CIO Spotlight: Rajeev Ravindran, Ryder System, Inc.

What roles or skills are you finding the most difficult to fill? "The hardest roles to fill for me are data scientists, enterprise architects, and scrum masters."

Name: Rajeev Ravindran

Company: Ryder System, Inc.

Job title: SVP & Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: January 2018

Location: Miami, Florida, United States

Rajeev Ravindran is SVP and CIO for Ryder System, Inc., (NYSE: R) an $8.4 billion FORTUNE 500® commercial fleet management, dedicated transportation, and supply chain solutions company. He is a member of Ryder's Executive Leadership Team and is responsible for all aspects of Ryder's IT organisation, including technology vision and strategy, operations and project management, infrastructure and software development, resource optimisation, and systems development lifecycle. Prior to this position with Ryder, Ravindran was the CIO and group vice president at JM Enterprises, and has more than 20 years of IT leadership experience. He has worked in roles at various companies including Interactive Metronome,, and AutoNation.

What was your first job? My first job was a locksmith on the University of Miami campus. Imagine hundreds of college kids misplacing their door room keys 24/7. It was nonstop. A few months in, I knew there had to be an easier and more efficient way to rekey the locks when students lost their keys, while keeping track of all the combinations used. To rekey a lock, we had to calculate the various combinations available because you could not use the same combination twice. You can imagine the thousands of combinations we had to go through daily. To make matters worse, all the calculations were written down on paper and kept track of the same way. So, we created a program to calculate the key combinations remaining. It was the first time I put the learnings from my dual degrees of studies - electrical engineering and computer engineering - to use. I was paid $5.50 per hour and did this for two summers in a full-time capacity and then all-year between classes from 1985-88.

Did you always want to work in IT? I did not really know what IT entailed when I started my university studies. From the time I was a little boy, I always wanted to be an engineer working in automotive. I was always fascinated by how things worked, destroying perfectly good devices as I pulled them apart. Very few universities had the combination of computer engineering and electrical engineering as a dual major in the mid-80s. The University of Miami was one of them and once I visited the campus, coupled with the Florida sunshine, my decision was made.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a dual Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering and computer engineering from the University of Miami. Computer science at that time was in the school of business. As an Engineer though we had to take quite a few programming and data structures classes. I also began a dual MBA and Master of Science program, but did not finish.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I have always liked technology and wanted to be hands-on and being able to utilise those skills helped shape my career path. I worked for CharlesPak Footwear, a company that manufactured shoes in Taiwan that were then shipped to Miami and ultimately sold in the Caribbean Islands. That is where my career path in IT started. I managed the company's inventory control with computers. I was there for three years, then moved on. My longest tenure, 15 years, was with JM Family Enterprises. Ryder is the 11th company in my career path.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? There are two significant projects we are leading this year. One is a transformational ERP project and the other is focused on how we leverage technology knowledge in the business. The ERP project is a significant undertaking to modernise and consolidate our various human resource and finance systems into a user-friendly, one-stop-shop for all personnel and financial data under a new platform. This is a massive undertaking that will touch every area of the business, and ultimately streamline a lot of the work our employees do every day.

One of the ways we are leveraging technology in the business, we have started to shift the ownership of some technology services right into the business. When I think about the future, I see technology getting much easier to use, which means we need to start looking into organisational sustainability models, self-service and how we can use self-service to move faster. Traditionally, someone in a business function would have an idea, which IT would take and then emerge from months of development with a product that no one wants. The more we shift technology resources right into that business function, the less often that happens. In essence, cross-pollinating, combined with Agile transformation, creates a strong cohesive product team.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? My priorities are the CEOs and the priorities of the senior leadership team. The CIO must have the trust of the executive committee before any transformation. I did not start this shift of ownership as soon as I joined the company. I first delivered on some key initiatives and proved my commitment to our overall business goals. While I am dedicated to the IT organisation, my executive peers know that my first loyalty is to them.

A CIO has to demonstrate a hands-on commitment to the transformation. When we start work on a new product, I am hands-on. If there is a late-night issue, I am right there with them.  

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? That really depends on the company and ultimately on the culture of the company. Using Ryder as an example, we are not there yet, but eventually we will have a bi-modal IT team. What I mean by that is the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work: one focused on keeping the lights on and the other focused on driving a digital transformation. My main goal is to create self-service for the business. Technology can enable that.

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? Oftentimes, when people talk about digital transformation, they are really talking about technology. For me, taking the company "digital" is both about technology and a mindset shift. As a part of this mindset shift, we are moving from an applications-focused environment to a product-focused environment. In our new model, we look at every application as a product that has a life cycle determined by a product owner, who is typically in a business function other than IT. 

In order to shift to a product model, we need to get the business units onboard. My team and I meet with Ryder's business leaders to answer some questions: Why are we shifting to a product model? Why change at all when we have been so successful as a company?  Getting the business unit presidents on board to the product model is a critical first step, but even before that, we have to make the shift in IT. In IT, we are moving from a linear thinking perspective to design thinking, and we are moving from waterfall to iterative. The goal of these changes is to create a customer-centric culture, whether those customers are internal or external to Ryder. The customer centric culture along with a product mindset will help with operational efficiency and revenue growth.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? IT provides the skill set, innovation, rapid development, and strategic alignment with the business. We begin with the corporate strategy and then align the goals of IT and the technology roadmap, which enables us to drive innovation. Every project has a real-time dashboard so we have visibility into all aspects of a project and can measure every KPI in real-time.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it?  Ryder's commitment to digital transformation and being at the forefront of technology and innovation is woven into the overall message, both internally and externally, from our CEO on down.

Ryder has been around for more than 85 years, but the culture stems from our CEO. Being the Ryder CEO since 2013 (and with the company for more than 25 years), Robert Sanchez leads by example. He is very collaborative in his leadership style and always challenging us to do things differently. With that culture, I look to hire change agents. However, it is critical that they bring about change with emotional intelligence.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The hardest roles to fill for me are data scientists, enterprise architects, and scrum masters. The demand for these skills is high. There is a lot of data to be mined for intelligence - what I call the second most important asset we have - but there is a scramble to understand how to strategically use the data and what it really means in moving the business.

What's the best career advice you ever received? When I was 10 years old, my grandfather told me that it doesn't matter what you do, just do it well. And, while you're doing it, treat people well.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, at Ryder we do have succession plans. I think succession planning is a critical business function that prepared the company to continue. Things should not stop because I am not here. You need strong, more than capable staff at all levels to allow leaders to have time to think and to look at the bigger picture.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? My words of wisdom are to be passionate about what you do and how you do it, to love what you do, and enjoy the journey. Don't just get to the goal and be done, always be curious, always learn more.

What has been your greatest career achievement? That one is easy. It all comes down to leadership and nothing really to do with IT. I worked with a developer that had worked for me for 10 years. I mentored him to help him grow then I put him in a role he had no experience in. I knew he would be successful. His leadership style along with his intelligence would make him successful. He is now VP of HR at a large, well-known company.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have placed a higher value on emotional intelligence, rather than just delivering.

What are you reading now? I am reading two books… "Driving Digital" by Isaac Sacolick. It's the leader's guide to business transformation through technology. And, "Extreme Ownership" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Most people don't know that I… Have three citizenships… Indian, American, and Irish. Also, many do not know that I am an avid photographer. I like to take pictures of people when they are not posing. The more authentic and natural, the better. I am still learning about lighting.

In my spare time, I like to…Build and track race cars for high speed driving at some of the well-known road-course tracks around the country.

Ask me to do anything but… Compromise my core values of sincerity, honesty, integrity, family, and fairness. As well as, ballroom dance. Not going to happen. Ever.