CIO Spotlight: Richard Gifford, Wincanton

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? "Focus on the value that your team can bring to your customers and organisation first and the technology second."

Name: Richard Gifford

Company: Wincanton

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: April 2017

Location: Chippenham, United Kingdom

Richard Gifford is responsible for driving the IT and digitised strategy at Wincanton, while also ensuring that IT continues to support its successful growth and operational requirements. He joined the business from Carillion plc, where he was CIO of their Construction Services and Group business units having previously held senior IT positions in other large plc and public sector organisations.

What was your first job? My first job after leaving university was working for Whitbread plc as a graduate trainee. My passion at that stage was marketing, having studied the subject and gained professional qualifications. I was delighted to land a job in such a prestigious marketing team.

Did you always want to work in IT? My ambition was to work in FMCG marketing, and I saw the importance of IT having studied the subject at A Level. I have always been keen to exploit the commercial opportunities that IT provides, which has stood me in good stead.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a BA in Business Studies, a Marketing Diploma, a Market Research Diploma and an MBA

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? Initially I progressed through the marketing ranks before taking up senior IT roles. You could say that this was a detour, but I found the opportunities and challenges to enable corporate vision compelling through this route. 

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Wincanton is focussed on growth. We are supporting this through scaling up, modernising existing systems and solutions, exploiting their capabilities to support our customers, and by being innovative in all we do. In each of these areas we have major programmes of work underway. We are also investing time and effort in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which are becoming mainstream.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? As above, the top priorities are growth, growth and more growth. The systems need to be able to scale to do this, be responsive to customer requirements and be intuitive to use. Data and processes are increasingly important as we seek optimisations and new business models.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I'm not sure what a ‘conventional' CIO is. The role is there to drive value in the organisation. This is no longer just about hard IT, but about innovation and new market business opportunities.

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? Our approach to digital transformation is to drive operational efficiency. We have a designed plan and architecture to guide this, which is executed through our innovation programme (W2 Labs) and a number of POCs we are running.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Each W2 Labs or POC has clear entry and exit criteria. These are defined in order to enable us to take a fast failure/success approach.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? As a UK organisation, we have a wide geography with many sites; such as warehouses, transport hubs and vehicle maintenance units. The challenge for us is to be able to work in a collaborative and agile manner. This is achieved through organisational design and supported by tools such as Office365, Skype, Teams, etc.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? It's less about the specific role but more about the attitude and cultural fit of the individual - each individual needs to understand what it means to drive growth. Examples of recent roles where it has taken longer than expected to recruit are CISO and EA.

What's the best career advice you ever received? I was told by a coach years ago that ‘if you don't know how to lose, then you don't know how to win'. This is very true. Energy, courage and resilience are very important

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. We do have succession plans, which are constantly in progress. The challenges are finding new opportunities alongside delivering customer projects on time and on budget, while innovating at the same time. However, this also makes Wincanton IT an exciting place to work.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Focus on the value that your team can bring to your customers and organisation first and the technology second.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I'm not sure I have a single greatest achievement having worked in a number of functions across a range of sectors. The portability of skills would rank highly though.  

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I may have stuck in my comfort zone for a little too long occasionally. But I have no regrets.

What are you reading now? I read a lot of books and magazines. My favourite author is John Irving and I'm currently re-reading Avenue of Mysteries.

Most people don't know that I… Occasionally race an original 1878 penny farthing, which has included races around the city of London in support of the London Nocturne.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with the family. I'm a keen cyclist and like to get out on the road at weekend and compete when I've have enough time to do so.

Ask me to do anything but… Give an instant answer. I often like to consider things before making decisions.