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ThoughtWorks founder and CEO Roy Singham spoke Feb. 9 at the James L. Allen Center. Singham's address was the latest in the Executive MBA Program's Luncheon Speaker Series.

‘Multi-stakeholder view’ guides ThoughtWorks chief

Great managers, societies have comprehensive worldviews, Singham tells EMBA students

By Aubrey Henretty

2/14/2007 - “What software is about is managing complexity,” Roy Singham told Kellogg School Executive MBA Program students assembled Feb. 9 in the James L. Allen Center. Singham, founder and chief executive officer of information technology company ThoughtWorks Inc., was the latest in a series of speakers to address EMBA students over lunch at the school’s Evanston-based executive facility.

His remarks focused on the complexity of effective management, but they also offered a glimpse into Singham’s social consciousness.

“What should happen in any process is you take the things that appear at the end of the cycle and put them at the beginning,” said the chief of the global IT consultancy. In computer technology, he said, that might mean starting with a piece of software and working backward to perfect it. In management, it might mean starting with the society one wants to see and then finding a place for one’s company within it.

“If all the human race can do is say 2 billion people living on $2 a day is a great society, shame on the human race,” said Singham, emphasizing the importance of what he called the “multi-stakeholder view” of management. He rejected the notion that an executive can “just increase shareholder wealth and somehow magically [improve] society,” insisting that shareholders are just one group of people among many — including employees and societies — with a stake in a company’s success.

Singham said his professional experience has taught him the benefits of treating employees as volunteers — people who are there because they want to be. “When you treat human beings as human beings, lots of good things happen to you,” he said, citing such intangibles as workplace culture, employee loyalty and creativity. “Most human beings measure things that can be measured,” he added. “They don’t measure things that are important.”

At the same time, Singham warned against too much localized self-congratulation and encouraged the audience to keep an eye on the wider world. “The idea that [the United States] invented all capitalism and we’re the last innovators on earth is wrong,” he said. “Wealth only lasts three generations … and I think we’re in the third or fourth generation of a wealthy United States.”

While there is still plenty of potential for the nation to be strong and prosperous, said Singham, U.S. managers cannot expect their country to dominate the world market indefinitely: “They’re going to have to learn to share.”