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EXECUTIVE COUNSEL - Managing your career, staff and professional relations

EXECUTIVE COUNSEL - Managing your career, staff and professional relations

In 1991, Nestlé, the Switzerland-based global food manufacturer, mandated SAP as the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software standard for all business units worldwide. At a meeting of corporate CIOs six years into this long-term project, Nestlé Deutschland AG and Nestlé UK Ltd. executives reported that their SAP implementations were well ahead of schedule. Nestlé USA, however, was woefully behind. But rather than blow the budget by hiring a battalion of local programmers to work around the clock, Jeri Bender, vice president and CIO of Nestlé USA in Glendale, Calif., picked up the phone and called her fellow CIOs in Germany and the United Kingdom.

At Bender's request, the Nestlé UK CIO sent a three-person team of SAP Financials experts to spend a week helping her crew set up the Nestlé USA financial systems. "He also allowed me to recruit two of his staff who had worked on [Nestlé UK's] SAP project to come over full-time for an 18-month to three-year stint," says Bender. Now Nestlé USA is on the fast track for SAP implementation.

And Bender is now a strong advocate of CIOs leveraging the resources of their global peers. "Put your ego in your back pocket and acknowledge that maybe one of your peers can do it better than you," she says. Bender concedes that it is often humbling to have to ask for help-especially when you're CIO of the largest Nestlé market in the world. "But if you aren't willing to take somebody else's suggestion or offer, then you're really doing yourself, your staff and your company a disservice." Bender is one of a growing number of CIOs in multinational corporations who value a close give-and-take relationship with their CIO peers around your staff and your company a disservice.-Jeri Bender>the world. Done right, these global relationships foster brainstorming and the sharing of resources and help avoid costly, redundant effort. The caveat, says Dean Foster, managing director of the Princeton, N.J.-based Berlitz Cross-Cultural Worldwide program of Berlitz International Inc., is that cultural differences among peers and their business units can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. To prevent the undermining of global initiatives, Foster warns that executives must recognise these differences or "they're going to be totally confused as to the behaviour they're seeing." Sweet and Bitter For Bender and her peers, global interaction presents an opportunity to elevate each other's expertise and negotiate the exchange of resources between markets.

It's not unusual for Nestlé CIOs to lend their best and brightest to each other. "We all have the same issues facing us," says Bender. "When we start leveraging our resources, we don't just save money, we provide more quality solutions to the business than if we each tried to do it ourselves." Bender recently sent a team to Nestlé Canada Inc. to see what it had done with SAP Sales and Distribution. She sent another experienced team to help Nestlé Canada with its installation of SAP Financials. "We're able to do a lot more for a lot less because we're each willing to take the best of what the other has done instead of reinventing it ourselves," says Bender.

Not all joint efforts, however, meet with success. Bender talks about trying to establish a common chart of accounts between Nestlé USA and Nestlé Canada. "We were two very similar markets facing similar business problems and going to install [SAP]. It made sense for us to eliminate redundancy." From a systems perspective, the joint effort was easily doable. But from a business perspective, it was impossible because there was no consensus between the two financial departments. "Until the business is ready to do business in a common way, technology cannot drive that change," says Bender.

Failure to cooperate can cost a company time and money. When Bender and her peers in Canada and Mexico tried to leverage procurement power for PC purchases, no one was willing to give up his or her current vendor. So each market continues to use different products for its desktops. "You would think that as CIOs that would be something we could tackle," says Bender. "And we tried. We just couldn't get agreement to change. It seems silly, doesn't it?" Still, cooperation can solve problems a lot faster than going it alone. When Bender's IS organisation came up short in an independent security audit, she called her CIO peers in Brazil, Canada and Mexico to give them a heads up on potential problems. Much to her chagrin, the executives told her that they had passed the audit with flying colours because they already had products in place to address those areas. They then rallied to Bender's aid with recommendations on proven tools and solutions to close the breach. "We took advantage of what had already been done in other Nestlé markets and went into high gear to fix things," says Bender.

No individual IS group is going to do things better than every other IS group all the time, Bender has learned.

"We all have the same issues facing us, so we try to solve them collectively," Bender says. "When someone has a solution, he or she lets you know about it. If you're a smart CIO, you pick up that solution and run with it." Lending Credibility Long Distance Bob Szambelan, a new CIO at Lend Lease Real Estate Investments Inc. in Atlanta, stepped into the role of executive vice president and global CIO for Australia-based Lend Lease Corp. Ltd. in April 1998. At the time, he definitely felt the pressure of being the new kid on the block. "I'm one of a number of hires that'll be happening in the next 6 to 12 months to put in the global IT infrastructure across the organisation," says Szambelan. "I'm a business-unit-level CIO, but I have global responsibility." With support and funding from his CEO in Atlanta, Szambelan has made a point of squeezing time from his busy schedule to cement personal relationships with his global peers. He has made trips to Australia to meet executives across different business groups. In the coming months he's scheduled to fly to Europe to meet his peers. "If you want to develop effective relationships external of electronic links, you need those face-to-face meetings where you can shake hands and look somebody in the eye. That really solidifies your peer relationships," says Szambelan. Only then, he says, can one start feeling comfortable about sharing war stories and best practices with a sense of common purpose. Since getting to know one another, Szambelan and his colleagues have set up a global collaborative "team room" application in Lotus Notes to share best practices, track status against common objectives and use a discussion database. "We held our first internal 'global' CIO forum in August," Szambelan says, with six other CIOs participating from London, Singapore and Sydney via videoconference.

Sharing solutions to common problems avoids redundant effort. For example, several months into his tenure Szambelan presented a case to his CEO and senior management for a dedicated Y2K project team in the United States. The Sydney-based global Y2K project manager joined Szambelan and shared his experiences of working with a dedicated Y2K team in Australia over the previous nine months. "He brought that knowledge to bear here in the States, along with my external knowledge," says Szambelan. "He added credibility to my recommendation." Szambelan believes the manager would not have done that if Szambelan hadn't been to Sydney to establish some rapport.

Szambelan and six Lend Lease CIOs from business units in Australia, the United Kingdom, Asia and Europe formed a global joint project team to share Y2K testing experiences and best practices. But, more important, they're using teamwork to address local software needs. "It's easier to get the vendor's attention when the seven of us are collaborating with a single voice than each of us putting our issues on the table," says Szambelan. The CIOs met and agreed on the internal milestones they needed to achieve to become Y2K-compliant by the corporate-set deadline. Then they brought in a third-party source to help the group identify the common denominators and the regional variations.

Szambelan and his peers set up exchange programs to cross-train personnel, sending people from the United States to Australia and the United Kingdom for three- to four-month stints.

As CIO of the real estate investment arm of Lend Lease, Szambelan is just starting to understand the business problems facing his peers around the globe who specialise in real estate construction and insurance. "The complexity of doing things globally makes effective peer relations crucial," says Szambelan.

"If we can't be effective peers, we won't be effective in the business. And in the long term the business won't succeed."

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