Leading Maxis’ mind-set change, and the ‘Magic 30’

  • Morten Lundal believes buy-in from 30 people can trigger mindset change
  • Company needs to get back to being great at everything, targets 2016
Leading Maxis’ mind-set change, and the ‘Magic 30’

OLD habits die hard. On Morten Lundal’s first day on the job as Maxis Bhd chief executive officer (CEO) last October, someone found fit to lay out some corporate ties in the closet of his office.
 
Midway through Digital News Asia’s more recent one-hour-plus-long chat with Lundal (pic above), he walks back into his office wondering if the ties are still there. They are not.
 
Somebody got the message really fast that Lundal, who meets DNA in jeans, is not your stiff upper lip, formal, by-the-rules leader.
 
In fact during his job interview with the indomitable Ralph Marshall, Lundal told him up front, “I do things my way.”
 
Marshall, a non-executive director at Maxis, is the long-time trusted lieutenant of T. Ananda Krishna, the majority shareholder of the company.
 
“I think he liked that,” suggests Lundal, who describes himself as a “rule breaker” and would be happy if someone broke a rule to create progress. In his ‘rule book,’ however contradictory it may sound, “conformity does not drive progress.”
 
Which is why he abhors wearing ties and suits to work. “It’s like you have to take on a different persona when going to work.” And why he wants to turn Maxis not just from “a good to a great company,’ but also into a fun place to work.
 
“How do you de-stress from work?” he poses. “By not having a stressful work-life!” he answers.
 
Lundal happens to think that the dehumanisation of work life is a “tragedy”. His role model to counter this is the laidback yet high-performance culture that is evident in many Silicon Valley companies.
 
His role at Vodafone exposed him to the culture and tech companies of Silicon Valley where he says one can blend home and work in a nice environment.
 
Keen to trigger and move Maxis from being a good company into a great one, Lundal will not be putting in 20-hour days to achieve this himself. Instead, he is now focused on changing mind-sets.
 
He believes that is the core job of CEOs. “It’s not to be an expert manager and to have all the solutions.”

If he were ever to write a book on management, he says it would be called Managing Mindsets.
 
He describes Maxis as “full of smart people ... people smarter than me and with more experience than me. They should make the decisions. I want to create the mind-set in which they make decisions.”
 
Lundal’s initial focus on “I want to create the mind-set” is in recognition that the beginning of most, if not all, culture-change efforts are personality-driven.
 
What’s fascinating is that Lundal feels it can take as few as 30 people to buy into the mind-set you are trying to create for that change to happen. “You can change a company when 30 people get the mind-set you want to create,” he says. These people will then 'infect' and influence the people they directly work with who then do the same with the people they work with and that's how new ways of thinking and working spread through an organisation.
 
He thinks that if enough people just talk about it and repeat it and show the new mind-set in action, and why it is good, over time, this change will embed itself and become the new corporate culture at Maxis.
 
As to those who do not buy into the mind-set, which is really about re-creating Maxis into a high performing company, he believes they will be uncomfortable. “If it does not work for you, and you are not ambitious and forward looking, please leave us,” is his message to them.
 
To be sure, this changing of corporate mind-sets is not new to Lundal, who did the same when he was CEO at Maxis rival DiGi, as well as Vodafone.
 
He indicates as much when he explains that while he wants to make as few decisions as possible and is focusing on how people at Maxis think about the issues, “In the very early days, as I did at DiGi and Vodafone, I make very detailed decisions.”
 
He believes that such detailed decision-making exposes his managers to the way he wishes the company to start thinking about issues. For instance, he pushed back when his head of corporate affairs suggested his first note to the Maxis staff be very formal and “aligned.”
 
Lundal’s note ended up being more informal. “I was trying to make her think that we can make it [communicating with staff] more informal. Over time, this becomes a mind-set,” he says.
 
Another push is to keep things simple. Lundal has been slashing the press releases Maxis issues by up to 50% to focus on keeping the message simple and succinct.
 
“Mariam [his head of corporate affairs] then understands what I want and she drives this mind-set change of simplicity to her team, and that’s how mind-sets change,” he says.
 
Some of the changes can be more drastic though. At a recent meeting with his 480 managers (down from 620), Lundal sent a shiver down everyone’s spine when he declared that come Oct 1, there would be no printing of paper at the office.
 
It is not that bad however as he will allow staff to print at home and bring paper to the office.

There is a perception that all is not well at Maxis, despite having made almost RM1.8 billion (US$548 million) in profits. For the full year ended Dec 31, 2013, however, it posted a 4.9% decline in its net profit to RM1.77 billion (US$539 million) while revenue rose 1% or RM117 million (US$35.6 million) to RM9.1 billion (US$2.77 billion).
 
Analysts have said they expect it to be a very challenging year for Maxis, especially in its prepaid segment, and described 2014 as a ‘work in progress’ year for the company.
 
While there is a perception that all is not well at Maxis, Lundal actually thinks that the real problem lies in the fact that Maxis is not doing as well as it can and should.
 
“Nothing in Maxis is bad. There are a lot of good people doing the right things, but Maxis used to be great in everything.
 
“We cannot say that today. Our momentum is not good enough and that will be a big problem if we don’t change. Before this happens, we need to move from good to great,” he says.
 
He feels that the year 2016, or about 1,000 days from now, will be when Maxis will transition into a high performing company that is excellent in everything it does.

Tomorrow: Morten Lundal on how Maxis lost its mojo 
 
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Maxis likely to face challenges in near-term, say analysts
 
Maxis opts for another DiGi man as CEO
 
Maxis revamps organisational structure
 
New Maxis CEO will have to deal with aggressive board
 
 
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