Empowering AI and Customer Experiences Through Digital Transformation

Explore how Travelers is using technology to drive customer experience and improve operations. Learn about their digital transformation, use of AI, team management strategies, and the future of insurance. A must-watch for business and technology leaders.

42:35

Aug 04, 2023
13,768 Views

In this episode of CXOTalk, Mojgan Lefebvre, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology & Operations Officer for Travelers, a leading insurance company, explains how the company is making big changes to stay current in today's tech-driven world.

The discussion covers a wide range of topics that are key to understanding how technology and culture are coming together to reshape the way insurance companies operate. Our guest co-host for this episode is QuHarrison Terry, the Chief Growth Officer for the Mark Cuban Companies

Key points from this episode include:

  • Digital transformation and customer experience: How Travelers is using new technology to improve how they connect with customers
  • Using AI and data: The role of artificial intelligence and data analysis in driving innovation at Travelers 
  • Talent and culture: The importance of managing change and supporting team members while the company is transforming
  • Looking ahead: A look at the long-term impact of modern technologies on the insurance business, and how Travelers is working to build trust with customers while addressing new challenges

Join us to learn more about how one company is navigating the complex mix of technology, people, and leadership. Whether you're in the business, a technology fan, or just curious about what's next, this episode has something for you.

Mojgan Lefebvre is Executive Vice President and Chief Technology & Operations Officer for Travelers, a company with $32 billion in revenues and the only property casualty insurer on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Prior to Travelers, Lefebvre was CIO for Liberty Mutual’s Global Risk Solutions. She also held a variety of senior business and technology leadership roles across the financial, high-tech and biomedical industries, including strategy consulting firm Bain, technology provider EMC and medical device provider bioMérieux.

An Iranian American who immigrated to the U.S. in 1985, Lefebvre has lived in six countries and speaks three languages. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and her undergraduate degree in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

QuHarrison Terry is head of growth marketing at Mark Cuban Companies, a Texas venture capital firm, where he advises and assists portfolio companies with their marketing strategies and objectives.

Michael Krigsman is an industry analyst and publisher of CXOTalk. For three decades, he has advised enterprise technology companies on market messaging and positioning strategy. He has written over 1,000 blogs on leadership and digital transformation and created almost 1,000 video interviews with the world’s top business leaders on these topics. His work has been referenced in the media over 1,000 times and in over 50 books. He has presented and moderated panels at numerous industry events around the world.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: Welcome to Episode 800 of CXOTalk. We're speaking with Mojgan Lefebvre, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology and Operations Officer of Travelers Insurance. We're talking about digital transformation and customer experience. My guest co-host is QuHarrison Terry, Chief Growth Officer at the Mark Cuban Companies. 

Mojgan Lefebvre: My role, as you said, heading up technology and operations, is really leading our technology, our data and analytics, cybersecurity. Then on the business operations side, it includes everything from business resiliency to customer service, premium audit, billing, and a whole bunch of things that are about customer service.

Michael Krigsman: Your role is very much involved with digital transformation and with customer experience. Do you want to give us a little bit of an overview about that? You have a very unusual title.

Mojgan Lefebvre: It's really two functions that aren't necessarily inherently always together, but I think they're very connected. Through the customer operations and service lens, I and my organization, we have the opportunity to truly see the interaction with the customers, which is really what it's all about.

When we think of digital transformation, we don't necessarily use those terms. We talk about our transformation as our transform agenda, and it's our innovation and transform agenda. Really, what it encompasses is making sure that we are serving our customers the way they want, delighting them every step of the way, serving them how they want and through any channel that they want. 

It's all about the customer experience, and this is not something that has always been the case in the insurance industry. I'd say it's probably something that started with the advent of the consumerization of IT, of course. We've seen it in every industry, and it's happening as we speak in ours as well.

Improving the mobile experience for Travelers’ customers

QuHarrison Terry: Could you give an example of how you envision the tech that you're working on today transforming and enhancing some of those customer experiences that are existing and soon to be coming?

Mojgan Lefebvre: Some of what we've done over the last few years is truly enhancing the mobile experience where, from your mobile phone, you can pull up your policy. You can get a certificate of insurance. You can pay your bill. Then, if you're unfortunate and do actually have an accident and want to file a claim, there is a whole slew of capabilities that you can actually perform on your mobile phone. 

These weren't things that we had before. Actually, the rating we had several years ago on the iOS was 2.7. Today, it stands at over 4.5.

QuHarrison Terry: You're managing the expectation, right? The customers expect X because that's the world we live in, and that's where the technological innovations have existed. When you have a legacy brand like Travelers where you're known for doing what you do, you're making sure that you're not too far behind, but you're right where you need to be, and it's a seamless experience. 

Mojgan Lefebvre: Absolutely. I couldn't have said it better myself. We're all about really delivering on our promise, which is to take care of our customers at their most difficult times. 

That is absolutely our core, that's what we're known for, and that's what everybody loves us for. We want to make sure that we're leveraging technology to deliver that promise as effectively and in the most modern way possible, as you said, exactly the way our customers expect it. 

Cultural aspects of digital transformation and customer experience

Michael Krigsman: You mentioned that your rating in the app store went from pretty low to very high. There must be a cultural, organizational dimension behind that because I don't think it's a matter of, "Oh, well, now we have better technology." Well, you had good technology before as well. Can you elaborate on that aspect of it?

Mojgan Lefebvre: For me, I always say that the toughest thing about technology and technology initiatives isn't necessarily the actual technology itself. It's the adoption. It's the change management. It's people being open to that. 

I agree that the mindset, the culture, and how an organization is, is probably one of the core elements of how that works. Really, your talent, that's core to making all of this transformation. 

As I joined the organization, we set out on making sure that we established, first of all, our strategic priorities where we said we are going to continue to invest in our people, so investing in our people. Secondly, it was evolving the way we work. 

We were working a very traditional way that IT organizations work with their business where things are thrown over the wall and you go off and you work for months – or at least that's how it used to be – or a year or two, and then come back and say, "Here. I've built you the solution." 

And so, it was truly moving us away from that, ensuring that we started always with what's the business problem we're solving. What's the expectation of the customer or the stakeholder? We definitely drove kind of an agile transformation and drove a product mindset into the organization and started also simplifying and modernizing everything.

We very much started on our culture. Our teams pull together and established our cultural beliefs. It was first and foremost customer-first. The second one was to make sure that we are prioritizing. Then I think probably the third cultural belief that made all the difference in the world was our test and learn. 

Prior to that, everybody believed that whenever we were doing something, we had to just strive for it to be perfect and, regardless of what goes wrong, don't change your path. I think, in today's world, you actually have to be as flexible as possible, recognize when something is not working, and pick up from there. Learn from it and pivot. 

That was really probably what gave our people the freedom to think more openly, to understand how innovation works, and so it was absolutely a cultural transformation as much as everything else.

Michael Krigsman: What was the underlying driver that made you want to undertake? You're an enormous company. You have about 30,000 employees and almost $40 billion in revenue. Why? Why did you do this?

Mojgan Lefebvre: As I go back to my roots, having been born in Iran many years ago, then being there when we had a revolution, our government was changed, and so really, I would say, probably the future of women completely went down the tube, so to speak. I knew that, as a woman, I really wouldn't have the opportunity to bring my ambitions, which were big always.

I don't really know what the source of that was, but I was always pushing myself. And so, as I graduated high school, I worked for a year. Saved some money because my parents couldn't really afford to send me anywhere. 

I was lucky enough to get a student visa to come to the U.S. I guess the rest is history.

QuHarrison Terry: On that challenge, I want to ask a question. This is going to get into a bit of your background, but I'm going to transition us to one of the things that, when I saw your title, the thing that screamed to me was, okay, you're at Travelers. Everyone knows that it's a big data company. Insurance is a data play on all sides, right?

Mojgan Lefebvre: Yeah.

QuHarrison Terry: I give them my data. I get a quote. I pay the quote, premium. You help me out if I get in an unfortunate situation. Pretty streamlined and easy-to-understand business.

One of the things that's changed in our economy today is, as things have become more digital, the data in itself is very, very valuable. We are living in an economy where basically anyone with your role or your title is the chief scapegoat officer, right? If something goes wrong, if there's ransomware, if the technology doesn't work, that blame is placed on you. 

Managing a transformation team

My question for you is, in this world of cybersecurity and ransomware threats and, quite frankly, burnout, how have you kept going? How are you managing that with a company of this size?

Mojgan Lefebvre: I've learned that the company that you join, their mission, who they're about, and their culture is absolutely paramount and important in enjoying your job. I don't think our organization is one where anyone ever gets blamed for one thing.

Now, I know that you were dramatizing that in the form of, "Look. All of these are room for risk, huge risk, and really catastrophes happening, so to speak." You're right. Whether it's the cybersecurity role or if it's the business continuity role, which is a business role, and anything from the pandemic to all of the resources that we had externally (not just for the technology organization, but also for our claim organization and others), making sure that our relationships with those vendors were right. Those are all kind of in the purview of my organization.

Obviously, no leader can do anything on their own and all the credit obviously goes to the organization that you build and how cohesive that group is, truly bringing the best talent onboard and making sure that you're developing them and helping them do what they do best. We are lucky, and I am lucky, to have a phenomenal team, whether it's our chief information security officer or who we have at the helm of our business resiliency. These are some of the top talent and they're empowered to do their job as effectively.

Do things go wrong? Absolutely. But the thing is, if something goes wrong, I take responsibility for it. I strive that if things go right, it's obviously their doing. But my job is to make sure that I just remove the problems for them and then make sure that we perform the best possible way.

I have yet to feel like, "Oh, my God. I'm going to be blamed for this thing."

Supporting team members to protect against burnout

QuHarrison Terry: One thing that you mentioned is the pandemic and just the current landscape of cybersecurity issues. Could you share an example of how you're managing burnout with your team? 

What I'm seeing on my end is I've got rockstars, A-players, and it's 2023, middle of the year, and I'm dealing with burnout from my A-players, people that I would have never thought or expected to just be in these spaces where they're just not kicking in all their gears. 

They got us to here, right? They got us through all the crazy stuff that just ensued not too long ago. 

I'm curious, what are you seeing at Travelers, and how are you managing that (just given your role and position)? 

Mojgan Lefebvre: Yeah. There are absolutely times where you know and you feel that there's burnout. You've got to be aware of that. You've got to make sure that you're rewarding people, that you acknowledge that. I encourage them to take their time off. 

I always do my best not to email any of my team members over the weekend unless it's absolutely necessary. Just behaviors like that, I think, will go a long way.

But at the end of the day, I think the world we live in is the pace is just going to keep getting faster and faster. We just have to become better, as individuals, to manage it, to make sure that we're taking care of ourselves because, without that, without being healthy, nothing will happen.

Our CEO actually introduced his top 40 leaders in our organization (that we call our operating committee) to Why It's Important to Sleep. It's a book that's based on the science of sleep. That was the book that he sent to all of us and encouraged us to provide it also to our team members. 

He said, "If you don't sleep," and I think everybody knows that now, but there's just so much science behind it. I think that just shows the culture of the company and how much the organization cares about our people and our talent that we're very proud of.

Michael Krigsman: Please subscribe to our newsletter. Just go to CXOTalk.com, and we will send you our newsletter with upcoming shows, live shows, and you can participate every time. And subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Leveraging data and AI at Travelers

We've been talking about data and transformation. AI is the great driver of transformation or certainly going to be one of them. I know you're doing things with AI. Can you tell us what you're doing? But what I'm really interested in is how do you use those capabilities to, again, drive transformation.

Mojgan Lefebvre: First and foremost, I'd say we know that there will be no AI strategy or execution at scale without really having a data strategy; understanding that both the quality and then, as Qu pointed out, the volume of data is absolutely critical. 

For us, we've been around for 165+ years, so the amount of data that we have, which we of course treat with the highest respect and ensure the privacy and security of our customers because that's the crux of the relationship with us, we have that. Now, with the third-party sources of data that are available and that are really powerful, I think that's truly one of the deepest parts of our competitive advantage, so to speak. 

Everything that we do in terms of whether we're writing a risk and evaluating that risk to how we price it to how much reserves we put aside, and then all the way to the customer experience and what their interactions have been with us and how to personalize their experience to ensure that our customers stay with us. Their retention, of course, has a huge impact to our company (as to any company). We leverage that data, and we have done so for many years, to absolutely build models for all of the functions that I talked about.

Then five years ago, we actually established our AI accelerator, which is very focused on machine learning and automation. We've got practices that are focused on (with the combination of some of the geospatial capabilities that we've developed) leveraging both vision AI and other types of automation to, for example, identify the shape of a roof and to do it as accurately as possible, and to segment the data into as small parcels as possible.

All of these have continued to help us do underwriting in a much more effective way. We're known for being one of the best underwriting organizations in the world of insurance, which is really the core of it. 

Then from a customer experience perspective, we've got models that we've built that, for example, can identify (after a wildfire) total damaged homes from images that we have both pre and post the catastrophe without having to send any of our claim folks out there. So, our people are much safer.

We inform our customers if something like that has happened. When they flood their homes, they really don't even know what's happened. We call them up, give them the bad news, but also tell them that we're there to take care of them as far as the claim process. For over 90% of our claims, we actually handle them under 30 days, which is really an industry benchmark. 

AI has absolutely been critical and core to what we do, and we're very focused on it. Now with generative AI, we've been working on large language models for the past few years. We've leveraged those in continuing to improve how submissions come in.

As submissions, thousands of them come in, how do you triage those? How do you leverage these models to actually filter them and make sure that we're sending the best ones to our underwriters? Really reducing that time from when the submission comes in to when we provide the quote from days to hours. 

These are just some of the areas that we're focused on in terms of leveraging artificial intelligence.

Leading the Travelers AI Lab

Michael Krigsman: You mentioned AI accelerator lab. Can you tell us just briefly about that? I'm really interested in how that's organized.

Mojgan Lefebvre: Sure. 

Michael Krigsman: How do you organize it and how does it fit into the broader whole – just briefly?

Mojgan Lefebvre: This is one of our teams that we've established as a center of expertise that goes horizontally, so to speak. Really, their mission is to first of all make sure that we always have our hands on the pulse of what's going on in the industry (as it relates to AI in this case).

Then they're also there to not only make sure that they themselves have the best skills, but that they are actually enabling the rest of the organization to do so as well, so through establishing, becoming, being the subject matter experts for the content that we develop for our learnings that we have in the area of AI, and conducting learning classes for that or actually taking in some of our engineers from other areas so that they can become experts as part of learning and doing, and then putting them back out in the organization. 

It's really a way for us to advance our R&D, but then also make sure that we're extending that to other people in the organization. Again, at the end of the day, I think every single one of our technologists needs to know AI the same way that we say everybody needs to know the cloud and how to execute in that environment.

This is part of our data and analytics organization, which is another horizontal. In my organization, I've got the business unit CIOs that I think of as verticals who are very aligned to the business units, understanding what the business needs are, what the business problems are. Then we've got a set of horizontal capabilities that are really foundational and enablers for the entire organization. 

We have a motto at Travelers, which is "Common as possible and unique as necessary," so that we can leverage our scale and really take advantage of building things once and then making sure others can take advantage of that. In order to do that, really, those horizontal platform teams are focused on some of those capabilities. 

The obvious one, of course, is infrastructure, which every company has as a horizontal. But then, above that, it's our architecture organization, our digital organization, our enterprise data and analytics organization. Again, these are ones that are providing capabilities horizontally across the board and then building platforms that are common that can be then leveraged as services throughout the organization.

QuHarrison Terry: One of the things that I want to talk on, as you're mentioning the infrastructure, is you don't just have one iOS app. I think you have several. One of them that I think I noticed when I was just doing a bit of research was the IntelliDrive, Travelers IntelliDrive.

Mojgan Lefebvre: Yeah.

Building customer trust with data

QuHarrison Terry: It's very rare that someone gets to sit down with the CTO or someone at this level and ask them, what are you doing with that data? My insurance company wants me to download the same app, and I'm a little skeptical. I'm not the only person. But I'm curious, as a customer, from the customer end, why should I trust you with all of that data?

Mojgan Lefebvre: We tell our customers what we do with the data. We want that data just because we'll use it as kind of a score of how you drive. 

If you're a great driver, we actually give you a break on your price. If you're not such a great driver, then your price goes up.

We are very transparent about this because, again, we absolutely believe in trust being important. 

I would say insurance companies inherently are not trusted. People do not trust insurance companies. But we believe we are the kind of insurance company that has proven that, whether it's through what happens when you have a claim or the fact that we have never abused the data that we've had for 160+ years.

QuHarrison Terry: What's the baseline of a good driver, because a good driver in Texas is a lot different than a good driver in New Jersey? Right? 

Mojgan Lefebvre: Right. Well, I would say it's probably everything from staying within the speed limit to how many times you abruptly stop or to, ultimately, how many accidents you have. Clearly, you don't need telematics for that. 

It's really that and then distracted driving, of course, which is one of the biggest causes of deaths in this country. It's something we're very focused on, and that's another thing that we just want to make sure that people are focused on driving when they're doing so.

Technology impacts on the future insurance business model

QuHarrison Terry: We've got an interesting question from the audience from Lisbeth Shaw. She's asking, "How are the stressed on the insurance business model, as it stands, impact the digital transformation and customer experience solutions that you're providing?"

Mojgan Lefebvre: I would say, lucky enough, that working for a company where, financially, we've been extremely successful – knock on wood – over the past many years. We're very focused on shareholder value and return on equity. 

Double-digit return on equity is one of the elements of financials that we absolutely drive towards and have been doing so. If you look at our stock price, I think it shows.

Having said that, of course, we're very aware of what's going on. But the wonderful thing is that our leaders also realize that a lot of what's going on only makes our transformation all that more important. 

Everything we do, of course, has to be very, very focused, related, and connected to the business outcomes that our business leaders want. So, we have yet to cut our budget, so to speak.

We annually spend $1.5 billion on technology and, again, over half of that is really investments in new capabilities. We've driven down the cost of our run to enable the investments.

As of now, we've been very responsible in how and what we spend and that there are business cases behind it. But at the same time, I have not yet been asked to stop any of what we're doing. What we try to do is prioritize as much as possible because, frankly, some of it is, when there's so much change, making sure we can actually perform, deliver, and then, more importantly, absorb all of the change that we're creating. 

That's a great question.

Michael Krigsman: Here's another really interesting one from Arsalan Khan on Twitter. Arsalan always listened, and I should call him the great questioner because he always comes up with these really thoughtful questions.

The role of IT in driving culture change

He says this: "IT alone cannot change culture. Should IT intervene if they see something that is happening that could cause the culture to be negatively affected?"

Mojgan Lefebvre: I always tell our team, "We are the technology organization. We are IT." In our case, we're IT and operations. "But we're also Travelers, and we're probably Travelers first."

And so, not everything we do is just to make sure that our piece of the pie is working, but that what we're doing is the right thing for the company as a whole. I would say to every single one of us, actually, if something is happening that isn't good for the culture, we should feel accountable and do feel accountable and responsible to make sure that we're doing the right thing, whether it's letting our manager know or reaching out to our HR organization. 

Actually, our CEO Alan Schnitzer, everybody has his email. He puts it up every time (not that he needs to). He puts it up in every town hall that he has (once a quarter), and he said, "Call me, email me," and people do.

People do, and sometimes it's valid and sometimes it's not. But it's again a culture that allows for that, and so, yeah. Whether you're IT, HR, sales, or anything, I think everybody feels that they could do that.

You're right. IT alone absolutely cannot. We've got a very strong cultural foundation that goes across our enterprise as a whole. It's only together that we can change the culture, as you're pointing out.

Michael Krigsman: What kind of practical advice can you offer to technology leaders around this culture issue? You mentioned the importance of IT folks to understand that, yes, they're IT but, more importantly, they're part of their larger organization. Frankly, for many IT folks, that's a really hard lesson to get across.

Mojgan Lefebvre: Yeah, because we've been in the background for so long, or we've been focused on that back office, so to speak. In today's world, you guys started the conversation with customer experience, customer delight. The work we do impacts that directly.

I think really making sure that everybody knows why they do what they do every day. If they're working on a project, what's the problem that they're solving? Who is the customer? Who is the stakeholder? Being confident knowing that they are there, and they are there as equals, and not being afraid and thinking, "Well, we're IT. We shouldn't. It's not our job to do that."

Really, I always say, "You're a businessperson first. Then you've got your skillsets." The same way a finance person is a finance person, but they're a businessperson and they've got their finance skills. Or someone has got their underwriting skills, and so on and so forth.

It is a change. It is absolutely a change. 

I'd say the ability to make sure that you're communicating openly, that you're partnering with other parts of your business that you're there to help and that you're actively participating in solving problems. I think those are the behaviors that, over time, will, first of all, make sure that everybody else agrees with that perspective, that you act that way, and continue to make sure that people are aware of your knowledge of the business.

Make sure you understand your business. You probably are at the best place in any company to understand many parts of your business. You can understand everything in so many functions because every single function has a lot of technology involved in it these days.

QuHarrison Terry: I want to bridge off of that. Follow me here. In insurance, underwriting is your bread and butter, right? 

Mojgan Lefebvre: Mm-hmm. 

AI impacts on the future of insurance underwriting

QuHarrison Terry: That's when you ask yourself. You're going to look at the risk. You're going to determine if you, as Travelers the insurance company, will insure it. Then if, yes, you guys will give a price and said person pays the premium, the policy. 

We're in an era where generative AI has turned everyone to this thing called automation. A lot of leaders now have on their desk, "How can we automate this process?" or "How can we make technology support what we're doing with less people?" 

In 2030, do you think underwriting exists as we know it? Right now, that process does involve quite a few people. There are people involved in it.

Mojgan Lefebvre: I'll say nothing will exist as we know it: underwriting, a claim, even IT, coding, engineering. That I'm comfortable saying.

What will it look like? I have no clue. I'll just tell you, what will it look like? Will there be more automation there? Absolutely. 

I think that, again, first of all, you can have very positive or very negative views about the whole AI thing. I think, first and foremost, I truly hope that the right regulations get put in place with the help of our governments. 

I hope that companies establish ethical frameworks through which they will operate, which we absolutely have done. We call it our responsible AI framework.

It's very, very connected, by the way, to the way we've done models and modeling the pricing, ensuring that there's no bias or at least as little as possible. We're going to continue these things. 

Now, the way we're approaching AI and how generative AI can help is really how can it help us get our underwriters, our claim people to focus on the more valuable things and let automation do a lot of the grunt work for them. 

For example, one of the solutions that we've just created a pilot for is for our claim professionals. They have a lot of knowledge that has been curated over time, but it's in dozens if not hundreds of documents. 

We've created our own GPT capabilities. We call it Claim GPT. It's operating pretty effectively where the claim professional can ask it questions and our chief claims officer was saying it's amazing, the level of accuracy it's coming back with. I think, again, we're thinking of it as how it's an assistant.

Now, I have no doubt that people, of course, are worrying about, well, will my job become redundant? But I'd say probably all of our jobs are at some sort of risk, and the white collar jobs probably more than any other, so if you're a programmer, if you're a developer.

The challenge of hallucinations and model drift in generative AI

QuHarrison Terry: On Claim GPT, you've built this. It's already existing. How are you dealing with drift, the whole concept of, it's accurate, and then the model starts to enlarge and elongate? Then it starts to drift and misrepresents the data. 

Mojgan Lefebvre: When you build models and you train them, like machine learning models, and you train them, drift is absolutely part of it, as many other things. There's a whole slew of things, as part of our machine learning operations, which we've got a group very focused on that, to make sure that we're training as frequently as possible.

Now with the cloud, that's much more feasible than it used to be. Again, our data scientists have been building models for a long time, so there are a lot of practices that we've put in place very focused on this.

Michael Krigsman: How do you ensure that the models that you're using don't hallucinate, don't bring in data from the Internet, and essentially make stuff up?

Mojgan Lefebvre: We are doing a huge amount of tests on learning in the field of generative AI. We're very aware.

Actually, the generative side of it is based on the fact that it can hallucinate. It can create content that wasn't there yet. Now, many times that content can be accurate, but many times that content can be just, I guess, hallucinations that are completely false. 

I think there are definitely elements and things that can be changed in the model to increase or decrease the amount of hallucinations. It's like finding the right settings for that. 

Then what we're doing, of course, is we are going to leverage our own data to train. We're not letting the models just go out to the Internet and find anything.

As we leverage, whether it's the existing large models like the open AI or Amazon's Bedrock or others, or open-source LLMs, that we're training them, again, on our own data. That's the critical part. The beauty of it is it's got the capabilities that the LLM had but it's actually leveraging our data that we trust. 

Michael Krigsman: We have a project that's going on right now with Harvard Business School where they're analyzing the 800 episodes of CXOTalk transcripts to look for trends over time and things like that. We wanted to put it into a model, and so we did this. 

The first thing is, we started asking it questions. It started giving us these amazing quotes from CIOs, from all these different incredible people. The only thing is, as we started going back to look at it, the folks never said these things. 

Mojgan Lefebvre: I think the technology leaders, at least those I talk to frequently, we're very, like, "This is one of the first times that we're just so high on this technology."

Is there hype around it? I'm sure there's some level of hype.

But at the same time, now you've got consumers involved in the interaction. This is one of the first times where consumers are interacting with this technology, so it's not going to just go away.

Let's put it this way. This is different from the metaverse and all those other things. Which, by the way, I think they have promise and they will be relevant to whatever industries they are and maybe to all at some point. The same for blockchain. 

But this one, we just think this is extremely relevant. I'd say AI as a whole, by the way. 

There's AI and now with generative AI. It's another level.

QuHarrison Terry: When I think of AI and where it's at today, it's interesting to hear that everyone is dealing with the same problems. It doesn't matter if you're a one-person team or a several-hundred-person team and you're working with these models. You're dealing with the same consequences. 

In some cases, they're not. They're not much different than the real world. The AI now has its own perception or experience that it thinks happened. And we're saying, "No, that's wrong." 

But it's not much different than if someone on this show will hear something that I said entirely differently than I intended it or that it was perceived. Just because that's their perception, it's not that they're wrong. It's just that that's how they view things. 

It gets very hypothetical and theoretical. I think that's why this AI thing makes everyone very queasy. 

Michael Krigsman: Let me ask a question from LinkedIn very quickly. This is from Mike Prest, who is a chief information officer at a private equity investment group. I'm going to ask you to answer this really quickly because we're simply going to run out of time. 

"As you build out customer-facing applications, what are your thoughts on the challenges in developing AI-driven virtual agents, as well as the potential opportunities to drive innovation and growth?" The challenges and opportunities of AI virtual agents, really quickly, please.

Mojgan Lefebvre: AI virtual agents, they've been there. Attempts have been made. I think the accuracy of them has not necessarily always been perfect. But then there are companies who are leveraging them, of course. 

I think that with generative AI, that's going to become... That's one of the areas that's very promising and is going to be an opportunity for more AI-driven virtual agents to be leveraged and to make it better for the customer because if it's good, the customer doesn't even realize that it's virtual.

Advice for business leaders and women in technology

QuHarrison Terry: I want to ask a couple of questions regarding just your personal story that you shared with us earlier. One of those is you grew up in Iran, and you end up (through a series of journeys) at this role at one of the largest organizations in the world. 

One of the questions I have is (just delineating off that) what were the skillsets that helped you just navigate a world where there are not that many people of color, and there are not that many women, especially, in the market?

Mojgan Lefebvre: I think, at the end of the day, it comes down to the basics. I say, regardless of what your role is, communication is at the core of it. The ability to express, tell a story, to inspire, both written and verbal, and everything. I say communication, communication, communication.

Then I say relationships, the ability to work with people, to have them like you. If you are leading a team, they'll do a lot more for you if they like you than if they don't. 

Then I'd say the third is I think many people are very hesitant to take risks. As I look back to my journey, I would say, "Look. When I left Iran at the age of 19, I'd actually gotten into medical school, which was always my dream to become a doctor." Well, I clearly did not become one.

I knew what I wanted, ultimately, in terms of having far more freedom as a woman than where I was. It was a risk. I could have come to the U.S. and not been successful academically or not have been able to support myself and so on and so forth.

Being resilient and taking the risk. The worst-case scenario would be I would have gone back. I guess that would have not been a good scenario, but that's how I think of it.

QuHarrison Terry: How did you go about building and developing your executive presence?

Mojgan Lefebvre: I think it happened really through work and practice. I think the best way to learn is really through doing. Without doing and without failing a few times, it's really hard to become very successful.

I remember when I was working before business school, so I was in my early 20s and was working at Computervision at the time. There was going to be a presentation. I went to my boss, and I said, "Hey, can I do this?" 

Now, people supposedly are as afraid of speaking publicly as they are of dying. That's the second fear that you have, dying and then speaking publicly.

It's putting yourself out there, working hard, practicing. Practicing because, of course, but then doing it, and then doing it enough times where you start to get comfortable and be confident.

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for other women who are interested in becoming obviously more senior in their careers and facing so many challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated career, profession?

Mojgan Lefebvre: Be confident. Don't be afraid of taking risks.

I think women might take that even one step farther where a lot of times they think three, four years out and say, "Oh, well, I'm going to have babies in three years, so I'm not going to take on this job." It's like, "Okay, well, why don't you wait until that happens and then worry about it?"

Things like that, I tell them, again, "Don't be afraid. The worst that can happen is it's not going to work out. You're going to learn something from it."

I say, "Go for it. If you want something, go for it. No one else is really going to take care of you. You have to think of yourself." 

But then also, "Build relationships and make sure you have allies who can play a huge role in your career." As I look back, there have been so many people that were instrumental in helping me get to where I am today.

QuHarrison Terry: When is your book coming out? You've got such an incredible story and there are so many things that everyone can learn from you. When is that announcement happening?

Mojgan Lefebvre: Oh, thank you, Qu. Now you're giving me an idea. [Laughter] Nothing in the plans yet, but I really appreciate that.

Michael Krigsman: Can we get one more question squeezed in here very fast from Twitter? Arsalan Khan comes back. He says something. This is his assertion. I don't know if I totally agree with this, but you can decide.

He says, "Shareholders want profit. Customers want trust. How do you strike the balance between profit and trust?" I understand what he's saying. 

Mojgan Lefebvre: Mm-hmm. 

Michael Krigsman: I don't think it's quite that simple a dichotomy. What do you think? 

Mojgan Lefebvre: Yeah. Yeah, and I don't think they go against each other, frankly, because what we say is if we're not a profitable company, we're not going to be viable to deliver the services that we deliver. But if we do it ethically, if we do it with trust, then we can create that trust. We think we can do both, and they absolutely don't go against each other.

Michael Krigsman: Mojgan, thank you so much for being here today with us.

Mojgan Lefebvre: Thank you, Michael. Thank you for having me, both of you. It's been a pleasure, Qu and Michael, talking to you. Really appreciate it.

Michael Krigsman: QuHarrison Terry, it is great to see you. It's been a very interesting conversation today.

Everybody, thank you for watching, especially those folks who ask such great questions. You're an amazing audience.

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With that, everybody, thanks again. Have a great day, and we'll see you again next time.

Published Date: Aug 04, 2023

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 800