Global IT: Leadership from Afar

Global IT: Leadership from Afar

Paul Martin, global CIO of Rexam, is returning to the US but keeping his job at the packaging giant

Paul Martin is talking about his plans to head back home to the US when we meet in London on a bright autumn day at Rexam's very smart offices by the Thames on Millbank, just a short walk to the Palace of Westminster in one direction and the Tate Britain art collection in the other.

After what will be five years in the UK, Martin plans to move his family to Chicago in the new year, but it is a mark of his achievements at the company (and of the enabling effect of new technology) that he will retain his position as global CIO even when he crosses the pond.

When I first met Martin over dinner in March of this year I confessed that I did not know the Rexam brand.

I've heard the name a lot since, and I apologise embarrassedly on this occasion, but Martin cheerfully admits that it is one of those large organisations that don't ring too many bells with the man on the street.

Despite turning over more than US$5.46 billion, employing 22,300 staff and operating in more than 20 countries, Rexam is very much a business-to-business operation, although you might unwittingly reach for one of the company's products in the course of reading this article -- the average person touches a Rexam product 15 to 20 times a day, the company claims. That's because Rexam makes a world of cans and packaging that contain everything from Coca-Cola and Pepsi drinks to mascara and pharmaceuticals on a mind-boggling scale that make its goods ubiquitous, even if the company's name is still largely unknown among consumers.

Martin is currently based in Rexam's London's HQ but makes working visits to the States every three weeks or so, and by flipping that schedule he reckons that his productivity will not be interrupted.

Videoconferencing and other collaboration tools have helped make geographical distances shrink and a previous culture that demanded face-to-face contact has changed, he contends.

"In the past, we have been a traditional business that's been like that, a little old school," he says. "There would be a two- or three-hour meeting and they would want you here. Now, with so much pressure on cost and with us having a different leadership team in place, it's very different. Our CEO is into globalisation and being efficient. We have videoconferencing in every meeting room, we use Microsoft NetMeeting a lot for internal debate, we use SharePoint extensively, and of course you can do quite a lot with email and voice conferencing, so that's been a change.

"We've realised that you don't have to be in the same office to be effective. Our IT is global and it doesn't matter where you sit," he adds.

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