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'Do the Right Thing'

By Don Tennant
March 12, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Over lunch with four preeminent CIOs last Tuesday, I had a preview of the coming attraction. We had gathered to go over the final logistics for a presentation at Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference that would be conducted that afternoon in a “talk show” format, with me as the host and the four CIOs as my guests.

The first order of business was for me to be certain that these guys knew what they were getting themselves into.

“I don’t want to spook you, because the only way we’re going to make this work is for you to be as open and candid as you can possibly be,” I told them. “But recognize that we’ll have reporters out there, and there’s no telling how many people in that audience have a blog somewhere. It’s a Web 2.0 world, so don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to watch on YouTube tomorrow.”

There wasn’t much of a verbal response, but there didn’t need to be. There was no antsy shifting in seats. Just nods of understanding and looks of quiet resolve that said it all.

The presentation was titled “Defining Moments in IT Leadership,” and it put a glaring spotlight on these four individuals — all Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders — and how they responded when confronted with extraordinarily difficult and controversial challenges.

First up was Dale Frantz, the CIO at Auto Warehousing Co. Last year, he defied a campaign of intimidation on the part of Microsoft by going public with the strong-arm tactics the vendor was using to pressure him to cooperate with a review of his software licenses. Frantz remains steadfast in his defiance, and when he was onstage, he revealed that the experience had prompted him to actively seek alternatives to Microsoft. Frantz is researching how to move his proprietary applications off of Windows and onto Apple’s Mac OS X. If he can accomplish that, he said, there’s an excellent chance he’ll convert to an Apple platform.

My next guest was Louis Gutierrez, who spent a turbulent nine months last year as CIO of the state of Massachusetts. True to form, Gutierrez shied away from nothing. With characteristic calm and eloquence, he discussed the state legislature’s failure to give him the funding he needed to do his job, and his resultant resignation. And, like Frantz, he spoke defiantly of his relationship with a relentless Microsoft — in this case, a lobbying apparatus that was determined to bend Massachusetts to its will on office document standards.

Third up was Clark Kelso, CIO of the state of California, who described a journey that began in 2002, when he was called in to clean up the mess made by an inept, scandal-plagued IT regime that had alienated that state’s legislature. Like Gutierrez, he refused to allow a tempestuous political climate to cloud his vision for what he felt he needed to accomplish.

Finally, the hot seat was taken by Darryl Lemecha, CIO at ChoicePoint, the personal information brokering company that last year was fined $10million by the Federal Trade Commission for a massive data security breach. Amazingly, that breach was the catalyst for re-engineering the company into one that’s now highly regarded for its data privacy and security best practices.

When I asked Lemecha if he had any advice for TJX, the clothing retailer whose data security breach is still making headlines, his response summed up, in four words, the message that all four of my guests had conveyed: “Do the right thing.”

There is no greater hallmark of an IT leader than the courage it takes to follow that advice.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

Read more about Management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.



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