Is your organisation creating the best IT leaders?
Human Resources

Is your organisation creating the best IT leaders?

Is your organisation building the next generation of business technology chiefs? And if not, why?  

The reason I ask this question is that if you look back over the last 30 years of Europe’s business history and then correlate that to the senior technology leaders roaming our continent you will see that three international organisations have been at the forefront of developing the talent that the economy needs to keep moving forwards. These three organisations are fast-moving consumer goods producers Mars and Unilever, and, most recently, EasyJet, the low-cost airline.  

I’ll come back to the detail of how these organisations developed the careers of leading CIOs later, but let’s first focus on that question: is your organisation creating the next generation of business technology leader? Organisations must develop the skills base of their employees at all levels and just because a member of the team is in a senior position that does not mean the organisation can wipe its hands of the person’s development. In fact, when you look at the challenges all market sectors face in the coming years then the need for a leadership team that is ready and prepared is vitally important.  

As everyone knows, the global economy is going through a phase of unprecedented change and none of us know whether we are entering a phase of increased globalisation or a retreat back to a more nationalistic stance. Whichever occurs, the senior technology leadership will have to manage major changes in supply chain, staff sourcing, communications skills and vendor management. 

I am already seeing a slight increase in near-shore operations being adopted by not only CIOs in industry, but also the technology services provider community. With the UK leaving the European Union and the Netherlands and others becoming unsettled, will this trend increase in pace?

At present, and as a result of globalisation, there is a great deal of opaqueness about supply chains and service agreements. Back in the late 1990s when I worked as a TV producer at Sky, we began to discuss the impact of the internet. The term “global village” was used together with an almost hedonistic vision of the future. Globalisation and the internet have created a global village and this is a village where a product or service is a multi-layered construct that is totally reliant on the skills, cost bases and resources of usually two or three continents. In automotive, manufacturing, retail, media, health and logistics, resources, skills, labour, intellectual property, design, branding and consumption rattles back and forth across borders. Yet little of this has been communicated to our teams and to the communities.

Technology itself will continue to drive change alongside the macroeconomic environment. In recent weeks I have had discussions with organisations that are already using and seeing outcomes from artificial intelligence, and automation technologies are increasingly challenging business process models. As technologies such as AI develop they will pull along other technologies such as Blockchain. All of this will have an enterprise and social impact.  

Therefore, to deal with this change, organisations must develop great leaders. Through the 1980s and 1990s Mars and Unilever created a wealth of great technology leaders. These were organisations that at the time were at the forefront of adopting and utilising successfully enterprise resource planning (ERP) technologies which enabled their businesses to become ruthlessly efficient in operations. CIOs that began their careers at Mars and Unilever have gone on to become some of the foremost business technology leaders in telecoms, retail financial services and manufacturing.

Budget airline EasyJet picked up the baton from Unilever and Mars in the late 1990s. As the internet took off alongside its bright orange aircraft, so the role of the technology leader charted a new course, a route that has a direct impact on the customer. As a result, the CIOs that grew up in the cockpit of EasyJet have gone on to become the template by which today’s customer-focused CIO is measured. Today, former EasyJet staff lead retail, leisure, logistics and rival airline businesses.

As the careers of these technology leaders have prospered, so too have EasyJet, Mars and Unilever. Why? As always it comes back to culture: if you are developing the next generation of leader you are creating a great culture with immediate benefits. Yes some of those great leaders will leave and enable other organisations to prosper, but only after they have realised great opportunities within your business.  

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Mark Chillingworth

Mark Chillingworth has over 20 years of journalism and editing experience across media platforms including online, live events, print magazines and television. From 2010 to 2016 he was editor in chief of the award-winning CIO UK. In 2011 he created the CIO 100, an annual power list of the UK’s most transformative CIOs.

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