Successful IT leadership is about people, process, tools -- and people, says Stephen Bozzo, senior vice president and CIO at 1800Flowers.com Inc. If that sounds redundant, the choice of words was intentional. "It starts with people and ends with people," he says.
Bozzo, 54, says he listens when he might otherwise direct, and he cultivates leadership at every level. "Job 1 is to have a cadre of leaders working for you and in turn to have a cadre of leaders working for them," he explains.
That strategy has enabled the IT team to launch several successful initiatives and improve service levels, all while cutting the IT budget by 20% and staff and contract workers by 30%. Part of the savings came from a consolidation of IT environments among the Carle Place, N.Y.-based company's 16 brands, an initiative that included reversing 1800Flowers.com's preference for building its own IT systems.
Bozzo also championed a chargeback system for IT expenses. "It was a bit of a selling job," says Bozzo, who had to convince executives that it was a good way to control expenses and get more from IT. To gain support, he assigned a business relationship manager to every unit and distributed chargeback reports for a year before implementing the program. Today, every dollar of the IT budget is accounted for.
Ram Ganesan, who reports to Bozzo, isn't surprised by Bozzo's success. "We have to plow through these difficult times, and that only happens when you have solid leadership," says Ganesan, vice president of application development.
But the human touch is Bozzo's biggest strength. Ganesan says that as a project manager a few years ago, he got into an argument with his manager over how to deal with a customer and was ready to resign. The issue was elevated to Bozzo. "I was two levels down," says Ganesan. "The fact that I could have an argument with a high-placed executive, that speaks a lot to leadership." Ganesan stayed, and he says he learned from Bozzo's approach.
People have a tendency to get too aggressive when crises emerge, Bozzo says, acknowledging that he himself has had to overcome that tendency. "I try to be methodical and even-keeled with every problem, no matter how severe."