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Senior Spotlight: Leo Pickford, Digital Transformation Leader

Crimson’s Head of Customer Engagement, Chris O’Brien, interviews senior technologists across the UK. Discover what drives these individuals as we delve into their careers, most exciting projects, and tech predictions for 2024 and beyond. Be inspired by their stories and connect with your IT peers.

Today’s chat is with digital transformation expert and business change lead Leo Pickford. Leo’s career in business transformation arose from his natural talent at identifying and solving business problems. Here, Leo tells us about some of the fascinating projects he has overseen - some are niche, some are globally significant.

Leo Pickford | Digital Transformation & Business Change Leader

Connect with Leo on LinkedIn

Chris: So, I hear you’ve had quite a varied career, so please tell us more about your background.

Leo: Well, you could say I've had quite an interesting history. I started off as a mechanical engineer with AstraZeneca, managing maintenance strategies and compliance. However, during that role I realised I have a bit of a gift for seeing the bigger picture - looking across functions at how digital technology could improve efficiency across the value stream.

So, I naturally started getting involved with bigger transformational projects that brought in digital technology. And this, rather excitingly, started to lead me away from engineering and more towards the digital transformation space. At AstraZeneca I brought in digital tracking and asset management for all their lab equipment across the UK, before helping them to start up a new site in China, where I played a key role in setting up all the facility operation processes.

I then moved across to Rolls Royce in Derby; my 9 years there were pretty varied. My role started off in procurement, chiefly working on a large programme to bring in a new procurement system and handling the business change around that - so I started getting close to digital transformation again. I then became Head of Programmes in the supply chain at Rolls Royce, heading up about 30 supply chain transformation projects at once.

After being promoted to an exec role there, I saw that digital transformation was definitely my niche; seeing the big picture and understanding how I can bring digital technology in to improve the way things work.

Rolls Royce’s company-wide Customer Portal (as it was at the time) needed a big revamp, so I approached it with a fresh vision and spoke with business leaders about how we could transform it. This involved bringing together a number of legacy portals and applying a fresh new look with input from a UI/UX agency. This transformed the user experience and brought it into the modern era.

I love getting involved with creating a customer connection - making the end user’s interaction with services efficient and up to date. And the design system we developed for that project went on to inspire further branding across the organisation, so I’m very proud of that.

Chris: On the subject of proud moments, what are your proudest achievements - if you had to state a rough top two or three?

Leo: One of my proudest moments was definitely at the culmination of that project. We launched the new portal at an event in Berlin with all of our aviation customers; we handed out tablets and they all got a chance to log in and experience the new system.

To fill in my career history, at the end of my time at Rolls Royce, I spent a couple of years working on corporate strategy, largely focused on the journey to net zero - which was a change in focus, but a fascinating one.

My next position after that led to one of my proudest achievements for sure. I joined Yusen Logistics in late 2020 and shortly after I arrived, they gave me the honour of managing the logistics behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine rollout. So, I oversaw the movement of the first 200 million doses to over 30 countries. Managing that operation was definitely one of my most fulfilling achievements.

Chris: Absolutely. And what a coincidence, rubbing shoulders with AstraZeneca again!

Leo: Yes, it was quite the coincidence! Some of the things that came up during that project involved me dealing with former colleagues and working with sites where I myself used to work. It was quite surreal.

Chris: So, what has been your biggest challenge during your career? Was it related to the project you oversaw during COVID?

Leo: Getting the COVID-19 operation set up from scratch was a massive endeavour that the team and I worked day and night to get going. Yes, it was a big challenge, but it was one that I was hugely energised and motivated by.

One of my biggest challenges is probably the number of times I’ve changed industry. I’ve worked in pharmaceutical, aerospace (and sectors within), and logistics. Whenever you change industry, there’s a whole new set of processes, acronyms, legislation, culture, etc. to get to grips with pretty quickly.

Chris: That raises a good point. A lot of senior candidates don’t always need specific industry experience in order to excel in a role. If, like you, they can demonstrate their ability to work across functions, pick up these industry differences, and run with them, that is a really valuable skill.

Leo: You’re right. Now that I’ve moved industry several times, I know that I can climb up a steep learning curve very quickly. I work cross functionally very well. I’m skilled at seeing the bigger picture, as I mentioned before. So, you could drop me in any industry and I could “get it” quite promptly.

I mean, anything around digital transformation of course - I couldn’t go and be a dentist next week!

Chris: Or work on the shop floor at B&Q?

Leo: I did that when I was 17 actually! I can mix paint, I can cut carpet, you name it!

Chris: Hey, it’s where you got your start! So, from then until now, what would you say that your most interesting or exciting project has been to date?

Leo: Another project at Yusen Logistics involved leading a project to introduce electric trucks and charging infrastructure. We’ve got a million EV cars on the road but for trucks, the EV journey is just beginning. So, I ran a pilot that ran electric 19-tonne trucks to one of our key customers and evaluated them for a year.

We were able to track a lot of data: what’s happening with the fleet, where each truck is going, where they’re charging, and what they’re delivering. The interest for me is around introducing the technology and seeing the efficiencies that can be made with data like that. The wider EV logistics problem hasn’t quite been cracked yet - there are a lot of different EV charging apps and silos of data that don’t connect.

Chris: Sounds like more work to be done! So, what would your dream role be, say looking ahead 2 to 5 years?

Leo: I’d like to be involved with anything that means being at the cutting edge of the energy revolution and bringing my expertise of strategy and digital tech. Logistics has played a big part in my career, so it would probably involve a focus on modernising fuel-powered fleets to EVs and the data behind that.

But taking a more industry agnostic view, I like hunting down a business’s toughest challenges, working out the related business processes, and putting together a vision of how to digitalise them. Then working alongside leadership, I will put a business case together, help secure the funding, and make it happen.

Chris: What are your tech predictions for the coming few years? What do you make of trends like AI, blockchain, cybersecurity, and the cloud?

Leo: Staying with EVs for a moment, certain consumer electricity providers are already providing special, low tariffs so end users can charge their electric vehicles inexpensively overnight. I think that’s going to become available for commerce and industry. I can see the worlds of digital transformation, smart energy, and transport meeting - and that’s going to be huge.

But to your point, AI is going to do more and more, and I think we’re going to have to keep it in check. We need to start having conversations around what we should let AI do and what we shouldn't let AI do. Blockchain is going to be huge - I see real opportunity for distributed ledgers in pharmaceuticals. They could help us validate supply chains and prove that a particular product is genuine and not a counterfeit.

The cloud keeps growing, but in order for the cloud to grow, we’re going to need more and more data centres. In turn, these data centres will require more and more power. And in a world where we are so conscious of pollution and energy consumption, we’ve got to reach the end of the line somewhere. With this in mind, I think we might see some regulation come in around cloud storage, perhaps around what gets stored, how long for, and so on. And cyber is going to keep on growing as increasing numbers of people and companies keep getting attacked.

Chris: And to end on a high note, what was your most enjoyable professional experience to date? 

Leo: Lots of professional experiences have been enjoyable individually, but I would say that one of the best experiences has been the 2-3 years or so I spent building up my team at Yusen, with focus on change, project management, architecture, and business analysis. It was great to recruit and develop this team; together we worked on a portfolio of about 30 projects, whilst I focused on continually improving capabilities. It was great to see the team grow and develop whilst I positively challenged them to achieve.


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Crimson is a digital transformation consultancy, Microsoft Solutions Provider, and IT recruitment agency operating throughout the UK.