David Henderson is chief technology officer at Global, Europe’s largest radio company and increasingly a player in outdoor media and music festivals.
What better company and person to hear from in the midst of a digital audio boom.
We find out about what it takes to be CTO, and about Henderson’s leadership style and collaboration with the CMO.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
David Henderson: As chief technology officer at Global, I am responsible for the technology, operations and digital transformation at one of the UKs most successful media & entertainment groups.
The role is extremely varied and mixes strategic planning and research and development through to operations management and project delivery.
My job also involves a great deal of vendor management and working to recruit the best possible talent.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
David Henderson: Within the organisation I sit at the senior executive level, reporting to the chief operations officer. I work closely with the board of directors on the latest technological developments and projects.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
David Henderson: Adaptability is key; understanding the implications of new technologies, changes in customer needs and opportunities that arise in our competitive markets. Reusing the same approach that worked a decade ago isn’t feasible in technology.
Integrity is vital and I’ve built up a good network of long term vendor relationships and fellow CTOs who I can ask for advice at any time.
I also need to be a translator; to listen and understand business strategy, know what must be done from a technology perspective and be able to explain it to those around me. I’m lucky in that I love learning about new technologies and new ways of working and am passionate about solving problems and delivering great experiences for external customers and internal colleagues.
Tell us about a typical working day…
David Henderson: There is lots of variety but typically there are ‘stand-ups’ where we prioritise product development, project delivery meetings which are often about problem solving and design decisions and there are usually meetings with business stakeholders and coaching my brilliant team. Interestingly I am closer to product development now than in previous roles as there is an expectation that CTOs these days can still be ‘hands-on’.
I try and allocate time to learn from our new recruits and recent graduates and apprentices; they grew up in a world of ubiquitous social, mobile and cloud computing and had very different training to me, meaning that they have a different attitude and approach to technology.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
David Henderson: I love working in a fast paced environment, especially when this goes hand in hand with quick decision-making and tangible results.
I love seeing the impact that well designed and well built technology can have on people’s lives.
The dynamic nature of the media industry isn’t for everyone, but it can provide the perfect environment for talent to thrive – and I love to mentor, guide people, and watch them grow.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
David Henderson: I hope Global continues growing, throws up new challenges and keeps surprising me! I also want to showcase the exciting aspects of a career in technology, attracting a greater number of diverse, talented people to the technology industry as a whole.
We have key performance indicators (KPIs) we track to measure success, but ultimately I have two personal objectives I rely on; is there a strong belief and trust from stakeholders across the business in what we are doing? And are we as a technology team enjoying and taking pride in what we do? If there are positive answers to these two questions the KPIs usually take care of themselves.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
David Henderson: My industry and consultancy background have given me a range of tools to use. Our office is ‘agile’; full of post-its, whiteboards, roadmap posters as well as photographs of the team celebrating success.
I extoll the virtues of brevity and encourage one-page-reporting, condensing information down to the essentials. I use a lot of visual tools including two-by-two grids to analyse a situation, graphs galore for plotting trends and infographics to tell the story in an engaging way.
Over the past few years I have evangelised the power of design thinking to help with problem solving and ideation; from structured brainstorming, storyboarding and testing hypotheses there are great tools that any technologist can apply.
How did you get into radio, and where might you go from here?
David Henderson: I’ve had a varied career; spent one-third in management consulting, one-third in technology management and one-third in digital transformation. I tried online gaming start-ups, launched an e-commerce business and then spent nine years at Daily Mail group during the print to digital migration.
I felt staying in media and moving sideways into music was a natural progression and was drawn to Global on the promise of investment in digital transformation, a promise which has been well and truly met. As a result, I’m staying put. Global is growing in the UK and overseas and I’m working with some really talented colleagues solving interesting problems; it helps that I love music too and get to consume, as well as contribute to, our products.
What new technologies or user experiences have you admired in 2018?
David Henderson: I like intuitive technology that simplifies work. I’m impressed by the cloud based data technology Snowflake that brings disparate sources together into one place. I also like the Headstart app, as it helps organisations in their selection and recruitment of talent. The machine-learning tool pulls data from sources to find the best fit for roles, reducing the risk of unconscious bias and increasing the chances of hiring diverse talent.
I’m also immensely proud of our own technology applications, from virtual reality training simulation for presenters, world class broadcast studios and our DAX Listener Insight ID tool that helps us personalise the listening experience and improve the effectiveness of digital audio advertisements.
Do you have any advice for how CMOs can best work with CTOs?
David Henderson: Technologists and marketers need to recognise themselves as close allies within their organisations. My advice would be to align the CTO’s data and analytics with the CMO’s knowledge of the brand and instinct around targeting and messaging. This will open up valuable new data sets, and I expect this will become even more popular, as companies work to plan and execute campaigns effectively in line with future digital transformation.