Aligning Leaders During a Time of Change at Western Digital
Western Digital reflects on how Abilitie’s Executive Challenge™ provided the corporate leadership courses needed to cohesively assimilate executives from three formerly competing companies in the face of their large-scale acquisitions.
Western Digital (WDC) is a computer data storage company and one of the largest computer disk drive manufacturers in the world. Through their success, they have worked alongside other top companies such as Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST). At one time, these two companies were competitors. Now they were faced with how to successfully integrate the two after HGST was acquired by WDC. The challenge that lay before them was how to connect the senior leaders from two different, formerly competitive companies and come together to unite the business. The Chinese government created its own set of challenges for WDC by creating a 4-year waiting period before the integration could start as a condition of the sale. WDC took initiative, and in the interim, worked to design a program that not only connected the senior leaders from the two different companies, but also prepared these leaders through a combination of education and experience for the large-scale transformation to come. This would come to be known as the Leading at WDC Executive Leadership Program. Through this program, WDC successfully integrated HGST into a united, successful data storage and computer disk drive manufacturer through their cohesive efforts from leaders of each company.
Months after the integration of the acquired company and WDC, WDC also acquired SanDisk. This posed a new set of challenges to solve. Their leaders were asked to transform the business from a hard disk drive device company to a broader provider of memory solutions and services to meet changing data storage market demands. This challenge was taken on by the previously established Leading at WDC Executive Leadership Program. Through their prior integration endeavors, the program used their strategic lever to once again help bring disparate companies and leadership teams together and help them through the long and complicated transformation process.
When the Leading at WDC Executive Leadership Program was established, the team was faced with the challenge of finding a way to bring three companies together in a cohesive way that would translate to success. They started by establishing common goals that took the best pieces of each established branch to create one cohesive triumvirate. They aimed to prepare leaders from three disparate, formerly competitive companies through a series of educational and experiential learning workshops to navigate the difficult transformation of bringing all three companies together. This process would involve the 200 senior leaders from all functions of the businesses, with equal representation given to each acquired company. The program then divided participants into three cohorts. These cohorts began in January 2016 and spanned over a 16-month period. WDC would team with Abilitie’s Executive Challenge, a company that provides award-winning corporate leadership development and mini-MBA programs for rising leaders and executives around the world. WDC developed a coordinated program for their cohorts consisting of pre-work reading, assessments, two in-person workshops, video, an asynchronous intersession event, social activities, and Abilitie’s Executive Challenge simulation.
The various leaders were placed in teams that would be launched into a simulation that tasked them with growing a virtual business. This business would be required to invest in and produce product lines and respond to market demands, while simultaneously balancing time, capital, and human resources. Throughout the simulation, teams evaluated the sustainability of a business and the long-term implications of short-term decisions. Introspectively, they would also work to acknowledge personal management styles and leadership blind spots, leading them to find ways to implement a strategic vision in the face of adverse events.
Throughout this experiential learning workshop, the teams underwent a series of structured debriefs to clarify exactly how specific choices made by each team led to various consequences. At the end of each quarter, skilled Abilitie facilitators led debriefs focused on individual components within the WDC leadership framework to help participants reflect on their decisions and progress.
At the conclusion of the simulation experience, the teams prepared presentations and delivered them to a “Board of Directors” composed of WDC senior executives. The board chose a winning team based on strategy, financial performance, team effectiveness, ability to handle adverse events, adherence to program competencies, sustainability, and overall quality of the presentation.
The executive population continues to undergo this method of training, which has proven to be a great asset to the WDC integration process. When the senior leaders who participated in the program were surveyed and asked to provide feedback about the program, their responses affirmed that the program created tremendous success. Below are the key findings provided by the surveyed participants: