The CIO’s role has morphed from technology manager to strategic leader who has critical inputs related to what the organization offers to the customers and how it adapt to the changing marketplace. This warrants a CIO to work as a peer to the CEO so they become a cohesive unit instead of just sharing a reporting relationship. Are organizations rethinking CIO-CEO relationship in their respective best interests?
Melvin Kirk, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Ryder System
Bob Toupin, Chief Information Officer, BlueLinx Corporation
Sanjog Aul: Today’s topic is rethinking the CIO-CEO Relationship. And our guests for what today’s show are Melvin Kirk who is the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer with Ryder System.
Hello Mel, how are you?
Mel: Good morning. Very good, thanks.
Sanjog: We also have Bob Toupin who is the Chief Information Officer with BlueLinx Corporation. Hello Bob, how are you doing?
Bob: Good, how are you doing this morning?
Sanjog: Very good Sir. Thank you. The topic today that we chose was based on the premise that CIO among all other rules that we have in the executive management besides of course the CEO is someone who is looking throughout the organization has insight so as to how organization functions. They’re also charged with making sure that they understand how things can be improved and they’re also tasked with making sure that they enable different business processes. And also the strategies so that the business as an entity works best for the customer. So with all that said, we say why not look at CIO and look at that individual or that role to work a little differently with the CEO almost to a point where you might think that they appear, while they may be reporting relationship that may still stay. But maybe looking at CIO a little differently.
So the first question for you Mel is, as I already mentioned that the person CIO the role of a CIO already has the insight into whatever the organizational working is across the board. You are also looking at this individual to do whatever it takes across the organization to make an impact. Yes, that person will not be made a CEO but would you want to elevate this role a little bit or see differently?
Mel: I think this role has changed a lot. If you think about industrials in the 70s, 80s or the role of the CIO was really kind of a junior partner type of role. Now in today’s evolving digital businesses even in heavy industrial like Ryder sees the CIO role in the much more prominent. So if you think about– if you look at what I do today in this role, I’m connected to every piece of the strategy that’s a business employs. If you look at a diagram that we use inside the business that shows how we deliver outcomes for our customers and our shareholders, IT and Talent are two foundational pieces to delivering everything that we do here at Ryder. And so from that standpoint I think the role has changed a lot and the closeness or the relationship between the CIO and CEO is vitally important and actually in this past couple of months we’ve elevated the role of CIO to the executive staff where it was before.
Sanjog: So Bob when you look at your organization perhaps when you talk to your peers, do you see besides the fact, okay, we ere given the opportunity to look throughout the organization as a CIO, but do you see the empowerment, the authority, the enablement, what is required for a CIO to kind of behave like a pseudo CEO or at least work hand in hand? Has that happen or we’re just giving it lip service?
Bob: In my mind it really depends on the results that CIO gets. One of the things fundamentally as people grow up in IT they tend to be seen as a computer guy. And those are the same people that end up in a CIO roles which further propagate the fact that they’re just computer guys. And they don’t always get a seat at the table. There was Forbes article about 40% CIOs still reporting to CFOs. It would imply they are still a cost center.
Fundamentally, as CIOs, we have to be seen as a true business partner. We also have to do the IT blocking and tackling. Systems have to stay up, things have to be stable, you can’t get viruses. If any of those things happen and systems don’t stay up, you’re not going to be seen as strategic or credible because that’s kind of stable. Once you get to there, then you can start doing projects and projects have to be pulled off on time and on budget. People have to use the applications. Then you can get into strategy but if you spend your time doing strategy and systems are going down, and you’re in firefighting mode, it’s just not going to work.
Sanjog: You have a very valid point. Now, let’s assume that organizations who are, like your organization or Mel’s organization, you guys are doing what you’re supposed to do. So you’re at that level where you have set systems and processes to make that happen. And now, like a Chief Risk Officer, like a Chief Strategy Officer which would that individual does not have a boundary per se. They have not been pigeonholed into saying, you are part of a strategy department. Whereas CIO’s told that you are part of an IT department, go fix my company, take it to the next level but at the same time also try to keep the systems up and running. Are we asking that person too much or we want to see that role differently, so that they are spending more time doing what they are best at versus trying to basically put the network wires or whatever else we’re talking here, Mel?
Mel: I think I’ll pick what Bob’s point, I think the results are big part of the answer. The other part is that the CIO has to build a team. Whether and I will get into the structure of the team but if you’ve got people that are in place, that are responsible for infrastructure and keeping the lights on and the phones working, you’ve got a development leader or leads that are responsible for delivering the projects and so forth. And you’ve got a reliable set of leaders that are doing production or business support. That does free up your time as a CIO to get involved in the broader strategy of the company, right?
But again to go back to the earlier point is that Bob made, is that if you grow up and your focus is on bits and bytes in the technicalities of developing solutions. You don’t elevate yourself out. You won’t become that partner because that CEO and the CFO needs to have somebody that’s elevated above that to talk about the business from a business perspective not just in terms of bits and bytes. And from our perspective building a team, capable team to deliver really every day, to deliver the projects, to deliver the production support, gives you the bandwidth to be able to be that strategic partner.
Sanjog: And when we look at, while we did not have to make much of a business case for a CIO to get an elevated role but just so that we see and everyone else sees that how if CIO was elevated from their current level, to someone who is working hand in hand with the CEO but to a higher capacity or with the better scope, what value would it have brought so? So Bob if you were to envision yourself as a CIO working maybe at another level with the CEO, better collaboration or maybe at better level of empowerment. How much more do you think would you be able to add value, if you were given that opportunity?
Bob: I think it’s considerable. My last organization I started off reporting into the CFO, and about halfway through my three year tenure , I reported into the CEO. And the minute I did and I was on, like Mel was saying the executive leadership team, I had a seat at the table, I was instantly able to add value two ways, one was to be able to direct my team to say, don’t work on that, it doesn’t matter because either we’re selling off that business or we’re buying this other business. So just having that insight, without telling them here’s why I don’t work on it, I was able to better structure my resources. But also in the meetings questions would come up and strategies and its like, we already have the information or we can’t do that because of this. Because the CIO and the IT Department have a holistic view of the organization, more so than maybe some other verticals. It’s valuable information that they didn’t get before and you stopped us from going down some rabbit holes as an organization.
Sanjog: So would you say you’re satisfied that as long as you got a seat at the table and you of course are reporting to CEO. But then whatever level at which you are, as long as you have a seat at the table and your voice is being heard and people are recognizing what you bring to the table that’s enough today and you don’t need any more to add the maximum value you could in this role?
Bob: No, I mean there’s also a level of empowerment, right? People listen to you, you have your team working on the right things but I see the CIO as no different than a CFO or Chief HR Officer. I mean we all have our vertical, we all know our business. But just like I’m not replacing cables down in the data center, our CFO is not booking journal entries and our Chief HR Officer is in out, recruiting people to be truck drivers. To Mel’s point, we have a team of people and we should just be seen. And we are also reporting structure. It’s really just being a part of the executive leadership team, to be there, to be heard, to be able to direct your team, and to be empowered and be seen as a peer, and not just the IT guy I think is where the value comes in.
Sanjog: So to that point Mel, how do we break the chains off you being head off for department versus someone who by design is given that holistic role of a Chief Strategy Officer or a Chief Risk Officer, who is not being told, “Okay, go do your job in that particular bucket, and then come talking with whatever you can talk.” Always getting connection with that bucket, like there’s a hard connect with that bucket and I’m trying to make it a soft going to dotted line to your department so that you are more at the top versus trying to be in the trenches.
Mel: Yeah. We’ve addressed that so. Here at Ryder, over the last three or four years, we’ve made a commitment to transforming our– like many companies, older companies transforming our IT applications and infrastructure, and along with that our business processes. When that first started, it is essentially an IT exercise. Let’s carve out some money for the IT folks to go, fix the systems behind the scenes. In the last year, I was moved over from an operating role. So I was a Vice President on our maintenance and operation side. And was an elevated to come over into IT, so that you could get an operations or business leader into IT to help with exactly what you’re talking about, which is the translation of the technical in IT system or in its requirements and realities to the broader business leadership, right. It’s a step that we’ve took structurally to try to connect the IT team, the IT organization, which was somewhat– again, a distant partner to the rest of the business, connecting them to the larger strategy of the operation. So this is one way that you do it, take an operating leader, give him a cross functional assignment into IT, so that they can learn and you get, not just a CIO at the table but you get a CIO with– COOs perspective into the discussion.
The other thing that we’ve thought about doing is taking some IT leadership and moving them into the business for, again similar results to get across boundary discussion. So that you’re not talking across the transform two different languages, you’re actually solving– focusing more on solving the business problem as opposed to talking about or concerning yourself with all the differences between, how the business speaks and what the business wants versus how IT teach speaks and what IT wants. So that’s one way of approaching this.
I think ultimately, if you deliver the performance on the core things that we do from an IT perspective, you build strong relationships across that executive leadership team, and the CIO gets better and better at communicating the real challenges for the organization. It’s based on the current realities of the IT infrastructure, the systems, and so forth. That goes a long way. Because ultimately at the end of the day, almost any company that you look at, you look at capital spend, it’s going to be on facilities and buildings, maybe acquisitions, and it’s going to be on technology. So by default the IT discussion, is one of the big three or four elements when you start talking about spending a company’s money.
So the CIO naturally has a place it’s whether they assume up with by joining into some of those broader conversations. Either structurally or by the scale of that CIO.
Sanjog: Let’s take a quick break, we’ll be right back, and when we come back, Bob, how about looking at this cross-pollination approach that Mel, just stated which would be a ticket to CIO getting more visibility and perhaps more empowerment. Does that really actually help elevate the role of a CIO or it does bring some just more credibility and does it really do the job of making this person the best person, a CEO could have next to him or her in order to create more value for the organization? Please stay tuned listeners, we will be right back.
Sanjog: Welcome back. Bob, when you look at the cross-pollination approach that Mel suggested in order for this person to be more of course exposed and also gain more credibility, do you think that’s the ticket to someone being seen as almost a pseudo peer to CEO, or CEO himself or herself as able to work little more closely and get the most value for the company?
Bob: I absolutely do agree with the cross-pollination approach. My own background started in IT, ended up going through the fixing the program, greenbelt, blackbelt. Got a lot of exposure to different parts of the business. I actually ran two financial groups at a three billion dollar company. Accounts Payable and Fixed Assets. And then I went ran operation the unit for a year. And then I came back to IT with a completely different perspective than when I started. And instead of getting the new with bank technology that was so cool, I said, “How can I follow business problems with technology?”
The bits and the bytes are irrelevant right now, how do we make money at the company, how do we keep more money, how do we retain customers, what’s the sticky factor, as well as the MBA, I mean I’ve got mine and that was transformational. So I think the more IT people can get out of their box and actually see how business runs and get more exposure, it benefits everybody.
One of our goals for 2016 for everybody in IT on my team, is that they spend one day with the truck driver delivering our product because we’re in distribution. They spend one day on the phone with our salespeople. They spend one day with our outside sales people. And these are DBAs and programmers and technologists. I don’t care. Go out in understand the business by the people who actually do the business. I think it’s invaluable.
Sanjog: So you get those people to go, where would you like to go for you to be more effective in your own eyes?
Bob: That’s a great question, and it’s exact same answer. With our truck drivers. With our outside sales folks, sitting with our inside folks, just talking to them about what works and what doesn’t, and seeing how they use the systems that we provide.
Sanjog: So Mel, when you look at the skills and competencies of course as a as part of you developing yourself and getting this role and now you’re living this role, what additional next level skills you think you could acquire or someone in your role could acquire so that they are seen even at a better level or seen as a true partner by the CEO?
Mel: Yesterday, our CEO and CFO principally along with our divisional business leaders held a analysts conduct to announce our earnings for the fourth quarter 2015. I would add on to what Bob said about getting to know the heart of the business through the truck drivers and the folks that are transacting with customers on a day to day basis. I would entertain that with moving up to be the peer of the CFO, CEO or at least, like I said a very valued partner, is you’ve got to understand that analyst relationship. Those external eyes that are evaluate in a company, you’ve got to understand, take the steps to get involved in those discussions, participating in those earnings calls. Not necessarily to be a speaker in those calls for participating from a standpoint of helping to give some insight to the CEO of where the technology provides an advantage to the company for the growth projections that we have and so forth and so on.
So I think again, just that next step of evolution or growth for the CIOs is launching outside of the business to understanding what the shareholder, analysts of a company and the industry are looking for and helping the business leadership articulate the value of the investment in technology, to envisioning the long term prospects of the company.
Sanjog: So all along of course, if we have to get to a certain level ourselves. Yes, it is important that we take the responsibility as CIO’s to acquire those skills. But then on the other side we have seen many times, the overall popular of this duo with just CIO-CEO partnership, gets undermined when either the organization or the CEO or both, maybe they’re not looking at the potential of what this partnership can do. So what changes or what tweaks would you think would a CEO need to make and this is not maybe for your CEO’s but across the board. So that they start looking at mining or harnessing the power of this partnership. Bob?
Bob: Kudos to Mel thinking about the analysts and the investors of the company. He’s like four steps past where I am. [chuckles] So congratulations on that. I’m not even thinking about that now but I really need to, now that you mention it. But to answer the original question, I mostly just spend time with the CIO, bounce ideas off them, kind of bring him into the fold and it depends on the CIO, if you have an bits and bytes guy like Mel was saying before, might not be a good fit. You don’t have to open the kimono and say, you’re in the club just because of your title. But it should be that way with everybody, that’s the leader of the organization is, understand what they can provide, the value they bring, bounce business ideas often that aren’t IT specific ideas. And see what the answers are.
Sanjog: And what chains us down as an organization, Mel? When you look at organizations where they may have a great CEO and a CIO but somehow the organization, is it the culture, is it some history that they want to live or some external impression that they want to maintain and that’s why they not come together?
Mel: I think of all of those things, every company has an embedded culture. If you go back, let’s say you have an organization where the IT team hasn’t done the basics which Bob talked about earlier, the phone lines go out because they haven’t correctly set up the infrastructure to support the growth of the business or they run capital projects and they don’t deliver those. Well, that becomes a part of the view of IT, when you misses deadlines and you’re overextended on costs. And it’s hard to shake that. Time to shake that once, once the organization starts to say, “Oh my Gosh, here comes the IT folks, it’s going to cost us double, and it’s going to take us three times as long.” It’s hard to turn that.
So the focus on delivering the basics, the focus on living up to your commitments, if your commitment, you’re going to deliver a project in six months, then you need to push every string you possibly can to do that. When you do that, when they look at you as a reliable dependable part of the organization, then you’ll get those additional conversations. When I when I took over this role, one of the things that I said both to the organization as well as to our internal customer base, I said, “I look at this IT organization as a services or it’s an internal services organization, and we will aspire to be the best service organization within Ryder.” And Ryder at its heart is a services company. So I’m pressing the organization to be as good at what we do, as our maintenance operation team, our fleet management team are for our external customers. And that’s one of the ways you break that cycle that you could begin around how people think about IT.
The other thing that I would say and I’ll point this out is, Jim Fowler who’s the CEO over at GE, it just happened to be looking at some communication over last week. And the CIO, GE stood out and said, they have developed an external solution that’s going to bring the corporation 15 billion dollars in revenue by 2020. That’s the CEO of GE is talking to that CIO. So that CEO found the way to not only deliver the basics but to figure out a way to take what they do and turn it into a solution that the company can sell. That’s one of the ways you get the attention of both the CFO and the CEO, is to help them, again help the corporation expand and grow.
Sanjog: That’s great. Now, Bob when you look at a CIO, have you noticed that almost many CIO’s have seen they take pride in having their tenure four years or less. It’s almost like someone says, “Oh you know what? There is a mess when I go in, I go and clean it up but now I’m bored, so I’m going to move on to the next thing.” When you look at an organization and the potential that this partnership could have, what is causing these people to just be mercenaries versus saying, “Okay, I’d now clean the mess, now it’s the time to maximize what this organization can be, with my help working alongside the CEO.”
Bob: I haven’t met a whole lot of– and I’m very engaged with the Atlanta Networking CEO Community, we have a great one, very close knit. And I’ve yet to meet anybody is bragging or having stripes on their shoulders about how little tenure they had in organization. I have met almost everybody myself included, I walked in an organization and say, “Wow, this is a mess, I’m going to fix it.” We leave, thinking we fixed it and the next the CIO who follows and says that the exact same thing we said before we got here. So I have no delusions that the next CIO is not going to come into my feet and say, “Oh, everything is screwed up.” All I can hope is just less screwed up when I started.
And as far as staying at an organization versus not staying, it’s just like any other company, any other job, any other CFO, CEO. Why do they stay versus why do they leave, and it’s really not IT specific but personally and Mel might have a different experience but I’ve yet to see CIO as mercenaries or hired guns unless there is in a contractor role.
Mel: Yeah, I would agree with that. The one thing I will say in addition to that is, when you do walk into a situation where you show like you’ve got to do a significant amount of transformation or clean up whatever the case may be, those four years are for hard years. Its change of the culture, it’s resetting of a strategy potentially, it’s educating the organization on it and then it’s driving for results. That’s heavy lifting. I could see at the end of that that a lot of people will say, “Woo, man, I need to go try something else.” Just for a mental and a professional refresh, so talk about the mercenary view but more about– that’s a hard four, five years to push to change an organization. Especially the size that you typically will have with an IT organization.
Sanjog: So once the person is cleaned the shop, why leave? Why is there a boredom that’s setting in, is the person not challenged enough, Mel?
Mel: I don’t think its boredom. Whether you’re in an operating side of the business or in IT, you expend so much energy and so much of your strategy of developing a strategy to get the organization to turn to a certain point. And you almost have to reinvent yourself for the next phrase. Because you’re going to get the organization to now– you don’t really want to go on the steady state because you never go steady state to Bob’s point. There’s still another level to get to. Especially if you’re an organization that’s growing, I think it’s a situation where, it’s time to go to a new level, it’s time to transition into another phase. And that person makes an objective case or some sort of whether or not they are the right person for the next phase.
And oftentimes people say no, I think it would be best if another person takes them to the next part. So I don’t see it as mercenary.
Sanjog: Let’s take a quick break listeners, we will be right back and see what is the value that a tech savvy CEO could brings to this relationship. Because in many cases CIO say, “Oh my God, these guys don’t really understand it but perhaps the new breed of CEO’s themselves are looking at the value of technology. If they have it or they don’t have it, how much of that has an impact, and if they for example, don’t have it, what do you do as a CIO to groom the CEO in terms of the importance of IT how it can add value so that help, it becomes like a help me, help you. Please stay tuned listeners, we will be right back.
Sanjog: So Bob, when you look at the different organizations, where the of course the expectation is the CIO learns business and totally is aware of what’s going on throughout the organization. And expect it to work with the COO looking up to him. How about looking at the CEO and their level of understanding of how important or how valuable or what are the different applications technology can have in building the business to the next– taking it to the next level? In some cases we have seen CEO’s, not having that background so the CIOs struggle. But in other cases when they have, they have seen an improvement. So what can be done in situations where the CEO’s truly are not tech savvy, maybe they just need help?
Bob: And I have not– I work for folks who were tech savvy and who were not tech savvy. And to be honest with you, it’s easier for me to work with folks– for folks who are not tech savvy. The ones who are at the most hindrance– [clears throat] almost a hindrance because they know all the answers. And you really are seen as the IT guy and they give you things to do that are IT related.
When talking as a CEO, I have two options, I can either teach him technology or I can speak his language. And let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot easier speaking his language then even trying to teach him mine. Not because mine is harder but he shouldn’t have to know it. He shouldn’t care. We shouldn’t have to understand connectivity. He should just know our systems up and how we’re going to make more money. And that’s really where I bridge the gap to his side of the conversation. I’m talking EBITDA, I’m talking P&L. I’m talking revenue and profit. I mean that’s the language that in my mind successful progressive CIO’s need to be talking.
Sanjog: So Mel, you might have a different experience here because your CEO is a former CIO.
Mel: Yeah, I had prided myself through my career to never do a job that my boss has done. And I feel woefully in this one. Our CEO actually went through the same route, operating leader that actually did two tours as a CIO. And actually he was one of the people who came to talk to me about taking on the role and the value of it. He actually said, he’s done about 20 roles and his– of course 15 roles and 20 plus years here at Ryder. And he said, the CIO role was one of the two toughest roles that he did on progression to CEO. Because he’s been on both sides, he doesn’t operate with me with the same way that Bob just mentioned. He’s actually very helpful.
He’s the second person in the room with me to help frame for the rest of the leadership team. The risks, he challenges, the rationale for taking on certain projects. Even when our team comes forward and say, “Hey, we’ve got a project that we’re in the middle of where the business chain is asking for additional scope.” He will actually engage in the discussion around, why that scope is appropriate and what it means from a technical standpoint or even the counter so. He’s been very helpful in the process. And then now elevating the CIO from the role of reporting to the Chief Administrative Officer to him was also part of his design to get closer to this part of the business which he sees as one of the lunch plans on creating value for shareholders.
Bob: I do want to add to that though real quick. I do see the trend changing. So if you just think about the technology that people have at home including a CEO and other executives. They’ve got iPhones, they’ve got on demand for TV and video streaming, they’ve got iPads. Everything, if they want to do something there is an app for it. And so I think that the trend we’re seeing is, it’s easy. I can just go to the App Store and get an app, why can’t IT build this. Or why can’t we get a new phone because they just came out with this cool new technology. And so just even as whole just the consumerization of IT, most people including in my company have better technology at home than they do at work. And I think 10 or 15 years ago it was the opposite, you went to work and you had things you didn’t have available at home.
So I think there’s a whole perception issue which is– what you have at home is cool but you’re not going to have that at the office and here is why, but we do want to get you what you need to do your job– [crosstalk]
Mel: And Bob, I would say to that point, to that particular point, if a CIO find themselves in a position today where they don’t have the voice of the CIO or the support of the CFO or the principal business unit leaders, they got to take a step back and think about what they’re doing. Because there’s no business that really exists today. Bob and I are both in old school industrial businesses. We deliver goods to people or we warehouse them in warehouses for them. And so even a business like both of ours, is pushing for more technology. More technology every day. And so the discussion with the CEO is inevitable, the discussion with the CFO is inevitable. I think we as CIOs have to continue to build our skill set to talk the language of business that Bob talked about earlier. So that the translation is at the point, the solution is the point.
Sanjog: So let’s look at the other executive cabinet leaders. Like you talk CMOs, you talk CFO and other roles that are as part, the other people who are at the table, who have a seat at the table. They also sometimes have a different view than what it could be, not what it should be, what it could be for all of them to work better and support the CIO to get an elevated empowerment and work closely with the CEO to eventually get to the next level. Because sometimes business unit leaders are the CMOs or CFOs just look at CIO, maybe not at the level they could. What can be done to change that perception and to build such a cabinet so that not only CEO helps elevate them but everybody else also pushes from below? Bob.
Bob: So it’s all about results. If you keep going to the CEO thing, here’s the results for your business. Here’s the result of your business. They don’t actually have a business. They have people on their team who have the businesses. So, one of you want to know, just as important not to skulk around the Senior VP of a sales region and go to the CEO to say, “Hey, I have a new sales app that they can make you a bunch of money.” Because then you will be seen as, kind of backstabber credit thug type of person. So its results for them though, go to that senior sales person or sales executive and say, “Hey, I’ve got an idea.” It’s going to the CFO to say, “Hey, I’ve got an idea, here so I can solve some of your problems.” Because everybody has problems and really the role of the CIO was to help solve those, not just up to the CEO but across the organization.
And you also have those people once you can convert them to say, “Hey, CIO is actually doing a really good job.” So then you have some kind of folks on your team talking to the CEO without you ever asking for credit or mentioning it.
Sanjog: Now when we look at the CIOs, when we started the show, talking about CIOs who come from a tech background usually have a disadvantage because they just cannot leave the geek side of it. But is there some hope for those people to really come and work shoulder to shoulder with the CEO and see that that they have this background? So Mel, you came from operations, of course you have business side and then you embrace the technology but people there are many, many, many people who are from the technology side, do you think that they don’t stand a chance?
Mel: I think no, I think they actually do. I think what they do today is probably even more valuable to the organization than it was when 10, 12, 15 years ago, prior to the dotcom bubble. And you look at the Senior Marketing, Chief Marketing Officer can’t be successful without in this environment, without a mobile application, without a fully functional website the Chief Sales Officer can- none of the divisional presidents can really get. They could get more productive growth through the use of technology then they could by doing blunt force work with their organizations.
So the technology team the folks that have the skillset have a unique opportunity at this point time in the industrial economy to help automate or enable processes that have been manual, semi manual, dysfunctional processes that don’t provide a lot of information because you don’t have the right data linkages and so forth. So with this day and age, it’s a way that technology is moving and the example that Bob gave, I think anybody that has his technical background, that goes through and resist the introvert temptations to really extend themselves that way, learn how to communicate with their peers and so forth. And you get the opportunity be a rock star. I mean you could really help some people be successful with the skillset that developers and portfolio leaders have today.
Sanjog: Now when you are looking at the last few people who they have to work with internally, you may be able to make friends with them the CMO, CFO and other executive leaders and even other line of business leaders. Now if a CIO has to really spread their wings, they have to be able to learn what’s happening outside. What’s happening in the marketplace, and what’s happening, like for example, Mel, you did something with the Analyst Community, now that’s like a specific instance but how is CIO exposed externally so that the person really gets to see what CEO sees and or thinks? How do you make that happen as part of them doing their role and as a typical day of a CIO is like thinking, not just thinking like a CEO but also getting exposed like a CEO?
Please stay tuned listeners, we will be right back. We’ll take a quick break and we’ll explore this when we come back from the break. Listeners please stay tuned.
Sanjog: Welcome back. So, Mel about the external exposure, I personally would say, I would get more exposure by going out and thread unchartered territories. And look at things how are they happening in the marketplace versus limiting ourselves to confines off an organization alone.
Mel: Correct, I would agree. I think that’s a great question. Before I came into this role, there was – as a growing it from an operating perspective there was always an expectation that I would engage with customers, that I would work with suppliers that I would go to Executive Development classes, to learn the business, learning the business, the industry, learn the specifics about customers and how our suppliers play a role in the delivery team. All that’s available to the CIO. The CIO again to be– and anybody in this technical team to be fully effective on a long term basis, you really have to be connected to what drives your business. And so I think, you got to look at it the same way, if there’s an account leader that’s going to go prospecting for a new customer or for you’re going to open up a new vertical, you’re going to start trying to drive business into the pharmaceutical industry. And there’s no reason why you’re Chief Technical or CIO, folks who can’t go to those discussions. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t go to working for an Executive Development class. So they understand more of the bits of bytes but ROI and EBITDA and so forth and so on.
So I think taking the artificial constraints around the technology leadership leaders just go to micro strategy courses and things along those lines can stay in their lane, taking that artificial constraint away is what we’ve all got to do. And that starts with the individual, looking for those opportunities as much as the business making the opportunities available.
Sanjog: So Bob, life from the day of a CIO is kind of different than life in the day of a CEO. If you were to do a comparison or a contrast, and if you had to go and remove that contrast, wouldn’t that be a better way for you to really be thinking and living like a CEO while of course you have a title and you have a role to play. And you will be seen as someone who gets it.
Bob: No, not in my opinion. That’s his job, my job is to know more and keep the wheels on the bus. Number two, get projects done on time. Number three, add value as far as understanding the business and bringing the solutions. If I had his job, then I wouldn’t be doing my job and that foundation that we had built about good service and the right staff and the right people that atrophy and die, and I’ll be back to square one.
And I probably might have a different view than Mel, not sure. But at least 50% of my job has to be direct management of my IT organization. Anything left is kind of discretionary. Which means, I can’t spend 100% of my time doing what the CEO does. So there is a base level of just things that I had to provide.
Sanjog: No, totally. And so you are saying that being an enabler is your primary responsibility. And we are not to forget it, totally taken. Would you say that just being an enabler also undermines what you could have otherwise delivered and I’m not saying you in particular but anyone who is primarily looking at CIO role as an enabler role, to just say, “Okay, this is what my job, these are the confines but they would not expand.” And in turn they would not get the exposure which in turn will not provide the insights they could have shared with the CEO to take it to the next level?
Bob: Absolutely. Like I said, 50% of my time is managing the IT department, it’s that discretionary, other 50% that I need to be focused on visiting customers which nobody told me, no. Going to either trade events or understanding the business better. Until somebody says no, that’s what we should be focused on. And not using that discretionary time to further manage IT.
You could get up to 100% of your time managing them down to the very detail level. But I think you’re doing a disservice to yourself and the organization. I think you need to say, there’s a point that you can say, good enough, the team runs well enough, I’m now not going to make it perfect. I’m going to spend my time over here doing something else good enough.
Sanjog: Bob, thank you so much for your candid response, this is was very much needed. Mel, when you look at your organization and you look at your former CIO, and if you look at how he spent his time earlier versus now, if you look at that Delta what he’s doing as a CEO. And if some of that could be also embraced by you, do you think you guys will work together better?
Mel: No. I think to Bob’s point, I need to have a level of understanding and empathy for what my boss’s challenges are. But I don’t need to do his job. Both Bob and I are, have similar backgrounds. The rule that you live by is that you update your processes and then you the next step of automating as much as of that optimize process as you can. And so you think about the role of the IT organization and that it is to make that process better. And so I extend that out to the whole of IT. We’ve got to do our baseline, block and tackle, and the 50% that Bob talked about. And then take the next steps to help the organization get incrementally better.
And I don’t think it’s encroaching on the CEO’s job. I think it’s looking at ways to understand again the real needs of the organization. And then leveraging technology towards follow some of those grants.
Sanjog: One last question, 30 seconds each. How about sharing your specific nuggets or one or two top ideas you would have or suggestions you’ll have force the CIOs, who aspire to have a much better partnership level relationship with the CEO? Starting with you Bob.
Bob: Hope you picked, Mel, if that’s a good answer I just want to piggyback and said what he said.
Bob: I’d go back to those just the fundamentals, to keep the wheels on the bus, keep the infrastructure up, get projects done on time and on budget. And then understand the business, and get business results. Make more money, get customer attentions, sticky factor. Really just start doing things until you get told no, start doing things to make your company money or achieve a strategic goals without being asked or told how to do it or what to do.
Mel: I think Bob gave you the blueprint. 50% at least, 50% of your focus is on doing what you’re supposed to do, you try to do, focus on the results, deliver the results and then as you deliver those results, you then earned the right, to branch out and learn more about the business and to provide support at different levels of the business so. Do the core first and then take the steps out to both learn and support the business at a higher level.
Sanjog: What a fantastic discussion today. On behalf of the show and our listeners, thank you so much Bob and Mel for sharing your thoughts on how organizations, and the people at the top which is the CIO and the CEO and of course the other executive management team, can work in such a way so that the CIO, CEO relationship is thought in a different way and in fact implemented in a different way. Thank you so much.
Bob: Thank you.
Mel: Thank you.
Sanjog: And listeners, please like us on Facebook, search for CIO Talk Radio and be sure to follow us on Twitter and join our LinkedIn group. Thank you again for listening to CIO Talk Radio, this is Sanjog Aul, your talk show host. Till next week, take care and God bless.Less