King Coles

King Coles

Would your CEO defend you? Well, would he?

If CIO magazine named a "Person of the Year" in the tradition of Time magazine I had my dead-cert 2007 winner picked in early June. And you'd probably be surprised that he's not a CIO. My winner? Coles Group CEO John Fletcher.

CIOs around Australia should raise a glass and toast him heartily, while their respective CEOs should take note. Why? Because Fletcher championed his CIO, Peter Mahler, and Mahler's IT team after they took a licking in The Australian Financial Review. In fact, in a letter to the editor, which ran on June 8, Fletcher suggested that what the writer had portrayed as an "IT bungle" was "an unfair and inaccurate slur on a team of hard-working professionals".

That morning over coffee I was casually leafing through the Fin and winced when on page 15 I saw a commentary piece titled "Investors shudder at Coles IT bungles"

June 7 was a different story — in this case literally.

That morning over coffee I was casually leafing through the Fin and winced when on page 15 I saw a commentary piece titled "Investors shudder at Coles IT bungles", accompanied by a photo of Mahler. But dread quickly turned to despair when I read the story.

Mahler was cited as generally having "done a good job" in paring down and merging what had been siloed systems and moving to packaged software. But then out came the knife. "Where there is criticism is that it has taken him too long and has been too expensive . . . In other words they are developing Rolls-Royces to do work capable of being performed by Volkswagens."

Oh bugger, I thought. (Well, actually it was a little worse than that.) Just the day before I'd been at a CIO Executive Council board meeting where the group had debated the issue of CEOs largely not appreciating IT or seeing it as strategic, and now here's a negative story taking lethal aim at both a massive IT project and the CIO. Worse, it's not buried back on the "Information" pages, but in the "Companies" section, which CEOs are more likely to read.

Aghhhhhhhhhhhhh! I spent the remainder of the day in a bad mood. Little did I know that our hero was mounting his white steed and readying to defend the honour of Mahler and his team.

And so, it came to pass that the following morning, when sipping coffee and flipping pages of the Fin, there — lo and behold — is a letter from Fletcher with the heading: "Coles IT projects on time and on cost", and he's saying the claims in the original story were "without basis".

It may not be a first, but this is a noteworthy moment in the annals of IT: the CEO of a mega corporation doesn't take the dissing of his CIO lying down. In fact, he defends him, supports him and is an advocate on his behalf.

Say Amen.

Now, go and point your CEO to the CIO Web site and have him or her read our interviews with Fletcher and Mahler. Because that morning I rang one of my contributors, Beverley Head, and told her to "get this story", and by crikey she did. She filed the story on the day it was announced that Wesfarmers was buying Coles for $22 billion, and our Web visitors were reading about it within hours. If you haven't seen it yourself, go to Coles Execs on the Record

(Ironically, the story replaced a lead story about how the Web is destroying the newspaper business. Guess we proved it that day.)

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More about Australian Financial ReviewAustralian Financial ReviewBillionCERT AustraliaWESFARMERS

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