Trusted Executive Foundation Interview with Stephen Bird, CEO of The Vitec Group

Stephen has been Group Chief Executive at The Vitec Group since 2009. Vitec is a leading global provider of premium branded products and solutions to the fast moving and growing “image capture and content creation” market. Customers include broadcasters, independent content creators, photographers and enterprises. Vitec employs around 1,800 people across the world in 13 different countries. In this interview, Stephen shares his reflections on trust and how it has been a crucial factor in the success of Vitec, even though it has not always been named and identified as a key performance measure.

On the importance of trust:                                                               

‘Trust is extremely important and becoming increasingly so. Many of our customers are now much more sensitive to where they buy products, who the company is, and what its reputation, ethics and values are. Also, our employee base has changed significantly since I joined the company. Employees are younger and more diverse and they care enormously about the company they work for. They want the company to be an organisation that they can trust to have the same values as they have, and that they can feel proud to be a part of. Trust is a very important part of that. They want to feel sure that they can trust the company to do the right thing in particular situations.’

‘Our shareholders also need to trust the business. They want us to be honest and straightforward about how the business is doing and to deliver the results, but they also want to be able to trust us to do the right thing in the right situation. Reputational damage to business is a hugely important issue. It’s something I have pushed very strongly with our board because I believe reputational damage has risen up the ranking in terms of its importance to business.’

On building a high trust culture:

 ‘Before you contacted me, I had not particularly thought about the word trust. Intuitively it is what we are doing. When I joined the business it didn’t have a great reputation. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what the purpose of the business is, and focusing on helping our customers create great content. We have articulated our core values and what values we want to strengthen, like openness, integrity, quality and so on. But if you asked me have we got a strategy for strengthening the values of trust with our stakeholders, no we haven’t.  Are we doing those things? Yes, absolutely we are.’

‘It comes down to who I am as the CEO and the sort of business that I want to run. I think the CEO’s role in this is crucial. The key things that I try to drive, and as an organisation we try to drive, are openness, honesty, being balanced about keeping promises, sharing integrity in what we do, and very specifically saying what’s important to us. For example, the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees is the first and most important thing, as well as having a very clear set of values around which we run the business. What’s also crucial is tenure in the role. When you are constantly seeing the leadership changing it’s very difficult to trust someone who has just come in. Seeing someone in the role exhibiting the same values again, and again, and again is massively powerful.’

On the challenge of measuring trust:

We measure a lot of other things but not trust specifically. We monitor external websites like Glassdoor, and we keep an eye on what’s in the Press. With customers, we have very good qualitative feedback loops.  And with shareholders, we carry out shareholder audits of what they think about the business and the confidence they have in us which ultimately works through into how much they value the company as they become more confident that we are going to deliver results.’

‘We talk about other values which all combine to mean the same thing, but it’s interesting that we have not used the word trust in our discussions. I have found the brief interaction I have had with your work quite interesting because trust is a key word to use and a word we should be using more.  If there is a very easy, non-disruptive way of measuring trust then clearly it would be a good idea.’

The Nine Habits of Trust:

The Nine Habits of Trust Model

From Stephen’s interview, it is clear that Vitec’s strengths are in delivering and being consistent in an open, honest and humble way that support the pillars of ability and integrity.

Stephen spoke in the interview about doing the right thing and caring about the wellbeing of employees which is a good base from which to explore habits no. 8 and 9, choosing to be brave and choosing to be kind. Perhaps less clear from the interview is habit no. 7, choosing to evangelise. This potentially could be a rich area for Stephen to explore in terms of “bringing the good news” about Vitec’s growth over the past 10 years, and how trust sits at the heart of the transition that has taken place over that time. The remarkable thing being that, without it ever being mentioned, trust has been instrumental in creating the reputation and success that the company enjoys today.

Stephen has also realised as a result of taking part in the interview that there is a big opportunity, not only for himself but for all CEOs, to evangelise about the fact that trust can now be measured and improved more tangibly than ever before to further enhance results, relationships and reputation.

Our thanks to Stephen for his time and for allowing us to share his insights from the interview. For more information on the Trusted Executive Foundation please refer to this short introductory video

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