THE CEO Who’s Designing The Future
Bracken Darrell, CEO, Logitech
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In the third episode of The Storied Future Podcast, Chris talks to Bracken Darrell, the CEO of Logitech, about how a design-led narrative can help any company reinvent itself.
In 2013, Logitech was a computer peripheral maker facing a bleak outlook due to a plateau in worldwide PC sales.
So Darrell hired Nokia design guru Alastair Curtis, moved R&D budget out of mice and keyboards and into sectors with growth potential, and reorganized the company around a set of design principles inspired by Dieter Rams.
In the process, he and Curtis transformed Logitech from an engineering-led company into a design-led company and kickstarted an era of growth for the company.
In this conversation, Chris and Bracken cover:
- How Bracken’s relationship with Dieter Rams made him a true believer in design thinking
- Bracken’s 2007 speech about the coming design revolution and how he brought that narrative to life
- Why he believed a faltering company was the ideal candidate to prove the power of design
- The childhood loss that drove Bracken’s relentless pursuit of a better future
- Why he fired and rehired himself—and why he makes his leadership team do the same
- Logitech’s commitment to a sustainable, carbon-negative, more inclusive future
And much more!
003 Bracken Darrell: The CEO Who’s Designing the Future
Bracken Darrell 00:00
So by the time I got the opportunity to go to Logitech I had this very strong opinion that, you know, a company could be reinvented using design. Every category can be reinvented using design and design thinking, and every aspect of the company could be.
Welcome to The Storied Future Podcast with Chris Hare, a show that provides the knowledge and inspiration C-suite leaders need to shift the future. Hear from experts, innovators, and purpose-driven leaders who have harnessed the power of strategic narrative to create lasting change.
Chris Hare 00:29
Hi, and welcome to The Storied Future Podcast. My name is Chris Hare and I'm glad you're here. Each episode I interview C-suite leaders, experts, and innovators who have created strategic narratives that change minds, change behavior, and change the future. My guest today is Bracken Darrell. Bracken is the CEO of Logitech. He started his career at PepsiCo and Arthur Andersen and then spent time at Whirlpool and Procter & Gamble. During his time at P&G, he served as the president of Braun where he was captured by the power of design. His experience at Braun shaped his worldview and inspired a new narrative that he carried to Logitech where he ultimately used it to help turn the company around. Back in 2013, Logitech was a computer peripheral maker facing stagnant growth that was due to a plateau and worldwide PC sales. After he arrived at Logitech, Darrell hired Nokia design guru Alistair Curtis, moved R&D budget out of mice and keyboards and into sectors with growth potential, and reorganize the company around a set of design principles that drew inspiration from those of famous German industrial designer Dieter Rams. In the process, he and Curtis transformed Logitech from an engineering led company to a design led company. In 2021, Logitech achieved 5.25 billion in sales, their highest ever, up 76% year over year. In this episode, I talk to Bracken about how his relationship with Dieter Rams made him a true believer in the power of design, the speech he gave in 2007 about the coming design revolution, and his long path to bring that strategic narrative to life, why he believed that a faltering company was the ideal candidate for him to prove the power of design, and the loss he experienced in his childhood that shaped his relentless pursuit of a better future. Let's dive in. Well Bracken, thanks for joining The Storied Future Podcast.
Bracken Darrell 02:26
Well, thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it.
Chris Hare 02:28
I wanted to start off, you've said that every person was a designer as a kid. And I'd love you to dig into that a little bit and understand how you expressed your inner designer as a child?
Bracken Darrell 02:40
Well, I think when I said that, I do believe that I think what designers do really well is they try to get to an optimal kind of solution, but they know it's not probably optimal. And then they put it out for test, and then it doesn't work perfectly, and they pull it back in, and they redesign it again. So design is a process of redesign, you know. And I think in a way, we grow up - when you're little you used to, I mean, the way you learn to pick up a glass and the waves, it's all trial and error, and you try to do the best you can, when you're whatever you are, a year and a half, the first time you pick up a glass. You put those five fingers around that vessel, you know, and you try to pick it up, and then you drop it. And you don't worry too much about it. Nobody yells at you for dropping a glass when you're a year old. And you kind of work your way through that same thing with walking, you know, you kind of stumble your way to the point where you're actually pretty good at walking. So that trial and error process is the part that I really prefer to think of when I think of great design. And I think, you know, when you get to school, though, you suddenly get given grades for getting it right. And if you're not careful, you can over-rotate, and most of us do - all of us do it - over-rotate towards getting it really perfect. You know, trying to get straight A's or A's and B's or good a grade as we can and not make mistakes. And that's probably not the best way to live your life, you know, and you need to continue. So you have to unlearn that when you get out of school. And some people do and some of us really never do completely and learning to live with errors or failure or whatever you want to call those. I don't like those words, but, you know, learn to live with those is a big part of it.
Chris Hare 04:21
I remember in kindergarten, I grew up in Virginia, far from any palm trees and our teacher asked us to draw palm trees. And she lined up 25 palm trees on the wall and they were all straight except mine and mine was bent. And I remember, she berated me in front of the class and said palm trees are not bent. They're all straight. And I knew I was right. And I said, have you ever been to an island? They’re, like, bent on the island. I'd never been to an island, right. But to your point like, that gutted me and I internalized that, right, and it became very much okay, how do I make what's bent straight like that's what I'm supposed to do in order to snap to, right?
Bracken Darrell 05:03
Yeah, yeah, that's exactly right. And, you know, probably everybody, whether they can remember it or not, has a story like that - whether they were coloring outside the lines and they were told try to color in them, or they were, you know, taking a test, and they took a test. And a test by definition is trying to find out what you get right and what you get wrong. All those things reinforce your natural instinct to please the people who are especially who are authorities to you. And so you end up adapting to a world where there's a right and there's wrong. There is a right and a wrong in so many things like morality and ethics. But there's not a right and wrong in so many things that we learn and grow through. And we all know that, but I can say that, and everyone in this podcast gonna go “Yeah”. But the truth is you don't actually operate that way. So I mean, of course, you need to keep learning. And that's what it's all about. And that's what you do as a child when you pick up that vessel for the first time, the second time, and apparently something like 100,000 times before you get it right.
Chris Hare 05:57
And so what were you - I'm curious, a little bit of what were you like, as a kid? And how did that kind of shape who you became eventually?
Bracken Darrell 06:04
Well, I was pretty shy. I was always tall when I was young, you know. So I grew up very fast. I had two older brothers, and they were very athletic. So we all do love sports. And because I was big and I was trying to keep up with older brothers, I was pretty good at sports. And so I kind of became a leader without deserving it. You know, I was, I was not very social, I was really nice. But I wasn't, I was just shy, you know, I didn't open my mouth, I have two older brothers, a younger sister. And the few times we were at the dining room table, I was just a complete mute. Then when I would go to school, or go into athletic stuff, I'd be a little more outgoing, you know. But I always got looked up to, you know, because I was physically bigger. Then as I grew up, you know, people caught up with me and height and then passed me, and I went from being the center of the basketball team to the point guard. At that point, I realized the NBA is not my future, and I should really think about what I really do love and I loved leadership, ironically, even though I don't think I really was a particularly good leader. And that was the that was the path I took into leadership was through sports, but kind of in an unconventional, I think it was an unconventional way.
Chris Hare 07:14
And then how did you, you know, kind of fast forwarding through college, like what drew you into business eventually?
Bracken Darrell 07:20
I originally, you know, like, I looked like most people probably do at some point in your life, you look at, you know, if I want to be a doctor or whatever, architect, which I thought about at one point, but if you want to be a leader, where where's leadership seem to matter? Where's it really high impact? And so my original thought was politics. You know, I thought, there it is, you know, that's where that's where the big leaders are, you know, I was 59, this was a long time ago. And so I read everything I could about great politicians. And then I thought, you know, maybe I'll try to be a senator or president of the United States, you know, like kids dream of. And then the more I got into that, I thought, well, okay, so looks like the best way to that is to be a lawyer. It seems like most of the politicians are lawyers. And then I did a summer internship as a law intern for a judge. And I got lucky enough to find a way into that. And boy, did I find it bureaucratic and slow and frustrating, and in a way unfair. And I thought, I always felt inside myself, I was a builder, not a repairer, and not just somebody who defended and protected things as they exist. I really like to build new things and create things. And so I thought, gosh, this just doesn't feel like it's going to be an exciting life to me. So then I started to think, well, it looks like there are other politicians who are business people, maybe that's the path. Then eventually, I decided I don't like politics at all, seems really bureaucratic, administrative anyway. And then this business thing’s really cool because you can get in create new things and have big impact on the world through the things you do. So that's the path I went to get into business. And I kind of worked through all that stuff. By the time I was about 23, 24.
Chris Hare 08:56
Yeah, I love that my teenage son wants to be president. And he said last week his idea is that when he gives his first speech, he's gonna yawn to make the entire country yawn at the same time. He said, like, no one's ever done that before. Let's work on your policy positions first, but no, that's pretty funny.
Bracken Darrell 09:13
Well, okay. Sounds like a natural. A lot of politicians make me yawn. So it seems like that's a good place to start.
Chris Hare 09:23
Exactly. Well, 2002 you took the helm as president of Braun. And I'd love to hear about kind of when you first encountered the philosophy of Dieter Rams - we were talking about him before - and then how his worldview shaped your approach.
Bracken Darrell 09:38
Yeah, you know, when I was a kid, to say I was really neat would be wrong. My papers were a mess in school, I couldn't keep track of anything, and I was always scrambling to figure out how to control stuff. But I did kind of like my room neat. And I associate that with an interest in kind of minimalism, sort of that we intuitively, a lot of us anyway, sort of intuitively have. When I look at your room, it’s sort of this combination of minimal and very clean and neat. So I always liked that. And I got a little bit interested in art back then. So when I found my way into Braun, I pretty quickly met or I’d heard about Dieter Rams a little before that. For those of you don't know, Dieter Rams is probably the most influential early consumer products designer in the kind of appliance/tech space. And so when I heard about him, and then as I got a little deeper into it, I realized, wow, they have really something special here. Design was first of all, it was kind of Bauhaus minimalism meets consumer electronics. And I thought that's a really cool space. And he created some real breakthrough products at the time. There were direct influences on Jonathan Ive, if you know him. I think Johnny Ive, if you got him on the show, he’d say the same thing. In fact, I have a story about that, but probably no time for it. So anyway, so I got very interested. And then the more I understood design, the more I reflected on wow, design’s actually, it's actually incredibly important to everything, you know, the concept of creating things and doing it with the user in mind. And understand the user maybe even better than the user understands themselves. That's what great design is. And then imagining breakthrough advantages that you can bring to that user, that other people haven't done before, is through new technologies, through existing technologies, just a creative idea. So I fell in love with that. And then the more I thought about it, the more I got excited about the idea that actually design, one of the things that Braun nobly tried to do was to run the whole business using those 10 principles of design. I used to interview people using those and I thought wow, that’s fascinating. I don't think it worked very well. But the idea was so strong that you could design anything.
Chris Hare 11:42
And was there a particular product that really captured your imagination?
Bracken Darrell 11:48
At Braun, I would say, it's hard for me to point out a particular product. But I would say it was really the real obsessive focus on detail, and craftsmanship, and not being afraid of new technology to make it happen. You know, I think the original record player that had a plexiglass top was created by Braun, by Dieter Rams. And it was this idea that you know, don’t you want to see the thing play while it’s there, you know, and it was very simple and clean. And that certainly did have an impact on many products that Braun did. And I don't, when I look back on those days that you know, there's things about Braun products today look really amazing today, and some look really old fashioned. But no matter what, they always have this same clean, iconic look that isn't a design motifs that I think you could look across all Braun products and say, look, that one looks just like the other one or as looks like it's from the same family. Each one was really designed optimally for the function it was for, which I really respected and have carried through with me today. I always say within Logitech I don't really care if they have a family. Look, I want each product to be optimal, I want each experience to be optimized.
Chris Hare 13:01
Yeah, I think let's go off trail just a little bit. You mentioned the Johnny Ives story. I'd love to click into that.
Bracken Darrell 13:07
Oh, well, you know, it's interesting because I've met with Dieter Rams several times, and then one time I met with him and a friend of his. He used to come to the meetings, our English was a little better than his was, although his was pretty good. She was a neighbor of his. And at some point in the conversation, it was about 2000… I don't know when 2000, I'm guessing it was 2007 or something? He said yeah, you know, I met this guy from Apple, this young man from Apple, and he came to see me and, I don't know if he came to see me or I went to see him, I don't know. But I met him and at the time he didn't mention his name, or he couldn't remember his name. And he said, and then later he sent me, and I said, Well, you know who it was? I kind of figured out that it was Jony Ive. And later, he sent me a product. You know, I thought that was it. So then I thought, well, that's interesting, that he sent a product. And I said to his assistant after, or his friend after, I said, Can you bring the product or tell me what the product was? She then called back and said, Well, it was the iPhone, and he told Dieter that the original calculator that was put on the iPhone, which is still almost the same today, was a direct lift from the calculator, the original calculator, that Dieter Rams had done, that design. And it was a tribute to Dieter Rams because he had such an influence on his passion for design, Johnny's passion for design. And I thought, Wow, what a great story I'd never heard before.
Chris Hare 14:25
Wow, that's amazing. Yeah, I won't look at the calculator the same way. That's awesome. So 2007, you are presenting at the BraunPrize, and you presented a strategic narrative on the coming design revolution. I'd love to hear a little bit about the future you envisioned and then also kind of the stages for getting there.
Bracken Darrell 14:47
Wow, you're really taking me back. I'm impressed that you know that! I didn't think anybody listened to me there, much less…. You really did. Well, I had this view. When I was in business school about 15 or 16 years before, I sat in the class and a bell rang for me. And the bell was, John Quelch was teaching the class. And he said, and for some reason it hit me all at once. He said, marketing is not just the communication, it’s the product itself. But to be a great marketer, you can also understand the cost structure, you've got to make it profitable, so that you can invest in it, you've got to have all these things. And the bell that rung for me was, oh my gosh, marketing is everything. Then I started my career and I made a decision right then and there, I was gonna start my path through products and marketing into the, to eventually try to run companies. And I did. And then somewhere along the way, I've discovered that marketing really was everything. I worked at P&G, where you're the center of the spoke, and everything kind of falls... Maybe to switch analogies, that the dominoes tend to always fall your way when you're the brand manager, which is also the head of product, because all the people around you really do realize that you're where it all comes together. So I love that. Then I discovered that one aspect of marketing I hated, which was a lot of marketing had become claimsmanship and kind of amplifying things that weren't really that different, but they were compelling to a buyer. And in a way not even if you're really literal about it not even truthful, you know. So I just fell out of love with marketing, I hated marketing. And I decided I don't want anything to do with marketing, I'm just gonna focus on great products and let themselves sell. So that's what I did for the next several years, I would be involved in brand, the brand building and marketing part, but my heart was not only not in it, I just felt like, I just don't want to do anything that's not about, you know, really authentic, great content, great product. And then when I landed abroad, and I, before I gave that speech, the light went on, the second bell rang for me, which was wait a minute, all this stuff I thought was marketing was really design. Design’s really the fundamental toolkit for everything. You know, if you're a great, you can be a great designer in manufacturing, you can be a great designer in supply chain, you can be a great designer in HR, you can be a great designer in everything. In fact, the optimal company in the world one day that the next great CEOs will be designers. Because whether they officially trained in that or not, they'll think that way. Because design is an iterative process aimed at imagining a future state and then delivering it through new technologies or existing technologies. And that's what it's all about. And so I thought we need to think more broadly about design, and Braun is a great place to start.
Chris Hare 17:27
So what were, you know, kind of going back to then, what were the stages that you recommended that companies follow to get there?
Bracken Darrell 17:34
I later kind of fleshed that out even further. I thought there are probably three – I don’t know if they’re stages – but three levels of design that companies get to. The first level back then was the most common, which was you created a product based on good technology and maybe good consumer insight. And then you brought in the design team to decorate it at the end. Usually the design team sat on the outside of the company, it was an external firm like IDEO or frog or somebody, and they had the impossible task of making the product amazing at the end. So they ended up having to focus on superficial things that were more about color and aesthetics than about really a great user experience. The second stage design, which I'd say most companies are in today – but there's a very, very big distribution curve where they sit on it – are those companies, if you design as an integral part of creating the experience, you know, from the beginning, you get the user in the middle, you kind of build an optimal state, you build the product around the user, around the users, with a deep understanding of the user, maybe deeper than they have of themselves in your particular area. At its very, very best, you imagine this future state and you just completely delight the user. Right? At its worst, you obviously don't do a particularly good job of that. And I think that's a battle and an opportunity that never ends for any of us, you know, and I will never stop trying to pursue that optimal amazing state. And I know Alistair Curtis won’t either. And the third stage of design’s interesting too, though, which is, can you take that concept of really designing around the user and bringing into everything that you do in the company in the entire way the company works, and I'm fascinated by that. And I call it stage three design. And I don't think any company has really delivered that. Maybe it's an impossible dream to fully deliver it, but it's not impossible to apply it to new areas. And so, applying design to things like, you know, everything, we did it, for example, in our company, where, we put a design team – which is not just designers, by the way, it can be anybody – we put a design team on, how do we make the experience of joining the company amazing, even down to the, I get MY mouse, MY keyboard, MY computer for the first time. How do I make that really delightful, not just, it came in the mail, I got to open it up, and figure out how it works. So I think it can be applied to everything. That's design 3.0.
Chris Hare 19:54
Are there any other examples from Logitech that come to mind in terms of how that level 3 can be applied within finance or other areas that might kind of surprise people?
Bracken Darrell 20:05
Yeah, one of my favorites is, and again, it wasn't done by designers, it was done by an accountant. As a former accountant, you know, I spent the first four years of my career as an auditor, I have a lot of respect for this. And a guy named Abby, working for a guy named Vincent. They set a goal, they said, What's wrong with our reporting process? They said, well, you know, the problem is that we close the books, and then we don't really have all the answers for how things went until the third or fourth week of the month when the quarter closed. And then we have to scramble the report. And we end up reporting, you know, five or six weeks after the quarter closed. The problem with that is the CEO and the CFO, who are pretty important to the ongoing function of the business, end up being distracted with the past for the next six weeks of the next quarter. So you end up having your CEO and CFO are spending a pretty large percentage of time looking backwards during every quarter. So that's just a flaw. And so the change that they made, they said, Okay, well, how do we collapse that period? How do we make, when we close the books, how do we get the results a lot faster? And they started with, Who does it the fastest in the world? Who's the fastest to report? And I think it was an aluminum company out of Brazil. They said okay, what did they do? And they worked hard to design and redesign a process of tracking every element of it. And they got our – now today, I know pretty much within two or three days after the quarter close how we did. So I don't spend half of my time every quarter looking back, I spend 90% of my time looking forward.
Chris Hare 21:35
You know, to kind of going back to your, or going back to Braun and then the shift to Logitech, you know, that narrative you presented on the coming design revolution. How did that, what role did that play in your transition from Braun to Logitech?
Bracken Darrell 21:51
Well, the biggest role played was I have, I had so much conviction around that, you know. There are things in your life that you kind of believe in, but you're not sure. And then there are things you just feel tremendous conviction about. And for those things, you know, they really, they can end up changing the course of your life. And I think that one, my conviction around the design revolution that was starting to happen and was going to keep happening and is happening now was very strong. So I just felt like, you know, industries are going to be changed by design, companies are going to disappear because they aren't going to design, and companies are gonna win because they're leading design. And so by the time I got the opportunity to go to Logitech, I had this very strong opinion that a company could be reinvented using design, every category can be reinvented using design, and design thinking. And every aspect of the company could be. So I came to Logitech because I was excited about the one concept, which was the core business was in a state of secular decline. And I loved that, because that meant that they would have to find a way to redesign the business to grow long term. And that was the attraction. So I felt so much conviction around that, that you could have been probably paper towels, and I would have still said, Okay, if it's in secular decline, it can be reinvented, we can reinvent the company. And I feel that way about every company, I think there's no company that can't be reinvented using great design and great design thinking.
Chris Hare 23:13
That's pretty fascinating because so many companies are focused on the quarter-by-quarter results. And obviously, you have to look at results, right, on a daily basis, not just quarterly. But you have this long term view. That seems pretty rare. Right? You gave that speech first in 2007. And then you just kind of stuck with that. Right? What about it – you know, you said conviction multiple times – but what gives you kind of that relentless belief, I guess?
Bracken Darrell 23:39
Well, I've always had the very long-term view of things. You know, when they hired me at Logitech, I think they were looking more for a turnaround than hoping for something longer term. But I said to every single board member I interviewed with, I'll come for the turnaround, and I have done some. But I'm really coming for 10 years plus. I have a very long-term view of what we can do here, and I didn't overplay the design card, because I was afraid I'd scare them off. Although I think that was probably naive on my part, they probably would have loved it. So what's made me, you know, really stick with it is that design, you have to decide how to define design. But the design, the way I believe it's most broadly designed, is so powerful, and so available to anyone, at any level in any organization or as an individual, that it has no end. It's not like a fossil fuel that causes trouble, and at some point, it will run out anyway. It's like a fuel that it's free, and it's clean. And it actually just creates more and more opportunity as you deploy it more and use it more and learn it more. So I have yet to have one minute of discouragement about the power of design in any place I've ever seen.
Chris Hare 25:03
So looking at, you know, you walk into Logitech, it's day one, as CEO, what were the challenges that you were facing at that point in time?
Bracken Darrell 25:13
You know, the challenges were, so many on the surface were the original, were the kind of the nature of business, you know. When you create a new business, and Logitech wasn't, but when you create a new business, you enter a category, usually that's growing, and you enter it. If you're successful, you enter into a way that you can sustain growth within that category, and ideally, grow your part of it, or just grow it because you're the only one in it. And that will get you a long way. And every organization, every startup goes through that. At some point, in every case, 100% of the time, that category runs out of growth opportunity. And so it slows, then it flattens, and maybe it even declines. So you've got to find new ways to grow it. And usually, that's not enough. So you've got to find new things to go into. So then companies start to enter new categories. We were no different. The core business was, originally we were in the mouse, and then they added the keyboard, then they surrounded the PC. And then we started to run out of steam, because the number of PCs around the world plateaued, our market share kind of peaked, we started to look for new things to grow into that were outside of that core space. And we stumbled a lot. And you know, I got to learn from somebody else, or from the company itself, how to manage our way through that. So I saw, I got to come in and look backwards and say, Wow, you know, they took some really good bets, but they took too much risk in those bets. So how do we take small bets, control the risk, and make more bets? I'd like to take more bets than they took but take them in a market risk-managed way. And that's what we did. So the first job was to reduce the size of the company because we'd been growing for a long time before that four years prior. And we kept growing our overhead but didn't grow our top line. That's not a good business model. So we had to shrink. And then we had to say, Okay, now how are we going to find new categories to grow in. So first, I looked in the existing categories, and we didn't have any designers internally at that point. So I was directly involved in it with every product team. And then I started to bring in external designers led by Alistair Curtis, my first really big designer, who was the former head of design for Nokia. About a year in, he and I got together, and from then on, we just started to build new category ideas. A lot of them didn't work. And we tried to innovate better inside the existing categories using good design, and that often worked. And the combination of new categories like video collaboration and keyboards for iPads and Bluetooth speakers, those combination of new categories and rejuvenating the old categories created very strong, long-term growth, and we grew at or near double digits for, from about three or four years in until last year when we grew 74% because of the pandemic. And now we're still in that same trajectory where I believe we can grow at or near double digits for a very long time.
Chris Hare 28:12
Do you recall a time – I guess, what was your lowest moment, I guess, in this journey?
Bracken Darrell 28:19
You know, I have I have selective memory loss for bad things. So I'm really good at remembering the good things. I don't know. You know, I have this philosophy. My mom, my dad walked out when I was about nine or 10 years old. I have two older brothers and a younger sister. When he did, my mom kind of fell apart and had a nervous breakdown, I think, although we didn't really call it that back then. And then had four car wrecks in one year and all this stuff. And she used to come home and she would use me or probably my siblings too, as her resident therapist, you know. She would say, Gosh, I wonder if I shouldn't have done this. I wish I hadn't done that. So much of it would be about second guessing what she'd done either in her work life – she’s a first grade teacher – or in her marriage. And I finally at some point, I said to her, you know, Mom, I think he's got to imagine you're standing on a beach, he draws the line behind your heels with a stick, and that everything behind you, you can't change it. So you got to look back there and learn and then live from here forward. Just keep learning and keep living from here forward. And that model for me changed the way I looked at things in the past. And so I no longer looked at anything that didn't work or even painful things as particularly difficult. I just looked at them as things to learn from. Of course, there are things that are difficult. My mom died, my dad's died. You know, we've all lost people, you know, and that's difficult. But in general, I do just try to do a really good job as, you know, especially in my work, using the past as a tool for the future.
Chris Hare 29:51
Right. No, I really appreciate you sharing that. I nearly lost my life in 2015 due to mental health, mental health challenges. And the thing that was interesting though is I came to a point where I actually recognize that my entire life was defined by the past. And so then I shifted and said, Okay, that's a broken narrative. And what if I stopped listening to that, and create a new narrative and write a new narrative that's future driven, right? And it was instantly, like 100 pounds fell off of me, and it was like total freedom. So it's cool to have you as a model. That's really cool to hear you saying that.
Bracken Darrell 30:32
Well, it's brilliant that you, first of all, thank you for sharing that. I'm sure everybody out there who's been through something like that, or close to that, or had somebody in their lives who did, can really use your story to say, hey, this can really happen. Because it is hard to digest that. I was very fortunate to have learned through the suffering of my mom, who it wouldn’t surprise me if she had the same thoughts. And so I was very lucky that I learned that so early and embedded into who I am. But so many of us haven’t, you know. And it's perfectly normal not to have to. And so if you go through the super hard things in your life, and then you do have to face it, thank God you learned it. It's really great. And you learned it later in life. I learned it really early in life, but you just got to learn it at some point.
Chris Hare 31:16
Wow, well, thanks. Can you talk a little bit, you know, shifting gears, a little bit about the decision you made to fire yourself?
Bracken Darrell 31:26
Yeah, you know, after I'd been here about five years, and the company was worth, you know, four or five times more than when I got here. And, you know, people were generally talking about our success and all that stuff, which I hate the word success, just as much as I hate the word failure, maybe even more. I was very worried about – not worried, but I was really cognizant of the fact – Hey, you know, we're so different today than we were five years ago. And if that's the case, then the world’s getting faster, and we're getting faster. So five years from now will be even more different in five years, versus today than we were today versus five years ago. So if that happens, am I the right guy to do this? Because I was probably the right person, or one of the right people for the first five years. But what about the next five years? That's a new world, you know, really different company. So I really wrote down kind of where I thought the company would go and how different it would be, and then I wrote my credentials down right next to it. I thought, you know, am I the right person? And I thought, Well, I would probably get the interview. And maybe I would even win the job because I have a lot of attributes. But I have one big Achilles heel, which is I was the one who got us here. So I have so much ownership for the strategies and the people and the structure and everything. Well, I have the objectivity to change it, when it has to be changed. I used to think of Andy Grove, you know, we're back when he made his big decision about do we get out of memory and get into the new kinds of chipsets? And I thought, No, I don't think I can be that objective. I don't think it's possible, nobody could be. So I decided to fire myself. I thought I'll tell my chair in the morning, we'll map out a plan. I'm not in a rush to get out the door. So over the next six months or a year we’ll bring in a successor and then I'll probably step onto the board or go do something else. I'll never retire. So I made that decision. And I went to bed and slept on it, like I do so many decisions. When I woke up the next morning, I thought, That's the wrong answer. I can do this, I just have to really view the world with no, there's nothing sacred about anything that I've done. I've got to draw that line behind my heels, nothing back there is stuck to me or the company, it can be changed in a second. And so I felt like a new person. I kind of skipped to work that day, felt like a newcomer, and I didn't feel, oh, that idiot did this and that idiot that did that. All that was me back then. But I'm different person now. You know, I really started making changes. And then I shared that with my leadership team a couple months later, and I told them the same story. I said, Now, this weekend, and I want you to do the same thing. I want you to go fire yourself, and if you want to come back and then rehire yourself on new terms, you don't own any of the past. You only own the future. And that woman or man who was boss, or whoever it was that did it before, you don't own that. That's not your problem. You just have to do the right thing going forward. And so I told them, now, if you don't fire yourself this weekend, and then rehire yourself, I'll fire you. And I will not rehire you. At some point, because you need to be that objective. And so that's my story. And I've tried to do that a little more frequently as time’s gone on. It's difficult, but I think it is doable.
Chris Hare 34:26
Yeah, I love that line you've used a couple times now. “The line behind my heels in the sand.”
Bracken Darrell 34:31
Yeah, it's, boy. It's such a strong memory for me because my mom and I used to talk about it so much. It's one of those things deeply inside me. It's colored the way I think about life and everything. That idea that you're actually starting over again, not just every five years but every day. You wake up in the morning and nothing's forcing you to stay where you are, to not change the things that you should be changing or you think you might want to change. Your free of that past. I mean that line, everything behind there, it looks like it's real, but it's not. It's gone, it's over. It's past. Even if it was something good or bad, it doesn't matter. It disappeared behind you, doesn't belong to you, you can't own it. You can only own what's now in the future.
Chris Hare 35:20
And what is that kind of future that you're pursuing look like when it comes to sustainability, diversity, and equity inclusion, because those are so tied in with what you're doing from a design standpoint?
Bracken Darrell 35:32
Yeah, I mean, they're incredibly important. I came to this conclusion in stages, you know, but so what I'm gonna say now, I don't want to pretend like I have this fully fleshed out, you know, when I joined Logitech as I do now. But I felt, I'll start with sustainability. And I felt very strongly that, one of Dieter Rams’s 10 principles was, Good design is responsible to the environment. And so, you know, we've understood for a long time that we're damaging the planet, the planet is our home, and, you know, nobody's found a better planet to live on. So I'm not sure there's another option. So we just have to really get it in gear and make this place an amazing place to live and keep it healthy. And so I think that the more I thought about Logitech – and we were already doing a lot of good work on environmental sustainability – the more I thought about Logitech, the more I thought, gosh, you know. Prakash Arunkundrum, who's my head of operations, but also the heart and soul of this effort to make us a really amazing, sustainable company, has done an incredible job. He and I used to talk about it. And at some point, I said to him, I said, you know, I don't think it's good enough for us to be less bad for the planet, because I don't know about you, but I don't want to be just less bad. We've been around for 40 years, and we've created so much carbon, so much waste, we have to be good for the planet, that's the only answer. And we're gonna have to figure out how to do that. And you could say being less bad is good, but I don't buy it. So we decided we have to be carbon negative. At some point, we have to be fully circular. We don't know how to do either one of them today. Or we didn't know how to do either one of them. And so we started down that path. We pretty quickly figured out how to be carbon neutral. So we went back to, we started redesigning our price to reduce the amount of carbon. We started carbon-labeling our products to put pressure on ourselves. Every time we launch a new product, if the carbon levels not down, you're in trouble. So we made that public. And then we started combining all those to look at what's our net carbon score. And so then we said, you know, we can be carbon neutral now. We're gonna be. We're gonna plant trees in China and Malaysia and Indonesia. And so we did. And then we said, now we're gonna commit to being carbon negative, which is climate positive by as fast as possible, so by 2030. I think we're ahead of, I think, I don't know if there's anybody who's in our kind of business that's as aggressive as that. So we've already committed to that and we have a path to get there, we will get there by reducing the amount of carbon and also continuing to plant carbon reducers, or invest in carbon reducers. So that's the path we're on. Then we're building recycled plastic into more and more of our price, 70% of our mice and keyboards. Now, that's not nearly enough, because it needs to be 100% of the 70% or 100% of the 100%. And there's not the technology there to do that. But we're breaking into new technology domains. So we're just relentless. On the DEI side, it's kind of the human side of the planet. You know, it's like there's so many, our world has been, we've sacrificed so much by disadvantaging so many who have been marginalized. And that crosses all those different diverse groups, you know, so it's just so clear, you know. You live in the US, and after you watch the George Floyd video once that, you know, this has to stop. And so again, we just said, Well, that's so central to what we do, we want to enable people to fulfill their passions, that's what we want to procreate products that do, but we want to do it for all people. And we want to do it in an equitable way, not just inside our company – we have a long way to go there – but also in our supply chain, and foster the same kind of diversity and inclusiveness in the supply chain, the suppliers’ suppliers. And then we're gonna make products that are really great for everybody, that really unlock new potential for people who have not had a fair access, like people who have limits to accessibility. So we have a long way to go on this to get there. And I wouldn't even pretend we're a leader. We're one of the many that have the right objectives and don't have the right results. So we’ve got a long way to go. But we're so totally committed to it.
Chris Hare 39:38
Well, thanks. As we come to the end here, my final question is, as you think about leading and bringing a narrative to life, that narrative often kind of falters or breaks down between the boardroom and the customer. How do you ensure that that doesn't happen? And that everyone stays aligned around that narrative that's built around the customer?
Bracken Darrell 40:00
That's a very wise comment. It's hard. I think on the one hand, it's hard because the more people you have, the bigger an organization you are, the more risk of divergence from kind of fulfilling what you think you're capable of, whether it's your impact on the world or your financial results. But I think the thing that can hold it all together, I think there are probably two or three things you got to do. One is, it's not BS to focus on really what is your purpose as a company. And now, if it's not authentic, it is BS. So if you don't really believe it, if it's just to try to pander to audiences that you think you should serve, then it won’t work. And people will see right through it, and it doesn't actually bring people together much. So, you know, redefine your purpose statement so it incorporates the things, not only your impact on the financial results, but also the values you think consider most critical. And we've done that, and I'd say we're still doing it. I think it's, while I don't think you could start interviewing our employees in our company, they maybe be able to define or express our purpose statement, I think they would often say, if you said, What do you think the two top things the company’s focused on besides business results, they would be able to quote them. And I think that kind of holds you together, you know, in a way. And then the second thing is fighting all the time to stay small. The larger you are, the slower you are, the more bureaucratic you are, the more politically you are, the more people feel like cogs in the wheel or numbers. The smaller you are, the more they feel like they own it, that they're responsible, that they're excited that they can fulfill their dreams doing it because it's up to them. And so figuring out how to structure as we get larger, to feel smaller, is one of the, kind of, impossible goals that I really have. But I don't think it's as impossible as I might make it sound. I think it's doable. You just have to have a real fixation on it. I think, you know, some companies are, I think doing a pretty good job of it. Nobody's perfect. We've done an okay job. We’ve got a lot of work to do keep trying to drive and make it feel smaller and smaller.
Chris Hare 42:11
Awesome. Well, thanks, Bracken. I really appreciate your time. And it was, you know, a real privilege to speak with you.
Bracken Darrell 42:16
Thank you, Chris. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks a lot. And I love your Dieter Rams decorations.
Chris Hare 42:20
Part of why I'm so passionate about narrative is that I've experienced the power of creating a new narrative, both personally and with my clients. As I mentioned in the interview, my personal narrative nearly led me to take my life. In that moment, I believed that my broken narrative was true, that everything was hopeless. Why? Because I was basing my present and my future on so-called evidence from the past to prove that my narrative was true. A narrative that said, there was no hope, that I was a failure, and that I had no future. But that was a lie. When I work with enterprise leaders, I often see them trying to create a future that's based on a broken narrative that isn't serving them, their customers, their shareholders, or their people. And I see these broken narratives wreak havoc across organizations, because they either don't have a NorthStar or they're following the wrong one. Some of the ways I've seen this play out – first is an inability to translate the business strategy from the C-suite to the front lines; second, short-term decision making at the expense of long-term revenue, profit, and customer experience; and third, brand perceptions that never shift or only become worse, because the business can’t align on where they're heading.
How about you? Separate from work, what past experiences, good or bad, shape the way you lead? And what about your company's narrative? Have you built a narrative that's limited by the past, shaped by beliefs and stories that have no power to create the future? Or are you building a narrative that will propel you, your team, and your customers toward a shared future?
In closing, here are three key learnings from Bracken’s experience that I think can help. One, think big. Bracken put a narrative out into the world, the design revolution, that was so big, it would take decades to accomplish. And it was a vision that could not only transform his company, but other companies and entire industries as well. Second, be relentless. Bracken intentionally looked for a company that was so far in the tank, it could only escape by designing its way out. He wasn't afraid of starting with failure and persisting for years until his narrative started to take hold and turn things around. And third, build together. Bracken knew he couldn't bring the narrative to life on his own. So he hired and inspired the best, and together they are transforming Logitech into a design company that is changing the world.
I've really enjoyed these first three conversations with Mary Shea at Outreach, Jamie Cleghorn and Rishi Dave from Bain and Company, and now Bracken Darrell. In the coming months, we'll be sharing some amazing episodes, including conversations with the founder of the leading black-owned management consulting firm, the CEO of a national paint distributor that embraced a new narrative to address disruption and channel conflict, and the first head of accessibility at Netflix with a conversation on when purpose and profit collide. Please subscribe and be sure to visit TSFpod.com for Show Notes and to check out other episodes. One last thing. If you've enjoyed what you've heard of The Storied Future Podcast so far, leave us a review wherever you listen to the show. We'd really appreciate it. Thanks for listening to The Storied Future Podcast. To learn more about Bracken Darrell, check out the links in our Show Notes.
The Storied Future Podcast is a production of The Storied Future LLC, produced and edited by Ray Sylvester, audio engineering by Ali Özbay, logo design by Evan MacDonald, theme music by The Brewz. And your host is me, Chris Hare. Learn more about our work helping leaders create great B2B narratives for a change at www.thestoriedfuture.com.
Bracken’s LinkedIn ~ Bracken’s Twitter
Under Bracken Darrell’s ten years of leadership as president and CEO, Logitech has reinvented itself into an award-winning design company, an industry force in pursuing a more sustainable and equitable world, and a top performer on the SIX Swiss stock exchange and NASDAQ.
Bracken is a proponent of design and the liberal arts in business, especially of their role in innovating product experiences for consumers. As a result, Logitech has been the recipient of numerous awards, including more than 200 design awards over the past three years from the likes of iF Design, Red Dot, and Fast Company, and numerous sustainability awards.
Bracken himself has been named Swiss CEO of the year by Obermatt three times in the past four years, and received the 2022 Edison Achievement Award.
Bracken brings to Logitech nearly thirty years of experience in product, people, and brand management through design. He has worked around the world on iconic brands like Old Spice, Gillette, and Braun, where he was president. He has spent time at P&G, Arthur Anderson, PepsiCo, GE, and Whirlpool.
Since 2018, Bracken has been on the board of Dean Advisors of the Harvard Business School and the Board of Directors of Life Biosciences. He holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a B.A. in English from Hendrix College in Arkansas.