CIOs explain how to thrive under pressure

Johnson & Johnson CIO creates new jobs; Walt Disney chief awaits recovery that will come in a 'blink'

Running IT organizations with thousands of employees and budgets of tens of millions of dollars takes wit and wisdom, especially today, and some CIOs at Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders conference this week shared both, perhaps none better than LaVerne Council, the CIO at Johnson & Johnson.

Council was among a number of CIOs from large organizations, including Walt Disney and FedEx, who talked about today's IT at the Premier 100 Conference in Phoenix. All of their stories shared common themes.

Johnson & Johnson, a $62 billion consumer health care products company, was wide open for reform when Council was hired in 2006. The company was expecting its new CIO to deliver a lot, including improvements in IT service levels.

"That was reasonable," said Council, "given that they didn't have service levels identified anywhere."

Johnson & Johnson also wanted Council to implement programs and systems that would improve customer satisfaction.

"I love this concept of customer satisfaction," said Council. "In fact, for the last 20 years I've been telling my husband about customer satisfaction," she deadpanned to audience laughter.

Council did note that something was missing when she joined the Johnson & Johnson IT organization, which employed about 4,000 people globally.

To explain the problem, Council drew an analogy to early days in IT. "I could remember starting as a programmer analyst and feeling very energized and very excited about what I did," she said, adding that she said had no doubt that the IT employees at Johnson & Johnson at one time were similarly enthusiastic about their jobs.

Council's plan to fix that problem included giving the IT staff a shared mission and vision. "The team wanted leadership and wanted to belong," she said, "and sometimes that's half the battle."

Council also wanted the business to know where "every dollar went," and to convince it that IT creates value and competitive advantage. She set a goal: "For every dollar they invested in IT, we would like for them to get 2.5 dollars back."

She also aimed to make Johnson & Johnson's global IT organization a "sought-after partner for innovation" as well as "an employer of choice. I like making jobs -- I think it's what we should do," said Council.

In a "town hall" meeting last year with IT workers, Council recalled that CEO William Weldon once said that he "didn't have any expectations about IT" and felt it was something that could have been outsourced to reduce costs.

However, she recounted that Weldon added at the time: "But now I can say that I'm actually looking to that group to deliver our innovation through technology to provide true competitive advantage, because now I do have expectations and they're high."

To hear that "made all the risk worth it," said Council, and "having my team there [to hear it] was priceless."

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