The Noncommodity

There's a reason why the 100 outstanding IT professionals we honor each year aren't called the Premier 100 IT Executives or the Premier 100 IT Managers or the Premier 100 IT Achievers.

They're called the Premier 100 IT Leaders. It's a name that recognizes that the contributions they make aren't so much about their execution of strategies, their management of projects or their achievement of objectives. They might do all that, but none of it is possible without their leadership of people.

People. Somehow, in these troubled times, they've become impersonalized, depersonalized, a commodity of sorts. Increasingly, we speak of people as the units of massive layoffs -- 140,000 in the technology sector this year alone, according to consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. Virtualization has yielded x fewer servers. Consolidation has yielded x fewer data centers. The economic situation has yielded x fewer people with jobs. Just another x in the list of numbers that define the state and direction of IT.

Or is it?

Those 140,000 and their families don't think so. Neither do the hundreds of thousands who were colleagues of the laid-off workers and who are still employed, at least for now. Those who have found themselves in the gut-wrenching position of having to pack up their things and walk out the door and into the tightening vise that is the IT job market have it the worst, of course. But many of those who watched as their colleagues left aren't faring all that much better.

"The people who stay behind become very risk-averse and self-absorbed," says Wayne Cascio of the University of Colorado at Denver, as quoted in the November issue of HR Magazine. "Taking the same amount of work and just loading it onto fewer workers has long-term effects in terms of stress." The resultant loss in innovation and productivity is no doubt substantial.

It's just one of the myriad people-related challenges facing 2009 Premier 100 IT Leaders like Mary Leonardo Patry, who had to move a large data center in the midst of laying off 15% of her IT employees when she worked at the American Red Cross. "The key is ... building a relationship of trust and commitment and integrity with your team," Patry says. "If they can trust you and you trust them, you can move mountains."

In the anchor story of our Premier 100 package, Julia King writes about how this year's Premier 100 IT Leaders have an especially clear focus on the people they lead, and how they're addressing the need to manage a diverse, multigenerational workforce. She cites Deloitte Services CTO Jerome Oglesby as a prime example of a leader whose focus is sharply adjusted to look ahead.

"Our CEO and our most senior leadership recognize that the future for us is Gen Y, women and minorities," Oglesby says.

Indeed, when you read the profiles of our newest Premier 100 honorees, you find that a common characteristic is a strong appreciation for people.

"Focusing on the right people first makes the technology come easy," says Richard Wells, director of corporate IT at Syracuse Research Corp. Manoj Chouthai, CIO at Public Service Enterprise Group, is known for what one of his colleagues calls his "incredible skills in relationship management." Pamela Hunt of Lockheed Martin Simulation Training & Support and Jo Lee Hayes of Sallie Mae are both hailed by colleagues as leaders who never ask their IT team members to do anything they wouldn't do themselves.

Perhaps Shajy Mathai, a 2009 Premier 100 IT Leader who serves as managing director of Guy Carpenter & Co., sums it up best. "A lot of people think of technologists as a commodity," he says. But he offers a sage warning, using a financial term for a security valuation that's significantly below its real value: "The second you do that, you get 'par value' performance."

They're not numbers. They're not commodities. They're people. A priceless reminder, courtesy of the Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders Class of 2009.

Don Tennant is Computerworld's senior editor-at-large. You can contact him at, and visit his blog at

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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