“The phrase ‘IT and the business’ does not sit well with me,” says Andrew Lock, CIO of George Weston Foods (GWF).
Of course, what he is saying is not a disparaging comment on his profession and his employer. He is, in fact, saying quite the opposite, that the differentiation inherent in the phrase “IT and the business” is totally misleading, and something he doesn’t like or follow.
“I love to see business people come in to the CIO position,” he says. He includes sales and marketing in that list. “They bring business acumen to IT, they make IT visible and relevant…..more than just a cost overhead,” he says.
Lock has only been CIO of GWF since late last year, but his career leading up to that has all been about business, he says, despite starting out in life as an engineer in the automotive industry.
“It’s a big leap from engineering to CIO – I’ve been second guessing myself about that left brain/right brain bias that thinks that engineering always leads to IT.”
He has spent 14 years in the FMCG sector. Before GWF, he worked with Unilever as CIO of its New Zealand, Singapore and ultimately its Australian operations, and in all of these positions he says he worked closely with sales and marketing and on supply chain issues.
At GWF, he has a strong relationship with the CFO: “That’s integral in setting the direction of the IT part of the organisation, both day-to-day and at a strategic level. Our role, in IT, is to demystify the black box – we need to work together.”
GWF has revenue of approximately A$2 billion and is itself part of the $20 billion Associated British Foods organisation.
Throwing into the mix of numbers is the fact that GWF, through its Tip Top brand, turns out over more than a million loaves of bread a day and through another brand, Don, enough small goods, such as franks, cabana and kransky, each year to go around the world ... twice.
This is no small concern.
Working cooperatively internally, therefore, is a major issue to ensure all sections of the company know what each other is doing. To this end, management recently brought in a group concept for the company structure as opposed to a previous siloed arrangement.
“Part of my role, therefore,” Lock says, “is to engage closely and regularly with the MDs of the business units; a strong relationship is imperative, whether working with the CFO, CEO or HR. This builds credibility.”
He adds that this credibility goes beyond doing IT well. “IT has, traditionally, had a risk-averse mentality, and this is our own worst enemy. We have to get away from the ‘cost of business’ to the ‘value add’,” he says.
If this means adopting an entrepreneurial approach, then he agrees.
“Our challenge over the next two years is to build capability to attain a presence at the leadership table.”
Leadership also applies internally, and this is something that Lock sees is a vital attribute of the future-state CIO. He says he still sees a lot of hierarchical structure within IT departments.
“We need to get away from the image of the CIO or IT leaders pushing someone aside and doing the job yourself. We need to build a team, and grant them trust. Yes, there’s an element of risk there, but it’s important if they are to grow and we are to benefit from new ideas that we allow our people to develop.
“The IT department needs to set the foundation for growth and the organisation’s agenda. IT people must do the same – we need to maximise the value of people.”
And whether that’s through the empowerment offered by technology, the development of business acumen, or a willingness to work hand-in-hand with other business unit leaders and your own staff, the end result is a benefit for all concerned.