“Other stakeholders”—are they all equal? Alight CEO Stephan Scholl argues for one constituency in particular, in a conversation with Brunswick’s Siobhan Gorman.
Here’s a question Stephan Scholl likes to ask CEOs: How many of their employees can stitch together $500 in a crisis? “Most CEOs I talk to—frankly all the CEOs I talk to—don’t know the answer to that question,” says Scholl, CEO of Alight, a cloud-based provider of human-capital solutions to 72 of the Fortune 100, and half the Fortune 500. A 25-year veteran of Silicon Valley, where among other positions he held senior leadership roles at Oracle and Peoplesoft, Scholl argues that technology—a force often blamed for the demise of employee security—can and should be used to bolster it. Not just because that’s the right thing to do, but because employee well-being is crucial to the bottom line. “I think in the next 10 years CEOs are going to be measured on how they treat their employees,” says Scholl. In an interview with Brunswick Partner Siobhan Gorman, Scholl explains how Alight’s technological prowess enables it to help employees improve their health, financial security and performance on the job.
You became CEO last April, mid-pandemic. What was day one like?
Surreal. The Saturday morning before I started, I received a small box in the mail that had my laptop, an Alight t-shirt, a hat, and a welcome note. Monday morning I met the executive team on Zoom.
How challenging is that—to lead a team, an entire company, without being able to meet in-person?
There are many schools of thought to it. Mine was centered around the fact that I can move quickly. I love this notion of beginner’s eyes. I’ve been in tech for more than 25 years and have had the privilege of being part of the transformation at companies like Apple and Oracle. And you only have beginner’s eyes for a few weeks, maybe months. So being able to come in here with a clean slate, not be buried with travel, I was able to get in front of 40 of our biggest Fortune 500 clients in 30 days. That would never have happened in a world where everybody expects you to be there in person. We’re in each other’s living rooms, having frank, honest conversations without all the strictures of big boardrooms and CEO offices. It really takes it to a different level.
That was true of my colleagues at Alight too. I got to know my management team very quickly.
How exactly does Alight “connect health, wealth, and well-being for employees”?
We have 30 million employees that we serve today. That’s 14% of the US workforce. We serve 72 of the Fortune 100, half of the Fortune 500. And our objective as a company is simple: ensure that every employee stays healthy, is financially secure, and has the confidence and the know-how to be able to make decisions in those two categories.
Obviously that’s important given what’s going on with the pandemic. It sounds simple, but benefits are so often complicated, fragmented and unclear to employees. And they’re costly for employers. After salaries, benefits are typically the second-biggest cost for a company, and they increase between 6% and 20% every single year. And yet when you talk to the executive committee, it’s one they understand the least, because it is so mired in complexity.
And then add in the fact that over the last decade or so, employers have been shifting more responsibility to the employees about these benefits. Whether it’s a 401(k) or HSA (health savings account), employers haven’t given employees the tools to make these hugely important decisions. Sixty percent of Americans can’t retire when they want. It’s a financial crisis. Half the employees in the United States regretted a healthcare decision. Half. Those are stark numbers.
I see Alight as the answer, the platform, the company, that can demystify all that for employers and employees. We have the size, the scale, the capability to deal with these two problems—which are trillions of dollars in market cost, and risk, and complexity. Employers are under a huge cost crunch. But they also realize that they have to change their relationship with their employees.