Martha Heller talks to Charles Shaver, CEO at Axalta Coating Systems, how a business-savvy CIO and global systems help his company meet customer expectations
CIO: How is technology changing your business?
Charles Shaver: Axalta operates in 130 countries, providing coatings to over 120,000 customers that manufacture products like vehicles, electric motors, and oil and gas pipelines. Close to two-thirds of our revenue comes from outside the U.S., and technology lets us track our customers and manage our operations around the globe.
Color is a key aspect of almost everything we do, and this perhaps sets us apart in our use of technology. For example, we use touchscreens to help design new colors for next-generation cars. Customers can mix and match colors and see how they will look on car bodies in 3-D virtual displays.
We also use technology to help quickly match colors for global customers. If a manufacturer uses a color on a car made in Germany and wants to replicate it on a car being made in China, we can do that with keystrokes. Technology also improves productivity for thousands of our collision and body shop customers, who need to match new paint to old.
CIO: What qualities should a CIO possess to deliver IT innovation?
Shaver: Our CIO, Dru Rai, is technical, but he also understands our business. The CIO has to be able to walk into a customer's plant and understand exactly what that customer needs from a technology perspective. The right person in the top IT role must be able to translate between the customer and Axalta and provide us with the technology that will meet each customer's expectations.
CIO: As CEO, how do you get people to embrace change?
Shaver: When you ask your 30-year employees the right questions, they know what they would change to do things better. My approach has been to leverage the deep experience in our organization so that our managers are in the field to lend their support to new ideas.
We have over 12,000 employees that brought in $4.3 billion in revenue last year, and only about 120 are corporate staff. My business leaders are close to our people and our customers in the field.
CIO: How has technology helped you run a global organization?
Shaver: We divide the work into three locations: North America, Europe and China. While our engineers in North America are sleeping, the engineers in China are doing color development.
With our color database and chemical simulation systems, we can produce coatings on a global scale in real time. We have over 400 applications to make all of that work.
CIO: Has technology changed your leadership style?
Shaver: In the past, I would get monthly sales and financial reports, but now I have dashboards that provide a real-time view of our business. I spend less time on analysis and more time with my customers and business leaders.
Also, technology reduces dependency on administrative staff, so we have only five reporting levels in this entire company. I was in India two weeks ago talking to a customer who knows that our country manager is only one level removed from me. Our bigger customers expect that.
I see two types of CEOs: those who hold onto hierarchy and monthly reports, because that's what got them to where they are, and the rest of us who would rather be spending time making a difference in the business.