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Embracing change and finding value: Chris Jackson, Senior Vice President, NEC Corporation

Studies have shown that uncertainty often feels similar to failure in the human mind, which is why many people would rather avoid the uncertainty of change. However, when speaking recently with Chris Jackson, President and CEO of NEC Europe, NEC Corporation of America and a Senior Vice President for NEC Corporation, we learned about the potential of change, where even if difficult to absorb at first, it also opens up opportunities for business and personal growth.

Prior to joining NEC, Jackson spent nearly a decade working with Sony in the UK gaining valuable experience managing international teams across Europe. When he joined NEC Europe in 2008 in a Pan-European management role, the company was embarking on a period of significant change and transition. When looking back at that time, Jackson commented that, although this was difficult for the company, he personally likes change, saying that “I think it's good for all companies to go through change on a regular basis. It freshens things up.”

A sentiment that closely mirrors that of former NEC Chairman Koji Kobayashi, who is credited with leading the second founding period of NEC and famously said, "a stable company is unstable, and an unstable company is stable."

Learning from the hard times

When asking about some of the biggest changes and challenges he has seen in his career, Jackson reflected on early 2020, when the world was being rapidly transformed by the onset of COVID-19. It was a time when every aspect of daily life was being transformed by massive changes, and at the same time, in April 2020, Jackson became President and CEO of NEC Europe.

“When the pandemic first hit, we didn't really know how it would affect our businesses,” he shared, “but they always say you learn more during the difficult times than you do during the good times,” he continued.

As the executive responsible for overseeing business activities among a diverse range of markets across Europe, Jackson had to flexibly adapt his approach while coordinating with multiple leaders, commenting that “a plan which might work for the UK doesn't necessarily work for France. Equally, a plan for France doesn't necessarily work for Germany,” however, “as an individual leader and as a management team within Europe, we learned a lot at that time.”

Profit reflects value

The lessons learned from connecting with people across multiple regions and understanding the needs of colleagues and customers have been a valuable asset for Jackson since taking on the additional role of President and CEO of NEC Corporation of America in April 2023.

Since starting the role, he recognized that although Europe and the U.S. have some businesses in common, there are also businesses which are very different. “You have some businesses which are essentially start-ups as well as those which are more well-established. You also have some businesses which are profitable and others which are loss making, providing different challenges to be tackled within each of these businesses. Ultimately, it's about making sure each of them is profitable and meeting our ongoing Mid-term management Plan (MTP) 2025 targets.”

This raised an important point about profitability and drew attention to some of the changes recently taking place at NEC. The MTP 2025, for example, emphasizes the importance of optimizing short-term and maximizing long-term profits. This may appear cold on the surface, but Jackson explained how “If you are profitable, this demonstrates that you are actually adding value to the customer. Unless you can be profitable and sustain this profitability, you cannot add value to the customer, meaning you cannot add value to society because you won’t have a business.”

“Then it comes down to how do you achieve profitability. Although technology is important, the technology is created by our people, hence they are our most important assets. I believe in creating diverse teams, made up of different people with different skill sets with different views from different countries. If you can do this, I think you are more likely to make better decisions that will give you a better chance of being successful globally.”

Attracting and retaining talent is also essential for success, and Jackson includes himself as a beneficiary of NEC’s shift towards enabling people in local and regional positions to take on global roles. “In recent years, we have seen more access than ever to promising career paths and greater mobility within the NEC organization,” he observes, and that “the promotion of young talent in particular should be prioritized to help enable the corporation to prosper.”

Success and growth from change

In addition to the increasing mobility within NEC, Jackson also pointed out how communications from management, CEO Takayuki Morita, and other executives from headquarters in Tokyo, have been improving, saying, “It's been fantastic to see the increase in senior management communications from headquarters to local regions. I think when you hear directly from the senior executives and you have the opportunity to hear their personal thoughts, how they see things and what they are concerned about, I think employees value that visibility of the company’s direction and vision.”

These communications can be particularly important in building more engagement among employees. “A product designer or sales representative can clearly see how their role directly contributes to the profitability of the company,” he says, “but if you're working in a business support role, for example, it may be more difficult to see the link, so we need to work harder to demonstrate the correlation between individual roles and the company’s objectives.”

In building this connection, Jackson commented that, “We are very lucky to work for a company with a wide portfolio of technology and solutions that genuinely have the ability to deliver a greater good for society.”

Delivering on that potential requires us to be flexible, proactive and receptive to change. “NEC hasn't been successful for 125 years by staying the same company,” he says while nearing the end of our conversation. “In the long term, changes will always be needed for the benefit of the organization and the benefit of employees. So I would like to encourage our colleagues to get involved, to contribute and to embrace the change!”