CIO Spotlight: Francesco Tinto, Walgreens Boots Alliance

Discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. “I firmly believe we should never be dependent on one single leader, with all team members having the capabilities to sustain success at any level”

Walgreens Boots Alliance

Name: Francesco Tinto

Company: Walgreens Boots Alliance

Job title: Senior Vice President and Global Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: September 2019

Location: Deerfield, Illinois

Francesco Tinto has built a storied 30-year career as an established strategist in corporate information technology (IT). He has spent 17-plus years in leadership positions transforming and enhancing well-known Fortune 500 companies, including Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), Kraft Heinz Company, Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble. Across his career he has developed a keen business sense to help eliminate redundancies, enable shared services and ensure IT goals and objectives are aligned with company strategy. His areas of expertise include data analytics, process re-engineering, infrastructure, security and technical services. As Global CIO of WBA, Tinto oversees the IT strategy across all divisions, as well as the implementation of WBA’s technology and digital innovation to support and enable its strategic priorities.

What was your first job? Before my corporate career, I served in the Italian military for one year. While serving in the military, I also had an internship focused on the development of the Decision Support Systems for Sales and Marketing with Procter & Gamble (P&G), where I would later spend more than a decade working in IT.

Did you always want to work in IT? I originally wanted to pursue a manufacturing career path. However, after being exposed to IT and the concepts of looking at the entire enterprise and internal and external processes, it felt like the right fit. Throughout my career, I’ve always had an ambition to use technology to support the development of various products, capabilities and tools to inspire and benefit my teams, my business and the many millions of consumers around the world.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Born and raised in Italy, I earned an electrical engineering degree from the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Bari, now known as the Politecnico of Bari.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My first roles at P&G helped me experience all areas of IT and build a well-rounded understanding of business processes at local, regional and global levels. Since then, I have helped transform and enhance some of the most well-known Fortune 500 companies, including Walgreens Boots Alliance, Kraft Heinz Company and Kraft Foods, through business process improvements, optimising and evolving IT infrastructures and enabling digital transformations. During my career, I have developed a keen business sense to help eliminate redundancies, enable shared services and ensure goals and objectives are aligned with a company’s strategies and priorities are met.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? As announced during WBA’s virtual investor conference in October, we are pursuing a new consumer-centric healthcare strategy to drive sustainable, long-term profitable growth. One of our strategic priorities is to transform and align the core by building the pharmacy of the future and reimagine retail through expanded health and wellness offerings and mass personalisation. As we further accelerate our brands and digital offerings, investments in technology will be crucial to deliver more omnichannel experiences. Additionally, the application of AI/ML to this new business model will help drive personalisation, automation and a more predictive understanding of patients’ health situations.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? As I mentioned above, our CEO, Roz Brewer, laid out the company’s new consumer-centric healthcare strategy earlier this year, anchored by four strategic priorities:

  • Transform and align the core
  • Build our next growth engine with consumer-centric healthcare solutions
  • Focus the portfolio and optimise capital allocation
  • Build a high-performance culture and a winning team

Our IT strategy ladders up to the company strategy centered around the themes of “Modernize, Transform and Disrupt.” Our goal is to help create a customer-centric, data-driven and digitally enabled organisation to support the new business model and personalise healthcare services even more.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? To me, a CIO must own all aspects of IT and digital as one. These core components should not be split among roles or functions. In fact, we have done a lot to collapse the interdepartmental silos to ensure our teams are marching to the same drumbeat – integrating further with Marketing, for example, as we continue our data-led mass personalisation journey. Over the last few years, we have moved from large scale technology implementations to much more customer-facing, experience-based technology implementations.

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? When I joined WBA in September 2019, my key priority was the digital transformation of the company, from one that was focused on our physical, bricks and mortar presence to one that was truly omnichannel. In this work, one thing that I have seen come to life quickly is connecting the work we do every day to keep patients and customers at the center.

This work had all been happening pre-COVID 19, but to meet these changing needs, we accelerated our efforts to modernise and transform our business across every consumer touch point – from vaccine and testing scheduling to chatbots to offering anytime, anywhere convenience across our digital platforms. It’s been an even balance across customer experience, revenue growth and operational efficiency, but in everything we do we ensure our customers have what they need in every community.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? The key for me as CIO is to remain engaged and involved in how things are being executed at the highest levels of the company. We have really moved from talking tech to talking more about the business and how IT enables our organisation-wide strategic priorities. As we continue to transform WBA’s offerings, we are creating customer-centric, data-driven, digitally enabled customer and patient experiences.

In terms of KPIs, we tie everything that we’re doing as a global IT organisation to the overall WBA business strategy. We are investing and unlocking data assets and marketing technology to bring experiences to customers, and as our most recent earnings show, the results speak for themselves: Walgreens' digital reach has grown by 100%, boosting usage by 40%. Boots online sales were up 85% between March 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, and the Boots app has driven considerable online sales and continues to prove popular with customers. However, one thing that has not changed through this intense period of change is our commitment to protecting customer data and respecting the privacy choices of our customer – and that will never change as much as the world around us does.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? To transform the way we interact with our customers and patients, we must start with our own people. I’ve recently reflected about a quote Roz shared at the investor conference from Peter Drucker, a management consultant, who once famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Since Roz joined WBA in March, we’ve brought in some leading experts to assess where we are today and where we need to be. We implemented initiatives where we listen closely to team members at all levels and in all corners of the Company, all around the world. As a result, we just evolved and updated WBA’s purpose, vision and values to be our North Star.

One of our new strategic priorities is building a high-performance culture and a winning team. Within IT specifically, we have placed a clear focus on re-skilling and upskilling team members through our IT Academy, which is supported by partners who are global leaders in this space. Additionally, we have championed and embedded news ways of working and built and supported an engaged diverse workforce and inclusive workplace. We strive to make WBA a great place to work where everyone can thrive and be themselves.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? It’s no secret talent is at a premium these days, especially in areas such as cloud, product development, data science and cybersecurity. We continue to enhance our Tech IQ, reinvesting in our people, attracting top talent and making WBA a great place to work. We might have the best-laid plans in the world, but if we can't retain and recruit high-caliber talent, and if they're not motivated to work as a team toward common goals, we may never accomplish what we need to accomplish. That’s why we are investing so much in culture and recruitment to build an organisation fit for the future.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Never stop reinventing yourself and your role.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. We have a great team within our IT function, and like all similarly situated global companies, we have a succession plan for all leaders, including within IT. I firmly believe we should never be dependent on one single leader, with all team members having the capabilities to sustain success at any level.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? The best piece of advice I can give today is to make sure no matter what your role is that you are owning business outcomes through technology.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I am proud to have become a strong leader of a leading global IT function while balancing family and remaining a good husband and father. I firmly believe you can achieve the two together, and it’s been a blessing to be present both for my family and my career throughout the years.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? A lot, but I’m happy I didn’t. Good or bad, this is who I am today.

What are you reading now? A friend of mine recommended Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It speaks to the themes of determination, awareness of your limits and capabilities, as well as discipline to expand them.

Most people don't know that I… Speaking of running, I have run seven marathons, including the Chicago and Boston Marathons. My best time is 4:26.

In my spare time, I like to…Be outdoors, biking, walking or reading.

Ask me to do anything but… Any handy work.