “there are no unimportant jobs at any organization.”
“Many people don’t understand that leadership is about trust between two people,” said Powell, “you must always make human connections.”
A true leader, said Powell, is one who builds a team of trustworthy people who can solve problems using the resources they have at their disposal.
“Leaders at the top,” said Powell, “must always be looking at the broader picture.” It’s a leadership strategy that places the CEO, or the General, in command, but not in control. Leaders set the vision for the organization, and the strategy for how to achieve that vision, and then let their staff deploy tactical and innovative ideas on how to get there.
“When you empower people,” explained Powell, “you’ll be surprised at how they respond.”