Phil Ventimiglia, Vice President, NCR | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND

Helping Customers Help Themselves

By Karen Rosen, Atlanta Trend

Phil Ventimiglia knows what kind of technology you need to simplify your life before you do.

As Vice President, Development and Realization Services at NCR Corporation, Ventimiglia anticipates how products will be used and then develops them.

“We need to understand the consumer as well as a retailer, hotel, airline or bank,” he says, “specifically how their customers use self-service technology, because that’s our area of expertise.”

Back when the company was known as National Cash Register, a store employee would use one of its namesake products to ring up a customer. Now NCR’s technology allows customers to ring up themselves.

“If you look at a consumer’s journey in a typical day,” Ventimiglia says, “they probably used our technology on multiple occasions and may not have realized it.”

For example, if she got cash out of an ATM, she most likely used an NCR machine. If she then went to the supermarket and rented a movie from Blockbuster Express, that was NCR, too. When she used the self-checkout at the same supermarket – she most likely used NCR’s technology. Kiosk airport check-in was developed by NCR. And if, on her travels, she saw a digital sign, it was likely driven by NCR software.

Ventimiglia was recruited by NCR after spending most of his career at IBM and Dell -- both well known for computers – and came on board in July 2008.

“What attracted me is the vision of driving this transformation of self-service technology, because that’s where the consumers are going,” he says.  “Especially as the new generation is growing up they’re used to interacting with technology and prefer it.”

Emerging Markets at the Forefront

Globalization is a key component in NCR’s product development. Ventimiglia says emerging markets like India, China, Indonesia and Brazil “will be pushing and driving the innovations of tomorrow.”

“When we look at doing targets and tests,” he says, “our preference is to do them in an emerging market because they’re leap-frogging in terms of technology. They’re going to mobile much faster.”

He says it’s much cheaper to roll out cell towers than wired lines. It’s also efficient because a phone is actually much more effective in many parts of the country due to its long battery life.

Emerging markets are adopting technology faster than the developed countries and are looking at different usage models. For example, because they don’t have the paper coupon infrastructure like we have in the U.S., they may embrace digital coupons faster than other parts of the world.

“Those markets are under extreme cost pressure,” Ventimiglia says, “so if you can get a product that is successful and financially viable in a market like India or China, it will be financially viable anywhere.”

Ventimiglia says his current job builds on each of his earlier ones. He deals not only with innovation, but continuous improvement of existing technology “that really touches consumers in a very close manner.”

“At the core of these products, there’s a PC,” he says. “There’s a display and many times a printer…it’s everything that I’ve done in my career and putting it together in a way that really adds consumer value.”

Ventimiglia majored in electrical engineering at the University of Connecticut, then took his first job as a design engineer at Lockheed Sanders, the defense electronics division of Lockheed. He initially worked on countermeasure-type products, like those which distract missiles from hitting a plane.

But Ventimiglia couldn’t forget his passion as an undergraduate: understanding how products are going to be used by customers.

After a couple of months at Lockheed, he joined a project to commercialize technology that was developed for the defense industry but could also be used to locate a cell phone for emergency 911 services.

Getting Down to Business

However, Ventimiglia realized that if he truly wanted to look at the intersection of technology and consumer trends, he should get an MBA at the Yale School of Management. “I liked their program because it bridged the private and the public sectors,” he says.

While at Yale, Ventimiglia fell in love with marketing. During a summer internship with Ameritech, where he worked on projects involving research and product planning, Ventimiglia met an executive who went on to start IBM’s consumer division. He hired Ventimiglia as a product manager for one of the products in the Aptiva product line, which was then IBM’s consumer line of PCs.

After about two years, Ventimiglia was recruited to join Dell, then in the process of launching its first consumer notebook brand called Inspiron.

“We just grew like wildfire,” says Ventimiglia, who was a product manager. “We used to joke back in ‘96 that notebooks will outsell desktops PCs at some point in time. That was unheard of.”

The Inspiron brand is credited with driving the desktop replacement market. Ventimiglia was then tapped to become head of the product marketing team for Dell printers, one of the company’s newest businesses. Soon after launching in 2003, Dell became the No. 2 all-in-one inkjet printer manufacturer because it understood that consumers didn’t want a stand-alone printer.

When Dell needed someone to build its first product marketing team outside the United States, Ventimiglia was on his way to Singapore. Not only was Singapore close to Dell’s supply base -- with manufacturing primarily in China -- but it also had a large and skilled talent pool.

Ventimiglia was overseas about four years, with his final role as general manager of the imaging business that included printers and projectors.

Transformation and Innovation

When Ventimiglia was introduced to some NCR executives, he was intrigued by the ways they were transforming the company and emphasizing innovation.

Ventimiglia was brought in to help the global R&D team, but he transitioned to the “Industry Solutions Group,” in which general managers drive the lines of businesses in partnership with a solutions management organization. “We purposely decided to call our structure solutions management vs. product management, which is traditional in the industry, because we really wanted to reinforce a notion of ‘It’s not just about hardware, it’s a solution that encompasses hardware, software and services,’” Ventimiglia says. “Putting all those elements together is really what our customers are asking for, not just ‘Give me a piece of hardware and I’ll figure out how to implement it.’”

At NCR, they use the term, “C to B,” which means Consumer to Business.

“You’ve got this interesting dynamic of having to know the end consumer, but actually selling to businesses,” Ventimiglia says.

NCR’s verticals include retail, financial, the travel industry and healthcare.

As an example of where the company is headed, NCR is starting to launch digital download kiosks in the InMotion stores at airports. Customers can download a movie directly to an SD card and play it back on their PC.

Ventimiglia expects the transition to digital to transform the marketplace. “From a business standpoint there are very few technologies that allow you to drive greater customer loyalty and drive efficiency at the same time,” he says. “Increasing revenue plus savings, that is very attractive to customers.”

Ventimiglia has responsibilities for NCR Labs, the advanced technology organization. Ventimiglia also has responsibilities for innovation and business incubation and helps lead the innovation council.

From a business process standpoint, he’s helped develop NCR’s PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), which is the process that comprises the concept, planning, development and launch phases.

“More and more the consumers are taking control,” Ventimiglia says. “Traditionally, it’s been a fixed piece of hardware as the interface, such as an ATM, a kiosk, or a point of sale device. As we move forward --- it’s multi-channel – there are multiple ways or technologies to interact with our customer, namely via the Internet and more and more via mobile phone, the smart phone.”

Collaboration is Key

Ventimiglia says good ideas spring from collaborative innovation. NCR has redesigned its Duluth headquarters to have lower cubicle walls, which enhances the ability to share ideas.

An innovative idea may take three to five years to come to fruition. “It really comes down to listening,” says Ventimiglia, whose listening posts range from consumers to suppliers and partners to competitors, universities and government, “and then doing a series of targets and tests so that when you do make those big investments, you’ve got the data to know that it’s going to be successful.”

NCR also works on incremental innovation on established product lines, “which is the fuel for any company’s profitability, so it’s not less important,” Ventimiglia says.

“You’ve got similar processes, but one’s got more of a two-year horizon on extending existing businesses and one is looking at beyond.”

Ventimiglia says in the future there will be a variety of ways for NCR’s customers to interact with consumers and drive trial, purchase and ultimately brand loyalty. Traditional broadcast media and advertising are becoming less attractive. “So self-service technology is becoming extremely critical in delivering promotions and marketing, via hardware kiosk device, Internet or mobile phone,” he says. “They’re coming to us already and saying, ‘Hey, you guys are the experts in self-service, can you help us with this transformation?’”

Vidal Sassoon School of Management

Ventimiglia has over 40 people on his team from Duluth to Dundee (Scotland), as well as in the Philippines, China and India. A philosophy he lives by is the Vidal Sassoon school of management, named after commercials by the famous hairstylist: “If you look good, I look good.”

“The way I go and enable them to be successful is understanding that leadership is situational,” Ventimiglia says. He uses a simple 2 x 2 matrix that matches the importance of a project from high to low with the skill level of an employee from high to low.

“If someone has high skills and it’s a relatively low importance project, then I can delegate it completely,” he says. “If it’s someone with high skill and it’s a highly important project, then I’ll delegate, but I need to provide coaching. If someone’s low skilled and it’s high importance, you want to avoid that. But sometimes it’s unavoidable and that’s when you’ve got to micromanage. Letting your employee know up front, ‘This is why I have to micromanage’ is helpful because they understand the context. And finally, the most important and underutilized on-the-job training project is the one where it’s a lower importance project and there’s a lower skillset – this is a development opportunity. We’ll coach you so that when there’s a high importance project, you’ve already developed that skill and I’m not throwing you into that micromanaging bucket.”

Secrets to Success

1. You have to be constantly looking at yourself in a mirror and figuring out what are your blind spots that you need to develop. It’s being introspective and constantly getting feedback from others so you can identify those blind spots. It takes time and a lot of effort to do that.
2. I fully believe that if the team succeeds, I succeed. The team is of the utmost importance for me. That’s why I can succeed in the role I have right now because that’s what it’s all about, enabling the rest of the organization to be successful. I’m able to give constructive feedback and I don’t pull punches. I never want a situation where someone says, ‘I succeeded, but we ultimately failed because the team failed.’ No, you failed.
3. Be willing to take a stand. If something doesn’t make sense or something needs to change -- if you’ve been doing this for a long time, you know – don’t be afraid to stand up and say, ‘Hey this is what we need to go do’ and then take it on.
4. People want action. It’s important to have that really strong drive for results and that managerial courage. If you want to be a leader then you have to stand in front of the spotlight and pick up the microphone and be that lead singer.  You may have tomatoes thrown at you, but to be a leader you need to be out in front.

Phil Ventimiglia is Vice President, Development and Realization Services at NCR. Atlanta Trend expresses its thanks and deep appreciation to Phil Ventimiglia for sharing his thoughts with us.


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