CIO Spotlight: Adam Landau, Buckle

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “The CIO role is becoming a key player in helping to shape and transform corporate culture while also maintaining a strong focus on information security, compliance, and efficiency.”

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Buckle

Name: Adam Landau

Company: Buckle

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: April 2021

Location: Jersey City, NJ

Adam Landau is Chief Information Officer at Buckle and has more than 20 years of financial services and insurance experience. He came from PURE Insurance where he spent four years in senior technology roles, most recently as SVP, Chief Technology Officer. Landau served American International Group, Inc. (AIG) for nearly a decade as Vice President, Chief Technology Officer. He was also Managing Director at Bank of New York Mellon in New York City. After earning a bachelor’s degree in management science and information systems from Penn State University, he spent five years at Deloitte. Landau specialises in IT strategy, product innovation, software design, and change management.

What was your first job? As a 15-year-old coming home from school on the bus, I saw a new Taco Bell opening in my neighbourhood. I immediately made it my goal to get a job there for the summer because I knew I wanted to eventually get a new car and this would help. I started as a fry cook and worked my way up to a cashier. During college, I interned at AT&T and a regional bank providing helpdesk support. Upon graduation, I was fortunate to get an entry position with Deloitte as a Systems Analyst.

Did you always want to work in IT? Always. My father was a computer engineer at AT&T, and when I was nine, they allowed employees to purchase older computer equipment. I spent years working on those computers! I’d take them apart and learned to program on them. I credit my father for always making me put them back together.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Sciences and Information Systems from The Pennsylvania State University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started my career in consulting, which truly helped to set me up for the future. I gained experience in a variety of industries like communications and financial services. Those glimpses into different types of companies allowed me to learn, but also helped me figure out what I am most passionate about. 

I landed in the world of insurance when I was placed on an account for a large multi-national carrier. I was ready to move in-house to develop my technology and industry expertise, and that company hired me to build the technology architecture for a rapidly-growing group focused on high net worth insurance. My job was eliminated after eight years, but I was immediately given multiple opportunities to work in other areas of the company, so I decided to take an international role. Eventually, I switched industries to try banking, but I quickly realised my passion was insurance technology. I was fortunate to get back into insurance and continue my journey of defining and building technology solutions to help fast-growing companies. 

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We remain focused on enhancing our systems to provide the best user experience and functionality for our members, teammates, and partners. In the coming year, that includes replacing or enhancing our core systems for policy, billing, and claims, as well as our financial systems and data platform.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? We continue to find ways to support our data assets and unlock analytics that will help us deliver the best products and service to our members and partners.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Workplaces are evolving to include many more remote and hybrid work options. More than ever, companies are leveraging technology to bring people together, celebrate and communicate, and make it easier for individuals and teams to do their work wherever they want to be. So, the CIO role is becoming a key player in helping to shape and transform corporate culture while also maintaining a strong focus on information security, compliance, and efficiency.

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? In an emerging business and market, everything we do can be considered a digital transformation. We are building the premier data and digital platform to support the gig economy. And while we are always concerned about operational efficiency, our critical pillars also include compliance, customer experience, and revenue growth.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? When I initially started with Buckle, I would have said we were still in a startup phase. We were building the foundations that would enable the business to move forward. Now a year later, I would categorise us as emerging. In order to continue our growth, our IT runs as a more established business, including policy and procedures, good monitoring, and training programs. We continue to evolve our KPIs and budget metrics.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Being successful at a quickly-growing company like Buckle requires strong communication skills and a willingness to roll up your sleeves. Curiosity and flexibility are critical because you will likely be asked to tackle things that you may need to learn in addition to those at which you excel. Buckle is intensely focused on being an advocate for our members and also doing the right things for the right reasons, so being passionate about our work is also a key to success.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? DevOps engineers continue to be difficult to recruit because the job market is hot and people are moving fast into new roles. People are not only looking for a great salary, but at the totality of the company they’re joining. Buckle has a lot to offer, including flexible, remote work; many opportunities for growth; and the chance to work with extremely talented people who are committed to the vision we’re here to achieve.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Early in my career, I saw the senior partners at my firm listening rather than talking. I learned that no matter how senior your role, you can always learn from others in the room and that great ideas come from anywhere and anyone.

Likewise, Joel Cohen, who is a writer for The Simpsons, once shared there are no bad ideas as long as people are open to building on those ideas.

So, I try to be a listening leader and to make everyone feel comfortable voicing their thoughts and opinions and then working as a team to build on them to make them stronger. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. We have several strong internal leaders who we are investing in to help them grow into their potential. At an emerging company like Buckle, there are many stretch opportunities for them to shine.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Consulting work is a wonderful training ground and a great way to explore many different paths of opportunity. When a medical student is being trained, they work through a series of hospital rotations so they can see and learn everything before they narrow in on a speciality. Consulting offers technologists the same opportunities. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? As I was leaving a previous job, a member of my team shared with me that I did more to advocate for my team than anyone else she had ever worked for. This meant so much to me personally and professionally and reinforced my belief that strong leadership is built on being your team’s biggest cheerleader.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? A big learning is that it is ok to delegate and to always ensure that multiple people have the training and knowledge to support critical parts of your operation. While I was on a trip in Asia and battling sleep deprivation, I got a call about 20 minutes after falling asleep from my team in the U.S. Parts of our systems were experiencing an outage, but I was the only one who knew how to fix it. I realised it’s important to empower others with the training and ability to support the team and to stop worrying about being the only person who knows everything.

What are you reading now? I’m a bit of a news junkie, and obviously I try to stay up-to-speed on topics that impact our industry and my company. I just finished reading Simon Sinek’s, The Infinite Game. The book is about building companies that will be there for generations by focusing on long-term stability instead of short-term gains. When helping build a startup that is geared to changing people's lives, this is so important.

Most people don't know that I… love to build things, which probably stems from all the computers I pulled apart and put back together as a kid. A few years ago, I was interested in creating an arcade for my kids. Instead of buying a pre-built one, I found the plans and built the frame and even the computer controls from scratch.

In my spare time, I like to…I have two young children, so most of my spare time is spent with them. I wouldn’t trade time with them for anything!

Ask me to do anything but… I'm not a picky eater and I always try to find new and adventurous foods. However, even with my love of sushi, eel is the one thing I will never eat!