CTO Sessions: Marc Harper, Lumi Global

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? “Virtual reality continues to be an area that will expand rapidly and extensively.”

Headshot of Marc Harper, CTO at Lumi Global
Lumi Global

Name: Marc Harper

Company: Lumi Global

Job title: Chief Technology Officer

Date started current role: June 2021

Location: Hampshire, UK but working with teams across the UK, Netherlands, and the US.

Marc Harper is the CTO of Lumi, the AGM provider of 5000 global organisations and all the FTSE100. Harper joined Lumi as CTO in 2021 having spent 15 years leading global technology functions for a variety of organisations spanning retail, digital content, managed services, and public safety solutions. Experienced at designing and implementing secure, scalable, and innovative software as a service solutions, Harper graduated from the University of Westminster with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters degree in IT Security.

What was your first job? My first part-time job was at a local Tesco supermarket when I was 17. I worked there for six years during my studies and left with good insight into retail, a great share returns scheme and a girlfriend that later became my wife.

My first permanent job was as an IT Assistant at The White Company. I joined at a period of huge expansion and enjoyed every minute of it. I progressed to Head of IT and am grateful for the experiences I was afforded at the beginning of my career, as well as the colleagues and friends I gained along the way.

Did you always want to work in IT? As a young child, I wanted to be either a lawyer or work in IT.  My interest in IT started when I learned to write simple syntax on the family Commodore C16 when I was aged 6 or 7. Fast-forward to the early 1990s, my parents bought a Packard Bell with Windows 95 and I was spellbound. We managed to source an additional 4Mb RAM chip from somewhere and I plucked up the courage to open the base unit, insert the chip, and watched in wonder as the device notified me: “New Memory Detected…8Mb”, and like that, aged 13, I found my career.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I am proud to say that I was state-educated and enjoyed school tremendously. After completing my A-levels, I achieved a BSc in Computer Science and then a Masters in Information Security from the University of Westminster. As my career progressed, I obtained several professional qualifications covering Prince2, ITIL, and a plethora of technical accreditations from Microsoft.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. On reflection, my career has been naturally progressive. When I started working in IT, I set myself an objective of becoming a CTO at the age of 40. For this to happen, I needed to gain experience in software development and security as this is where I saw the world heading. With hard work, focus, and never losing sight of the vision, my goal became a reality. I’m now CTO of Lumi and have served as Director of Technology at Oxford University Press. My career has spanned both the private and public sectors, working for companies large and small, all of which have contributed to the person I am today.

I believe the key to success is building meaningful relationships. With the helpful guidance of great mentors including Hamish Mansbridge (CEO of Heals), Patricia Alford-Burnett (former MD of The White Company), Simon McCalla (CEO of Elexon), and finally, Martin Harris – who probably had the greatest impact on my career, I’ve adapted to become a business leader with strong commercial awareness in addition to my natural technical skills.

What type of CTO are you? Commercially-minded with a focus on value generation to the business. One of my talents is creativity when it comes to identifying business improvement opportunities and this is largely driven by my entrepreneurial side. I enjoy balancing the management of technical development but also working across all aspects of the business to gain more insights on solutions to better the company as a whole.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Virtual reality continues to be an area that will expand rapidly and extensively. As people have become more accustomed to working remotely and with governments and influential leaders encouraging reduced travel for both environmental and geopolitical reasons, VR will likely be the ‘norm’ where work and social gatherings are conducted via a headset on your sofa.

Are there any technologies that you think are overhyped? Why? The metaverse has been the talk of the town for months and the race is certainly on for companies to be the first to truly dominate this new frontier. Yet to some extent, the metaverse is overhyped.

While it's exciting to imagine how this technology could revolutionise many aspects of our lives, such as how we interact with colleagues, friends and family, more research is needed to understand the impact it will have on people's social and interaction abilities, as well as their overall health and wellbeing.

The reality is that for many businesses, particularly those in regulated industries, the metaverse has privacy and security implications that limit widespread adoption. In the IR and AGM space for example, innovation already consistently outpaces legislation, so organising IR events and AGMs in the metaverse would be a regulatory minefield. This challenge multiplies when you consider global markets have different legislation and restrictions. 

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Over the last 12 months, the team at Lumi has expanded the product beyond the traditional AGM or EGM meeting format by developing and implementing an investor relations element to the platform. Only released in February, we are already seeing keen customer adoption across Europe, Australia, North America, and South Africa. This started as a small initiative and has quickly become an increasing revenue stream.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I’m proud to say Lumi is leading the way when it comes to digital transformation in the AGM industry. For decades, AGMs have been in conference rooms, supplied with tea and biscuits, and often during business hours. This meant that only a certain demographic was likely to attend meetings – those who could travel and attend a meeting on a weekday – and excluded many. Lumi’s virtual and hybrid meeting solutions are changing this for good. The Lumi Platform not only replicates the in-person experience of Q&As, voting and executive interaction at AGMs - but enhances it for attendees joining events remotely, striving to make AGMs as inclusive as possible. Yet, I operate in a sector that is still heavily regulated and traditional in its approach – digital transformations are gathering at pace where legislation allows, but still not fast enough for my liking.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Our customers are issuers and organisations who have a legal right to hold a meeting for their shareholders. The biggest issue we are working on is to ensure broad accessibility to the meeting. Whether a member or shareholder chooses to attend remotely, or in person, they should be able to fully participate in the meeting. This must include voting and asking questions.

Beyond that, the wider issue in the listed space is simplifying the process of allowing retail shareholders to access the AGM and exercise their rights. The current proxy system makes it prohibitively difficult for retail shareholders to vote, have their voices heard or even attend a company AGM. We are working with partners across the industry to simplify this process.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? At Lumi we work with more than 5,000 companies globally, including all the FTSE 100 in the UK, to make complex, legal meetings like AGMs simpler and easier through technology. Based on proprietary, patented technology, Lumi provides software, hardware, and services that assist registrars or event organisers to register delegates and provide live, secure polling, Q&A management services, and relevant reporting. As a result, our business goals are fundamentally dependent on our tech strategy. Innovation is at our core and providing seamless interaction between our customers and their shareholders through cutting edge technology is what drives the business forward.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? At Lumi, I find myself in the envious position that as a tech company, our product strategy is fundamentally our tech strategy. The very talented technical team at Lumi are renowned for being the global experts in our field of organising and delivering AGM, EGM and IR meetings.

What makes an effective tech strategy? A tech strategy is only effective if it clearly aligns with the customer’s objectives and has a high-level direction of travel that is realistic and developed with all key stakeholders.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The CTO position, if you go back 10 years, was very much about maintaining back of house - how you maintain your systems, how you maintain your e-commerce platforms. Now, it's more about expanding the capability of the business.

Moving forward, all CTOs should report directly to the CEO and be a board-level role to ensure technology is represented at the highest level of decision-making within an organisation. I predict the CTO role will continue to increase in importance to reflect the underlying influence of technology and digital services within the organisation.  

What has been your greatest career achievement? My team are the biggest driver for me. The one achievement that gives me the greatest sense of satisfaction is developing members of my team and seeing what they go on to achieve individually.

Technology is an ever-evolving cycle, but what will always remain constant is the satisfaction you get from knowing you have inspired someone to push their boundaries to achieve things they never thought possible, and to me that is priceless.   

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Honestly speaking, very little. Each role provided its unique challenges and opportunities.

What are you reading now? Two books: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff and Secrets of a Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. Sadly, the title of the latter is misleading as it isn’t just about making money. Personally speaking, it is the most motivational book I have ever read, and for the price of a sandwich, it is a must for everyone.

Most people don't know that I… enjoy collecting curios, industrial architecture, and militaria. Trips abroad usually result in quick visits to a local specialist shop to further enhance my growing collection.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with my daughters or exploring the great outdoors, often fishing with a small group of friends putting the world to rights.

Ask me to do anything but… Eat mushrooms. The look, smell, texture, and taste are horrendous. They give me the shivers!