Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. My guest today Sammy Haroon, the Director of the Palo Alto Innovation Center and Enterprise Data Analytics with Baker Hughes; Sammy, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Sammy: Thank you for having me.
Russ: Okay, you know the Palo Alto Innovation Center; that sounds pretty cool, tell us about that.
Sammy: Dream job. It’s a place which the leadership of Baker Hughes decided needed to exist about 2 ½ years ago, I’ve been there close to a year and a quarter. The purpose of the place is to stay in touch with the leading research that can be reapplied into the company – this keeps us in touch with the national labs that are there – leading research and faculty at the local universities of course, you know, in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, and access to talent. Finally, on the ground technology which can be reapplied into our company to solve problems, hence we are an avenue for technology reapplication but that doesn’t sometimes deliver results so what we do is we incubate proofs of concepts, we incubate companies and we fund them and take our result to a point which can be reapplied.
Russ: Okay, give us an example of, I know you can’t give us specifics – but if you can, give us specifics, if not sort of a category of innovation that you’re working on there.
Sammy: Let’s see, I lead the Enterprise Data Analytics close to every single company which is anything in data analytics in the world today is headquartered within 25 miles of me. And what we have done is we have selected one of them and we are actually – we are significantly ahead in having an analytics platform machine learn our data and give us highly accurate results. And I cannot tell you what it’s about but I will tell you this much, no supervision, give the data to the machine and it is telling you what to do.
Russ: Wow, sounds like IBM Watson to a degree.
Russ: Okay, great. But as you know, I chose to have you on the show for much more than the Palo Alto Innovation Center and it’s your very, uh, impressive and diverse career. Why don’t you give us a quick, you know biographical overview of Sammy Harron?
Sammy: Quick in terms of 1 year or 30 seconds? All right, I was born in Atlanta, GA, my father was a Nuclear Physicist at Georgia Tech back then – within a few months of my birth went back to Pakistan, grew up there, came back when I had just turned 17, went to Georgia Tech; applied to one school, I wanted to be a nuclear physicist like my father. Man, if I knew how hard it was…
Russ: But you did it.
Sammy: Well I did, tell me about it. So came out of school, went into the nuclear industry just a little bit and realized it is the most archaic in the United States, the rest of the world was a lot more advanced. Of course there’s regulation aspects to it which is the reality. I chose to come out, I got into the computing industry and I…
Russ: But wait, but wait, when you say it was archaic, do you mean it was archaic because the United States, we had all these regulations and they weren’t allowing new innovation or just archaic in general?
Sammy: The thing is there is such a reaction to nuclear when an unfortunate incident occurs so what I did discover, I was working on a restart of a nuclear power plant and I realized that the number of redundancies made the thing safe but made it outrageously expensive and we did not have any new nuclear power plants coming online. That – that’s the reality on the ground. That was the reality and that just – as a person who had loans to pay I could not stay in that industry which – where there may not be jobs and unfortunately the reality was I was probably the last one to graduate from Georgia Tech with a Nuclear Engineering – no, there were other graduates but they shut down the program.
Russ: Wow, interesting.
Sammy: So that’s why I tell people out of 800 graduates I was the top of the class but I was the bottom of the class too.
Russ: Okay. All right, so from there computer industry?
Sammy: Yes. I decided that I’m going to go ahead and try seeing if I can, uh, get into the computing world. 1990s – early 1990, late 80s I had been programming and such but nobody wanted to give me a job. They said Nuclear Engineers – what, you want us to hire you to do programming? I tell people that I remember getting pissed off; I learned programming languages, I taught myself, I grew myself and I ended up doing some amazing things. That was a time Russ when accounting was changed because of the computing industry, medicine was changing, real estate was changing – this is your background, you know, yeah that’s right. Electronic payments fundamentally changed the banks, they had to come to a new realization that there were net banks coming out. So I was a part of just about everything I have stated and some I have missed also; and those, the 90s were an amazing time.
Russ: Okay, so you found that to be exciting, particularly compared to the nuclear industry.
Sammy: You have no idea how exciting nuclear is, but the responsibility that comes with the nuclear industry is so tremendous because there is life involved, so when I use the word archaic it’s because what works, you don’t change it because it’s safe, so that is the aspect of it too.
Sammy: But the 90s was an exciting time where I just did so many different things. The very first imaging – check imaging, do you remember when the imaging started?
Russ: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Sammy: I was part of that, the – some of the very first things, you know, the electronic bill payment and such that I was telling you. Then next something very interesting happened and how it – I was doing startups in 2000, 2001, we had a crash, a good exit and I had my first son and that just brought a new reality to me because I was working 16 hours, I had an automotive racing company, I was doing startups, I had my own consulting company and, you know, I kind of stopped that and looked at reinventing myself. That led me into Procter and Gamble.
Russ: Now that’s a turn that I think people don’t expect.
Sammy: I – you know and Procter and Gamble changed my life. They’re one of the most amazing companies I can say I ever worked for.
Russ: And what was your position there?
Sammy: I was an Associate Director in Information Technology and it was an innovation group. And I was able to – they allowed me to do what I wanted to and I was able to work with Research and Development and various country managers and product lines.
Russ: Okay and how long were you there?
Sammy: I was there for 5 years.
Russ: Okay. And just based on conversations you and I have had before I know that was very impactful on your life and your career for the future?
Sammy: Yes, in many, many ways I went in there with – I joke about it – I went in there with significant arrogance, I can do stuff, I can invest, I can create this and yeah they broke all of that down. And they raised me into a new place of understanding what is corporate, how do people influence and work together, how do you drive a bigger vision rather than a very small piece that is only in your head? These are some very powerful things and they produce some of the most amazing leaders.
Russ: Okay. Well I know – I mean you use the word innovation in what you did there and I know that word pops up in your career, uh, several times. You even talked and wrote a lot about invention to innovation, tell me about that.
Sammy: This was – the thing is, I don’t want to say I’m an innovator, I want to live it and one of the things that I ended up discovering is innovation is a realization of something which is plausible. The more risky the plausibility the higher the risk reward. But it always comes from an invention; an invention is a patent, it’s some creativity which that even the inventor may not know what type of innovation it can become. One invention can have many, many innovative applications in the marketplace, so that idea is what actually, once I left Proctor and Gamble, I kind of coalesced it into invention to innovation; how do you take an invention, how do you find multiple avenues of producing results? And one of my companies did that.
Russ: Okay. But here you are even today, you know, the Director of Innovation, uh, at this facility, how do you coach and make innovation happen? I mean you can’t just hire smart people and say okay, go innovate.
Sammy: This is a very difficult and complex problem I would say. If you want to do it at an entrepreneur level it is very different; you’re aggressive, you know you want to create wealth and you go after it. Like you were mentioning earlier, you’re aggressive about it and there’s nothing else that you want to think about. When you do it inside of a corporation you cannot behave and act that way, you’ll piss a lot of people. Let me give an example, sometimes when breakthrough innovation comes up it kills a product line. Product lines do incremental improvement; they grow, there are people who are building the products. Now you bring in something which is going to make half of them obsolete, that’s not going to work. So the idea here, at least at our center, is that we want to leap frog and that is what Proctor and Gamble did also but how I look at it is that you have to bring the right people together and once they share the value proposition they are able to go deliver it. It’s a little bit of a political answer – politically correct answer but it’s the right people not necessarily the greatest idea will deliver the result.
Russ: Interesting. Okay, so let’s stay though with Proctor and Gamble a little bit longer to, I understand that you came out of there with this sort of commitment to brand development that was much more sophisticated and you were much more passionate about than when you went into Proctor and Gamble.
Sammy: Well I had no idea what branding was, I had no idea what marketing was. They put me through some pretty rigorous training and I had the opportunity to work with the Vice President of marketing there. And these guys, you know, just listening to their years of experience and just soaking it in was just amazing. This one guy, he taught me something very simple – what is the purpose of marketing? Only two things; amplification – do what I tell you or talk about it, advocacy – buy my stuff. Everything else drives those two things. It was just a simplification that simplified the complexity and then you went towards producing the results. So brand to me has become a singularity which stand independent of time and space, marketing are the avenues to touch the various segments which that brand wants to reach through various different products.
Russ: So after Proctor and Gamble, what was next?
Sammy: I left Proctor and Gamble to create a company which was going to take design thinking and make it a part of engineering processes, product development, and that requires industrial design also. So I developed a company which, uh, took this concept of invention to innovation, combined it with industrial design and design thinking, and produced a process which helps companies to do front end of innovation, rapid prototyping, very, very fast – extremely fast.
Russ: Okay, and this is your entrepreneurship chapter?
Sammy: Yeah, there was entrepreneurship chapter – after Proctor and Gamble there was entrepreneurship chapter, before Proctor and Gamble and spread out all across.
Russ: Okay. And so how did this company evolve?
Sammy: Well, do you remember 2008, 2009?
Russ: Sure I do, I remember all of it.
Sammy: Did you lose any money during that time? Okay, great, so, you know, there with…
Russ: Part of enhancing your resume has to include some difficulties and some failures, I mean particularly if you get in entrepreneurship.
Sammy: Let me tell you my bias; if you haven’t done it don’t come try to tell me how to do it. So I went and invested and I lost and I came to a point, it was an inflection point, where I could have gone back into the corporate world or gotten a job somewhere and I remember just looking at myself in the mirror and thinking no man, that’s not it. So I went, I created this company and we ended up getting contracts with GE. I went simultaneously took over another company as COO which was barely making – for 8 years it had been making 5 figure numbers; in 18 months I took it to almost 7 figures. So I did it simultaneously and that involved how do you brand something? How do you repackage what you have, that invention, and touch it to the customer, make them feel like that is what they want? And we did that again and again.
Russ: Okay. And so I also know that there’s a GE chapter and did that evolve because that design company sort of connected you to them?
Sammy: GE is a brilliant company and there are people there who can see the next big thing coming and they capture it. So at GE energy what we did was I found a few folks who were interested in how do we speed up the design and the manufacturing of their smart meters. And they had a whole bunch of different lines so this tremendous leader there, he said okay show me what you can do. And within a matter of, you know, 30 to 60 days we set things up, in a matter of 5 days we’ll bring to them literally at one time I remember it was 38 different pieces in the supply chain from the concept of a smart meter all the way to the delivery, we had them all together; in about 3 to 4 days we designed a smart meter. In 17 hours it was 3D printed.
Russ: So, so really cool, so how long were you at GE?
Sammy: It was I was not an employee of GE so I had the two companies which were contract at that point in time. And we had other contracts also, yeah.
Russ: Okay. But that’s sort of exposed you I guess to the energy space, is that right?
Sammy: That’s right.
Russ: And is that what ultimately brought you this idea of being a valuable contributor at Baker Hughes?
Sammy: Oh I – this is very interesting, I actually met with folks in the energy sector and oil and gas back in 2010, I came here, and there were a couple from Baker Hughes I really found very fascinating because they were all about technology and they were solving some very difficult problems. I mean these are radically difficult problems Russ and at that point in time I did not pursue it, I was in smart grid digital energy areas. But there came a point where I was pretty much at a burnout point, you know, you’re doing two startups – you remember your days – you know, so I – there is a story there why I stopped it so maybe one day we’ll talk about it – but I decided to pursue the oil and gas sector because of the complexity of the problem. And I had other opportunities, I chose Baker Hughes because of this technology leadership and continuously – and they have the highest number of patents than any one of their competitors, also that’s one thing I remember looking at and that’s what brought me here.
Russ: Okay, well I know there are a very impressive, uh, company, in fact recently you connected us with Dr. Mario Rusev, the CTO of Baker Hughes, and we had a fascinating interview with him. But I also contend it’s interesting the oil and gas space in my opinion because, um, I think there’s a lot of people outside of it that have no idea of it’s importance and it’s technological, uh, complexity; it’s almost like the success of the industry and that every time we turn on the lights they always come on make people not necessarily appreciate it, but it’s incredibly technical isn’t it? Isn’t that your perspective?
Sammy: Oil and gas in itself is – yes, it’s highly technical, more than one would realize. You know, to be able to hit a reservoir which is miles down through, you know, you’re drilling in different directions you’re getting to, it’s just amazing what is involved. I’m not from the oil and gas and I will not be able to use the acronyms that someone would be, but just what’s involved is tremendous and one of the things that I lead the Distinguished Lecture Series at Baker Hughes and we had Dr. Scott Tinker who is just prolific on this subject. I recommend looking at him because he just gave such a powerful value proposition for oil and gas.
Russ: Great. Okay, so here you are, you know, a born U.S., grew up in Pakistan, Georgia Tech Nuclear Physicist; uh, got in the nuclear business, were bored, the computer business, did some startups, uh, somehow or another along the way ended up at Proctor and Gamble, worked with GE, today the Director of Innovation at the Palo Alto Innovation Center you’re just kind of like a renaissance man, is – is all of this, you know, are you just building a resume and you have this – this big thing that you’re going to be doing 10 years from now or are you just so entertained with the business world – you just want to keep doing what you do? Where is it going Sammy?
Sammy: I’ll give you two quick things. People say to me Sammy, I want to build a legacy, I live my legacy and I do not design it. All I do is I am honest to myself, that’s it, number one. Number two – this is a little story I want to tell you – back when the crash happened 2008, 2009, you know, it was a very reflective time for many people; I went and found people who were close to passing away from this earth and I remember one guy. I went to see him, he was in a hospice, he was piped up, this gentleman was a very good friend and he was about 84 and the only thing he could tell me was he had $6.1 million in cash, he was on the boards on these companies and he just kept talking about that and I was amazed. I walked out, I went to a restaurant and back to the office which was down the street, I got a call two hours later that he had passed away. And I chose that’s not what I’m going to be, all right? So that kind of gives you an idea of how I think and just my desires to be among people who are far superior to me in intellect than I am so I can learn from them.
Russ: I think that’s going to be a challenge but, uh, because you’re pretty smart man.
Sammy: No, I’ve been faking it all my life.
Russ: Sammy, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us.
Sammy: Thank you very, very much.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Sammy Haroon, the Director of the Palo Alto Innovation Center, also the Director of the Enterprise Data Analytics with Baker Hughes. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
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