Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Martin Luther King Jr

Spend the better part of the day with someone, and you tend to get a measure of them. That's exactly what happened last week when Linton Scott, the executive director of the CIO Executive Council, and I took a day trip to Melbourne to meet with Council members there. Our day started early with a 9am flight to Melbourne and ended late with an 8.30pm return home to Sydney. We chatted on the flights and in taxis. Between meetings, when we had time to kill, we chatted some more. And after the long day of meetings and lunch and more meetings, we sat in the airport lounge and talked over a well-deserved (and much desired) drink before we boarded the plane.

Until about three years ago when he retired, Linton was the CIO of ABN AMRO. Big bank, big CIO role. He was with the bank for some 18 years, all of it in the top IT spot. His career in IT has spanned more than 40 years, so this is a man with many stripes and a few scars. I recently enticed him out of retirement to head up the CIO Executive Council.

With quiet pride Linton Scott talked about what he and his team (and he always underscored the team part) accomplished at the bank

Over the course of the day our quiet conversations varied: we talked about families, travels, interests and hobbies. But most of all we talked about IT, and specifically the CIO role.

With quiet pride Linton talked about what he and his team (and he always underscored the team part) accomplished at the bank. He was quite proud of an app his team built that gave the business transparency not just to IT costs, but to operating costs in general. But he was positively gleeful when describing how a bit of team lateral thinking and some creativity saved heaps of money when he had to build a fully redundant DR site.

He talked about not being afraid to hire the best and the brightest, and always keeping his door open — literally — because he felt that any conversation held behind a closed door telegraphed the wrong message. He talked about honesty and how he was always upfront with the business if something was wrong. "You can't be perfect all the time," he said. "And if you own up when something's off the boil, the business usually appreciates it and then works with you to find a way to fix it."

He said his best indicator that IT was being well run was when management and board meetings treated IT as a tick-the-box item. "I figured that people's time was better spent discussing business opportunities," he said.

There were some tough times also. Before he retired Linton oversaw the outsourcing of the IT department. Even now, almost three years after leaving the bank, a shadow of pain crosses his face when he talks about the impact it had on his friends and colleagues in the IT department.

Listening to Linton talk of life inside the company walls gave me pause to reflect on those of us who look in from the other side. The journos, analysts, consultants and, yes, editors deal with CIOs via the occasional sound-bite or interview.

Like a gaggle of physicians we poke and prod the role, too often forgetting the person, then issue our impersonal diagnosis of whether the patient is fit, ailing or terminal. We compile numbers and statistics. We are the purveyors of metrics: Measurements 'R Us.

But we seldom have the opportunity to take the measure of the man or woman. Over the course of this very long day, I had that rare chance with Linton. And he measured up very well indeed.

At one point Linton told me that he had no regrets pursuing a career in IT. "I loved it all; I can count on one hand the number of days I didn't feel like going to work."

I think we're very fortunate that these days when Linton goes to work it's as the executive director of the CIO Executive Council.

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