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MANAGING THE FUTURE OF WORK | WWT: IT innovation rooted in diversity and employee wellbeing

Corporate social responsibility and commitment to a local workforce can go hand-in-hand with profitability. World Wide Technology in St. Louis is managing to thrive while dealing head-on with the pandemic and social and racial issues. One of the largest minority-owned businesses in the US, the 30 year-old privately held firm employs more than 6,000. The rare global tech firm based in the Midwest, it boasts a roster of Fortune 100 customers. CEO and co-founder Jim Kavanaugh discusses company’s evolution from value-added reseller to diversified IT firm and its longstanding emphasis on employee wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion.

November 18, 2020 3 minute read

In this podcast, Harvard Business School Professors Bill Kerr and Joe Fuller talk to leaders grappling with the forces reshaping the nature of work.
 

Bill Kerr: Sports metaphors aren't all that useful in business. But for some individuals experiences in one pursuit can benefit them in the other. Jim Kavanaugh's feet are firmly planted in both worlds. The former professional soccer player is CEO and co-founder of St. Louis-based global IT firm, World Wide Technology. He's also part owner of the St. Louis Blues Hockey Team and the new Major League Soccer franchise, St. Louis City SC. Faced with the coronavirus pandemic and rising national tensions over racial and social issues, World Wide Technology has relied on its inclusive workforce culture to navigate the crisis. Kavanaugh advocates an open and engaged leadership approach, stressing the need to build, entrust and foster collaboration, whether in responding to social issues or innovating in technology and business. Welcome to the Managing the Future of Work podcast from Harvard Business School. I'm your host, Kerr. In 1990 Kavanaugh joined David Steward in staring WWT, which, with over $11 billion in revenue ranked 30th on Forbes 2019 list of the largest private US companies. It's also one of the largest minority-owned businesses in the United States. Jim has overseen WWT's transition from value-added reseller to diversified IT firm offering infrastructure, services, and software development. He joins me to discuss his path from the soccer field to the board room, growing a major tech firm in St. Louis, Covid-19's effects on the IT sector, diversity, inclusion, and also corporate social responsibility. Welcome to the podcast, Jim.

Jim Kavanaugh: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Kerr: Jim, we don't typically get too many professional athletes on this podcast, so maybe you can just start by telling us about your background and what brought you to WWT.

Kavanaugh: Sure. I'll give you the condensed tour and description. But grew up, son of a bricklayer. Great parents, but I would say a very middle-class family. Had the good fortune of going to St. Louis University because I got a soccer scholarship. Enjoyed my time there and while there was able to get selected to play with the 1983 Pan-Am team and the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. I would say just from that perspective, just a number of things from soccer and sport that parlayed over into the business side of things. But when I reflect back on being able to travel to almost 30 different countries in 15 months, that just provided me such great insight, that I will be very honest, I had no idea of the benefits and the insights that I was getting at that time. After my years at St. Louis University, I played a couple of years of professional soccer. Then I opted to get into the real world and started with a privately held computer electronics distributor and then started World Wide Technology with Dave Steward and one other individual back in 1990.
 

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