CIO Spotlight: Steve O'Donnell, Coventry Building Society

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? "Teamwork, inclusive behaviours and diversity enabled by transparent communications."

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Coventry Building Society

Name: Steve O'Donnell

Company: Coventry Building Society

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: September 2019

Location: Coventry

Steve O'Donnell is an award-winning and highly regarded, a business-focused executive who has global-scale experience in digital transformation, M&A and separation as well as in building and restructuring businesses, teams and processes within the Banking, Insurance, Professional Services, Telecommunications, Utilities and Payments industries. He has significant experience in the Private Equity area, having worked with several PE and VC backed businesses creating exceptional results.

What was your first job?   I started as a design engineer working on IBM and ICL plug-compatible terminal concentrators (3745 and 4250 devices). I learned an important lesson, if it is not working, switch on and tune for maximum smoke. Translated into modern terms, apply smart tests to problems until the solution becomes obvious.

Did you always want to work in IT? I always wanted to be an Engineer and software has eaten the world so IT, and particularly enterprise IT, became an inevitable destination.  It was a good decision and I have had a fantastically interesting career

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have an Electrical Engineering Degree and an MBA. I strongly believe in certifications and I have ITIL, Prince 2 and Agile qualifications.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started as an Engineer working in delivering enterprise IT systems and software.  I then had an opportunity to be involved in a management buy-out and became a reasonably successful entrepreneur. I tried to retire early but got talked into becoming an industry analyst working in the USA as data storage analyst, I developed a strong Social Media following as @stephenodonnell. I then pivoted back to being an entrepreneur, investor and non-executive director. I then settled down into corporate life as a CIO. My life lesson is that I need to keep my brain occupied and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Data and common capabilities exposed via APIs to deliver a repeatable and agile way of working that supports our aspirations to innovate rapidly to meet member needs.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Delivering a digital agenda that better serves our members and drives out exceptions, cost and delays. Simple to say but challenging when working from a predominantly legacy platform.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Some of the digital responsibilities are with marketing, that has been recognised as a mistake and is being remediated. I have my own procurement and finance team and this makes no sense, again that is being remediated.

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 think every CIO is leading a digital transformation? All of the objectives you list are important but our focus is on agility, the ability to innovate at the pace of the market, of which the other objectives are a derivative,

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We religiously measure our CMMI and TMMI maturity as we evolve from being slow and over governed to an agile, product-based organisation.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Teamwork, inclusive behaviours and diversity enabled by transparent communications. I spend my time communicating, being open and transparent and encouraging others to follow my behaviours.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? No question, great enterprise architects and cyber security specialists.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Focus on what you can influence, note the rest, move on.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Naturally, I started mentoring my successor on the day I arrived on the job. To do otherwise is foolhardy.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders?  Focus on the leadership component, you will always be measured by your team. Secondly, never be the most senior person who knows about a serious problem.

What has been your greatest career achievement? That is a difficult question, one of the most difficult was delivering the merger between Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse that resulted in PwC. A combination of "when cultures collide" and herding cats.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently?  I would have kept my IPO investments in Microsoft, Google and Amazon.

What are you reading now? Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart - it's riveting. I typically read at least a book a week, mostly more.

Most people don't know that I… am a keen archaeologist and voraciously read everything I can about the Mesotheolic era and evolutionary psychology.

In my spare time, I like to…play guitar, ride my pushbikes and motorbike and read voraciously.

Ask me to do anything but… be indecisive when I have the data needed to make a decision.