Navigating new technologies and preparing the next generation of leaders: Insights from Gurdeep Grewal, the CEO of Intive
Digital Infrastructure

Navigating new technologies and preparing the next generation of leaders: Insights from Gurdeep Grewal, the CEO of Intive

Gurdeep Grewal, the CEO of software company Intive, discusses the necessary leadership capabilities for private equity–backed CEOs and how the company is preparing for the impact of new technologies.
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In this episode of the Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast, Heidrick & Struggles’ Lukasz Kiniewicz speaks to Gurdeep Grewal, CEO of Intive, a global software company. Gurdeep shares his journey to becoming CEO and highlights the importance of creating a value plan, building trust, and listening. They also discuss the necessary leadership capabilities for private equity–backed CEOs, such as focusing on value-creation plans and managing costs. Gurdeep explains how Intive's growth through global acquisitions has affected the company culture and emphasizes the importance of having a clear operating model and integration plan. Finally, they talk about how Intive is preparing for the impact of new technologies, with an emphasis on training the next generation of leaders.

Below is a full transcript of the episode, which has been edited for clarity. 

Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: Hi, I'm Lukasz Kiniewicz, partner in charge of Heidrick & Struggles’ Warsaw office and a member of the global Technology & Services Practice. In today's podcast, I'm excited to speak to Gurdeep Grewal, CEO of Intive, a global software company with over 3,000 employees. Intive is headquartered in Munich, Germany, with a challenging, exploratory, and agile mindset and international teams of software, design, and business experts, Intive partners with market leaders in accelerating digital transformation for products and services of tomorrow. Before taking on the role of CEO, Gurdeep joined the company as a senior adviser to the board of directors, responsible for growth and strategy. Prior to Intive, he led Global Logic’s European operations as senior vice president and general manager. He has been engaged in numerous leadership roles in the IT sector over the course of his 30-year professional career. Gurdeep, welcome, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. 

Gurdeep Grewal: Lukasz, thank you for having me and it's a pleasure, and I look forward to our conversation today. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: To kick off this conversation, could you please walk us through your journey to Intive? 

Gurdeep Grewal: Sure, Lukasz. So I've been, I guess, very lucky being in the world of technology, and I started life as an engineer working for a company called ICL, which became Fujitsu. And I was very lucky there to actually help to create a platform called Trader Net, which was around the digital exchanging of information—orders and invoices. And just to give you an example, this would be people like Marks & Spencer, here in the UK, ordering their products electronically, as opposed to the old days when it was done through, you know, faxes and letters. So I guess I was involved in digitization very, very early in my career at ICL, which is now Fujitsu. I then had the chance to work with some great companies like Unisys, Hewlett-Packard, and Logica, which is now part of CGI. I also recently worked with IGATE and Zensar and then Global Logic, as you mentioned. And all the way through in those journeys, I've been able to really make a difference in the sort of technology world. I’ll give you another example. John Lewis, which is a retailer in the UK, I helped them to create their first click-and-collect application, which actually created a £1 billion business for them through that digitization. And most recently I worked with, when I was at Global Logic, with The Economist, in helping them to create the Espresso application, which helped digitize their magazine into a short form of information for millennials to actually get interested in using The Economist or reading The Economist subscriptions. So I think, you know, this is something that I've been very, very lucky in helping to create digital solutions for customers. And I think that experience and that knowledge brought me to Intive, which, as you said, I started off as an adviser and then eventually became CEO in February 2020. But I think, you know, what I saw at Intive was that they have this great DNA around helping to design and build really strong, powerful digital solutions for customers. And I think that I've been very lucky in that journey, where you've been able to utilize these great skills that I've been able to pick up over the last nearly 30 years in IT, but always been in the forefront of technology, where I think Intive today as well. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: So what were the consistent leadership capabilities that got you to the CEO role of a global tech company? 

Gurdeep Grewal: So as you asked about consistent leadership capabilities, I think it's really you need to have the ability to build and create a value creation plan for a business, and this is around a number of things. One is about: what is our market and the customers that we want to work with? And also why should those customers want to work with us? And what is the value that you're going to bring to them? And once you have that customer, I think it's really important for us to really create some sort of business delight for the customer. This could be where you have a key project delivery, quality is second to none, and this also helps you to build that trust with customers. And I think this is something that I've learned over my last 30 years in IT is that trust is the most important thing. This will help you get through challenges, but also the customer will work with you to give you larger challenges. And I think it's also important to be brave and sometimes say no. You know, when you can't deliver or you can't undertake a certain challenge, it's important to say to the customer that we're not able to do that, but you might be able to work with somebody else that can do that. Because we all have a tendency to say yes, and then when we fail, this is when relationships go sour. So I think it's about being honest. I think it's about being consistent. I think it's about being brave. I think it's about listening, and you don't always have the answers, which is why I think listening is important. I think the other important thing is not just the customers, but internally you've got to have the same values for your people and your organization, and also provide them with support and kindness and love. The really important thing is to make sure that you are successful in your role, and I think this is what's key to, I think, consistent leadership qualities and capabilities that certainly I use in my role at Intive. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: With a focus on leadership capabilities at companies with different types of ownership, what do you think is necessary to be a successful private equity–backed CEO today? 

Gurdeep Grewal: That's a really interesting conversation now for us to have because, you know, everybody wants to know what is the value that you're trying to create. So let's just sort of step back and think about: what do PEs want? Well, PEs are trying to build a buyer business using monies from an institution or third parties, and where they want to provide a higher level of return, you know, from the investment. And this is usually known as what the PEs called a value creation plan. I won't go into the details of what a VCP looks like, but I will talk you through the basics of it because it's quite a large framework. It's normally about: grow the top line faster than the market and make sure you've got stronger propositions. It's about: manage your cost of sales and delivery better than the market, manage your overheads better than the market, manage your SG&A in a more efficient way than your competition, which then leads to a profit or EBITDA level, which should be better than your customer’s. And one of the things that you're always here in the PE world is “what's your multiple?” and this is how a lot of businesses are measured because that's where the value comes in. So I give you an example. If your multiple is 20 times EBITDA, that means, for example, if you have a 30 million EBITDA, the value of your business will be 600 million. But if you manage your EBITDA much better than your competition, say, for example, it becomes 31 million, then straightaway you add 20 million to your valuation. So you get this 1:20 sort of setup. So if you had 32 million, you get to 640 million. So the PEs are very focused on this value creation. They're very focused on those metrics that I just mentioned to you, and they like you to be very, very efficient in creating value not just for them, but also the investors that have invested. And a lot of these investors are large institutions or pension funds, so they're always looking for a better return than putting their money into property or into a bank. And this is why PEs will drive every business, every CEO, the management teams, to make sure that they're creating value across all those elements I just mentioned. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: Now moving to company culture, Intive has acquired a number of companies over the last several years. How has growth through global acquisitions affected your company culture and what are the key lessons about post-merger integration you have learned, particularly about integrating with very different national cultures? 

Gurdeep Grewal: Well, I think when you're making an acquisition, it's really, really important to review and understand the culture of the target business. So that you look at the similarities of your business and how the two organizations will work together. And in my case, this is something that I always do first. Rather than looking at the numbers or looking at the customer base or looking at the P&L, I always spend a lot of time understanding the competencies or the culture or the values that any target organization has and compare that with what we have at Intive. And this is always a very good foundation. If you get the culture right, the rest of the integration is actually easier to manage. And it doesn't really matter on nationalities or diversity because that's actually what you're bringing into the company, is that you are bringing more diverse nationalities, different types of thinking, and different viewpoints, and that actually helps you to enhance your business. And I don't think it really hinders growing the business, and I've seen that at Intive. You know, we've gone, you know, probably from 20 different nationalities to probably I would say over 100 nationalities in our business, and I think it's really, really enhanced our values as a company. But also it's actually made it easier for us to work with our global customers because they also have a lot of these different nationalities. So I think, you know, cultures actually enrich your organization. It helps you with diversity and inclusion. And when you're working in a global business environment, you need to have people that have some like-minded views, so that you can work in that technology point of view. And I think we, in my, you know, activity here at Intive, you know, we've turned a lot of companies away where the culture wasn't even close to what we wanted. And I think we probably looked at 300-plus companies in my tenure and, you know, we've only bought three businesses in the last three years. That sort of gives you an essence of just don't buy for the sake of it, you buy for companies that are going to add value, both from a culture point of view but also a similarity of people in our business. And I think that really has worked well for us as an organization. And we also create a very clear operating model, which makes it easier for people coming into the business and they know where they will operate, they know how they will function with other members of the team. And also this gender and diversity doesn't become an issue for us as we integrate those businesses. And I think having a great integration plan right from the beginning is important, and I think that tells people on the journey they're going to be in. The worst thing that can happen in any M&A, in my experience, is if you don't have a journey planned out, you will actually end up and have people making their own ideas as you go along. So I think this has really worked well for us at Intive. And I think leading inclusively by giving direction, having that culture, having value does have a tendency to create great teams. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: Now, with everyone talking about ChatGPT, how are you preparing for the effect of new technologies such as generative AI, both from the leadership perspective as well as from an IT delivery point of view? 

Gurdeep Grewal: Well, you know, being a tech company, we have to be in the forefront of understanding how technologies can help our customers but also help ourselves because we as a business have to be skilled in these new tools and technologies. And you mentioned AI, and I'll go into a bit more detail. But one of the things I think we look for in our leadership capabilities in our business is to have leaders that understand technology. We have leaders that want to embrace that technology but also translate that technology into business benefits for our customers. And one of the ways we do that is we actually appoint a number of CTOs in our organization. So the CTOs in our business are there to really help create propositions internally with our teams, but also that can help our customers going forward. So that our CTOs primarily are technologists, these are people that will be looking at AI. They'll be looking at data insights. They'll be looking at content manipulation. They'll be looking at cloud strategies and how you bring all that together. And they also set the framework for training our staff in the technologies that we want to work on, where we want to run innovation days for our customers, and we want to run those internally and externally. Training our staff for those innovative tools but also getting our CTO functions to build career ladders for our up-and-coming engineers, our designers, but also our executive team, so that they're all actually in tune with the technologies that we're working on and how you can use tools like AI or ChatGPT and translating that into a benefit for our customers. I’ll give you a great example. We're working with a government body in Scotland, where we're building an AI platform for people that are disabled or, you know, have problems in using normal products and services. They can speak in a phone, they can actually type in a phone, they can all use Braille via AI technologies that we've created as a real-life application. So they can actually access services to help them live, you know, an easier life and a more comfortable life as well. So, you know, we're already using technology like AI to help the industry. But also I think this is key, as I said earlier, making sure that you have your people that understand why you're using this technology, what are the benefits and how you can translate that into a stickiness for our customers’ customers, you know, because it's not just selling to our customers, they also have users there in that they want to get closer to. So this is something that's inherent in our DNA, technology is what Intive is about. So when we go into an engagement, we help the customer through our design capabilities, look at visioning and visualizing what a potential customer journey would look like, and then we take our great engineers and our CTO functions to actually put together a solution and an architecture to execute that. So I think this is something in our DNA, and it’s something any organization that wants to be successful has to have that going forward. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: What leadership capabilities do you seek for your top team to manage the fast pace of innovation and the arrival of new technologies? And further, which skills and capabilities are you trying to develop in the next generation of leaders so Intive can stay ahead?

Gurdeep Grewal: I think, as I said before, technologists is something that we are in our DNA, so anybody that's in our leadership needs to have a technology background. But more importantly, they need to have a passion on how they can help customers understand and utilize those technologies in a, you know, business sense. So it's not just about technology for the sake of technology, it's about translating that to, as I mentioned earlier, you know, the customer journey, the architecture. But also our focus as a company is to be a leading design and engineering business in our chosen vertical. So our business leaders need to come from strong technology, but they also need to understand the domain. And this is something that we have defined in Intive as something that we call DDE, which is domain, design, and engineering. And everybody goes through that immersion of, you know, that methodology that we take to our customers, but also our leaders are actually embroiled in that understanding. So that they also then become leaders who build, you know, digital solutions, which are, you know, real, they're robust, which actually encompass some of the trends that we talked about—AI, data insights, content manipulation, streaming. These are all things that we want to bring to our customers and actually help their customers to have answers at their fingertips, which is really where the stickiness comes in. And if you look at our model within Intive—and this is where I think, you know, technology is important in our leaders—is that we're always building bespoke solutions for our customers, you know, we're always helping to design it and build it from scratch. So as leaders, we need to understand what that means, how you execute that, how you create value in that. And then training, as I mentioned earlier, training is really, really important. So we have an L&D function that we have created across Intive globally, and it's one training platform that everybody in Intive uses to, whether to train themselves, whether they're an engineer or whether they're a designer or whether they're an architect or whether they're a cloud expert or, you know, whether they're a data expert. They are the people that actually use this platform to build their careers, but also be very efficient and effective in how they engage with customers. So when my people go and talk to our customers, when they talk to the very first person, you know, it could be a salesperson or a sales leader, this person will have a technology bias. When they go and talk to our CTO, by definition there'll be a technology bias there. When they talk to our solutions architects or their technical architects, these people also will have a bias around technology. So you can see this is DNA that we build at all levels, and then our business leaders come in through with design and domain, and they also are architected to having the same knowledge around this DDE platform, as I mentioned to you. So it becomes like, you know, a DNA that, you know, a culture that keeps spreading and spreading through the organization. And I call it a gene pool. I think creating that gene pool in your company where everybody touches the elements I've just talked about, it makes our leaders much stronger, it makes our technical people much stronger, customers get a high level of confidence that we are the sort of business that they should work with. And I think if we can then, you know, create our leaders to also not just think about technology, and I think this is a really important part, is from an ESG point of view, what we've got to create is got to be strong economically but socially, but also inclusive. And those are elements we also build into how we build our organization. We need to have that diversity and inclusion, as I mentioned to before. We also need to have senior executives that are women in business, I think that's important. And one of the things that I always ask my leaders to be is always open for change and have an open mind and actually have, you know, good listening skills. Because at the end of the day, we all sometimes think we all know what to do, but sometimes you can get, you know, by listening to the right people or even somebody that's just come into the business, they will have a different perspective. And this also goes back to your question earlier about, you know, acquisitions. You know, when we bring in different nationalities, some diversity, you open up minds of different thinking processes and that again adds to that DNA that we create within Intive. So I think good, strong technology DNA, that gene pool I talked about, being open to change, listening. And I think lastly, not many people talk about this, but having fun. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: So the final question. Looking ahead and keeping in mind what we just spoke about, what do you think is next for the tech industry and what can leaders do today to be prepared for that? 

Gurdeep Grewal: Well, this is a great question, and I think, you know, in our industry change is constant. We are moving from one tech to the next tech, but also our customers are changing. And as we've seen over the last few years, global supply chains are changing, and we saw that acceleration from Covid. So for us as an organization, and for many organizations, customer loyalty is key. So as we build our leaders for the future, our leaders also need to adapt to this fast change that's happening today globally. We're seeing competition that we've never had before. We're seeing how our leaders are having to deal with people not being in offices, and working in a hybrid environment. We also know hiring today in our world is that you've got to have flexibility on where you hire, and how you hire. And if you look at our global workforce, the majority of these people are not in our offices anymore. You know, for example, in LatAm we have people, 1,000 people, where we have probably a small percentage come into our offices, but we're in every single country in LatAm. Again you need to make sure that you induct people, you create that DNA that I mentioned earlier, so they feel part of your organization, but also to ensure that we can move at speed to induct people, to have them involved in our business. And our leaders need to be very agile in ensuring that we have that capability they can implement, they have the tools they can implement. You need to have the platforms so that you can run a business end to end, and I think that's something we implemented in Intive very, very fast. And you also need to have leaders that are thinking about how you work going forward, how you adopt all these ESG elements into your proposition, but also think about what's the impact on your staff, what's the impact on people that will be coming into your business, but also the impact on our customers. So try and build that into our capabilities and ensure that you know, the supply chains that we've created can service our customers on a global basis, but also be able to pivot very, very quickly on new technology. You know, we saw metaverse was a very high, high-level buzz happening, and now we have AI, which I think will actually have a bigger impact than the metaverse did have. And I also think that a lot of companies will be looking for solution companies to build products for them, rather than implementing very large scenarios, like in the old days, when ERP is taking years to implement. Today our leadership and our teams have to implement products in three months, or six months, and this is where I think strong guidance, leadership, and teams working in a very agile, common way will create success. 

Lukasz Kiniewicz: So, Gurdeep, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. It was a pleasure. 

Gurdeep Grewal: Same here. Thank you so much for asking me and inviting me to this. 

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About the interviewer

Lukasz Kiniewicz ( is the partner in charge of Heidrick & Struggles’ Warsaw office and co-leader of the Digital Infrastructure Practice in Europe.

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