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The 2014 Premier 100 IT Leaders: Reinventing themselves many times over

February 24, 2014 06:30 AM ET

Mike Macrie, CIO at Land O'Lakes, a member-owned agricultural cooperative based in Shoreview, Minn., calculates that he has so far reinvented himself three times -- from a technologist to a project leader, then to a big-picture thinker and from there to a relationship-builder.

Michael Macrie
Mike Macrie

"There's no linear career path" to a leadership role, Macrie says. "You've got to be adaptable. One day you're working on cost-cutting and budgets, the next day you're working on a major acquisition and the day after that, an innovative new product that will change your industry."

Along the way, one of his biggest lessons learned is that "it's not about being right," Macrie says. "It's about working with others to get the best solution for your company or project and influencing people to get to the right outcome."

At the beginning of his career, Macrie says, "I was a bit of a perfectionist. That created internal frustration. What I learned is that if you can get 90% of the value of a project and you move the business forward, that's a huge impact. There's always another opportunity to go after the other 10%."

It's a strategy that's alive and well at Land O'Lakes, where Macrie and his IT team recently developed and launched new products designed to help growers optimize the production of corn and soybeans using a combination of data and mobile, GPS and satellite imaging technology.

"It's a great story of how IT can reinvent itself as a revenue-generator," Macrie says. So far, "we have two or three products and have a pipeline of 10 more," he adds.

Jeffrey Johnson, assistant director at the FBI, says he has always learned the most from taking "uncomfortable and nontraditional steps" in his career. Over the years, Johnson has reinvented himself at least a half-dozen times. As a U.S. Naval officer, he moved from specializing in surface warfare to IT and then to IT security. After he left the Navy, he took an executive role in the manufacturing industry. "What I've always looked for is where I can have the largest impact and where can I apply creative engineering techniques to solve some of the hardest problems," he says.

Shirin Hamid, CTO at the United Nations Development Programme, started her career at Deloitte Consulting and worked across several industries, including finance, manufacturing and the public sector, before joining the U.N. The reinventions were "a tremendous and fascinating growth period for me," she says. "I saw the whole life cycle of IT and IT's business value across different business sectors. It gave me an idea of how technology can work across different functions and industries."

Do the Next Right Thing

Rosa Akhtarkhavari started as a programmer and application developer and zigzagged through multiple roles and agencies within the city government of Orlando, Fla., before becoming CIO. She worked as an architect and project manager as well as an information security specialist and manager of the city's geographic information system (GIS) on projects ranging from police and fire dispatch systems to permit processing systems.

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Career Reinvention

Living Outside the Box

Having always loved numbers, Cynthia Stoddard, CIO at NetApp, decided to study accounting in college and assumed she'd pursue a career in finance or perhaps become a tax attorney. But her instincts told her that understanding computers would be important, so after college she took a job as a programmer trainee at an insurance company. She found that she liked technology, but what she liked even more, she says, was "engaging with the business and being able to make a noticeable impact on business processes.

"I don't believe it's about a reinvention strategy as much as a personal career relationship strategy. I always look for opportunities to advance, and I volunteer for new things and explore projects beyond the normal scope," Stoddard says.

"I always push myself out of my comfort zone," she adds. "To make that work, I built all kinds of relationships along the way so my peers, managers and leaders had an understanding of what interested and motivated me."

Julia King



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