CIO Spotlight: Monica Caldas, Liberty Mutual

What's the best career advice you ever received? “Don’t be anyone else, be adaptable, but be yourself and be authentic.”

Liberty Mutual

Name: Monica Caldas

Company: Liberty Mutual

Job title: EVP & Chief Information Officer, GRM

Date started current role: July 2018

Location: Boston, MA

As the Global CIO of Liberty Mutual’s Global Retail Markets, Monica Caldas brings cross-industry experience to the global stage to lead as a change agent. Caldas’ most critical mission is to unify an operation that has grown through 20+ acquisitions over the last decade and historically operated autonomously. She unites employees across 15 countries and relies on her transdisciplinary training in operating technology, solving problems using data and executing change in complex global economies to deliver business model innovation through a robust digital strategy.

What was your first job? My very first job as a teenager was working at the first McDonald’s in my town in Connecticut. The restaurant owner interviewed me and hired me to be part of his first team. He was eager to be successful, shared in his vision for the restaurant and energised me to want to help in any way I could. That vision combined with my parents instilling in me a hard work ethic led me to Assistant Manager in under 6 months. I was cashier, made meals, cleaned tables and bathrooms, and did inventory management and ordering. My approach was to be proactive; I knew what the vision was and did not need prompting to make sure everything was running smoothly. It is a great reminder of how powerful it is to communicate to everyone what success looks like and why it matters.

Did you always want to work in IT? I was the first one in my family to go to college, so I was not surrounded by a business or technology vocabulary. My parents influenced me to work hard and be passionate about what I did because everything else would fall into place. I knew I wanted to be in the business world, and I developed an early passion for process simplification. I remember my first job at McDonald’s and always watching our metrics on customers served and time to deliver a meal. It was manual and I was constantly looking at what we could do differently to make it a better customer experience. I connected that interest to the power of technology and in college, it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career in tech.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I look at education as both a formal process of school as well as what information you surround yourself with on a regular basis. I am a lifelong learner and today am constantly looking for ways to grow my knowledge base. My formal education was from the University of Connecticut where I completed my undergrad degree, a Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems, and subsequently, earned my MBA from Pennsylvania State University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I joined the General Electric Information Technology Leadership Program when I completed my undergrad degree. That program was a terrific match for my passion of making things better with technology. I thrived with the challenge of the bar always getting higher and the expectation that you would contribute significant outcomes to the company’s mission. I spent 17 years with GE and was able to contribute in meaningful ways with every team that I was part of. I worked with exceptional leaders around the globe and had the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. I would not say I took any detours, but I would say I took risks in taking roles that were extremely challenging because I trusted the leadership mechanisms of the company and felt supported to take those risks.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? I joined Liberty Mutual three years ago with the mission to help unify our disparate IT operations into a unified team. Having worked on the global stage for most of my career, I recognise that it’s not about centralisation of work or simply moving around boxes on an organisational chart. Instead, I approach it with the philosophy of creating value locally with global scale. This translates to speed, innovation, and efficiency in how to operate an IT group.

Thus, the technology investments that have been the most significant are anchored to ensuring we have our internal fundamentals well managed with aggressive efficiency and modernisation targets, that we are differentiating our capabilities with an eye towards what matters in a local market, that we are making the right tech bets to continue to innovate and drive change with technology and that we have the right talent in the right place. The intersection of these anchors drives our north star. I would summarise it simply as a win-win digital transformation that brings together 109 years of insurance know-how, with digital capabilities normally associated to an insurtech.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? A few years ago, we decided to operate as one global company in every market, Taking advantage of our global footprint and our 109 years of knowledge, we understood that we couldn´t look at the technology that made the company run in a silo. Thus, the priorities aligned with technology are well intersected with the overall company goals. I established our priorities to focus on operating our systems landscape with the right set of fundamentals and operating mechanics. We then connected the needs of the 16 local markets around the world with the right process and technology capabilities while continuously innovating with emerging techniques and tools.

I like to orient my team towards a mission to ensure we are focused on the right outcome and we are truly creating value. We are well underway with our Agile transformation and have been on a digital transformation journey that is delivering global scale to local markets. This translates to capabilities our employees and partners can use to serve our customers with the products they need.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Traditional CIO role is focused on managing IT to ensure it is operating and maintained, yet today the CIO role needs to move beyond maintenance and core systems implementation to true value creation. CIOs need to rethink their role. It is no longer enough to be operating efficiently and saving money. That is table stakes. Today, to win in the market, regardless of industry, CIOs need to be at the table co-creating ideas on revenue generation and growth powered by technology. This type of responsibility calls for a different set of skills beyond a good technologist; it calls for someone who is curious to continue to learn the industry as it evolves, as competition emerges, perhaps from unusual places.

Another responsibility that CIO’s should consider owning is business agility. This is a role that is part of my scope, and it focuses on process standardisation across markets. It is a challenging aspect to the CIO role because it requires a simplification mindset across all functions beyond technology, and to some extent, to be successful doing this requires some degree of culture transformation. Ultimately, it is about asking the question of “what is different and what is the same and how can we leverage global scale to deliver more value?” We apply that lens to the entire business operating procedures and use a custom framework to evaluate standardisation opportunity that then translates to reusable components. I believe that the CIO role sees across all functions and has an incredible opportunity to help shape a set of simpler operating procedures.

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? Traditionally, insurance businesses rely on different processes and technologies to manage quotes, claims, customer services, purchasing and other core activities. This brings a complexity of systems, hardware and software for the insurer across its different products and markets. To address these inefficiencies, 24 months ago, we started to pilot the concept of building a new set of modular and collaborative technologies to manage an insurance business in the cloud. We are well underway with this digital transformation and the emphasis is to deliver a better customer experience while removing friction from our internal operations. Based on the concept of a network modularity, the company has gone from a greenfield to a full solution, where products and services can be launched with no constraints related to language, currencies, or market context. These developments will facilitate a leaner operating model, particularly in relation to low touch and no touch products. With this approach, Liberty Mutual will become more agile in launching new products, or entire business units in existing markets.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We are transforming our culture around the globe to understand the opportunity that digital business creates for our employees, partners and customers. We have a set of training modules that we created to help our top leaders understand the language of digital and technology. This enables us to have a shared vocabulary that facilitates brainstorming and prioritisation of the investments. I call this lifting the Digital IQ. This is the foundation for our digital maturity, and we have made tremendous progress in the last 30+ months. In parallel, we have KPIs by market that measure progress against local market environment. We look at process simplification and automation as well as the flexibility of creating custom products for our customers so we can deliver exactly what they need.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it?  I define culture as; what people do, how they do it and why they do it. McKinsey has done extensive research on this topic and one of their surveys, Organisational Health Index, identifies those in the top quartile of strong cultures post a return to shareholders 60 percent higher than median companies. Thus, the evidence is there that culture matters both for employee engagement and shareholder return.

I am proud that the Liberty Mutual culture is grounded on core values that are shared globally. This helps us navigate our decision making quickly, as evidenced in how we responded and continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, in support of our employees, customers, and partners. From providing workplace flexibility and expanded benefits for employees, to issuing refunds and providing payment flexibility for our customers, to issuing grants for community partners on the front lines of the coronavirus, we’re here to help in tough times, as we’ve done for over 100 years. Thus, good cultural fit is about bringing together a diversity of thought and background and connecting that to our core values; make things better, be open, keep it simple, act responsibly and put people first. To cultivate it, we role model it as executive leaders, we celebrate it and we provide forums for learning and growth.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Tech talent is in high demand globally and that was the situation 10 years ago and it remains the situation today. published an article earlier this year by Johanna Ambrosio about this topic that identified the 13 most difficult to fill IT jobs with skills involving cybersecurity, AI/ML and data science/analytics at the top of the list. This resonates with what I am seeing.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Don’t be anyone else, be adaptable, but be yourself and be authentic. Observe leaders that model the behaviours that complement your own personal principles and values as you look to grow your leadership style.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Every job type has fundamental skills required to be successful. However, leading technology globally is very fluid given the evolution of the markets. I always look for high-performing technology leaders who have energy to respond to dynamic change,  can energise others, have an edge to drive change and take risks, and those who can execute the vision. These are the four components that I ensure we expose our high-performing staff to and enable them to develop the competencies.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Be active and be bold about being engaged in your own career journey. Don’t wait for someone to create a roadmap for you. Know what paths you are interested in, seek out people that help you gain more clarity so you know what  the building blocks are to make progress. Take roles that take you outside of your comfort zone so you can develop the skills you need, especially if you are a woman in tech. Several research studies show that there are less than 20% of women in CIO roles in the US. Korn Ferry analysed the top 1,000 US companies by revenue to determine representation and showed that women hold less than 1 in 5 CIO jobs. Take charge of your own roadmap and don’t wait to be invited.

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