Dick Daniels: Building a Career by Building Bridges

Dick Daniels, 52, divisional CIO at Capital One Auto Finance Inc. in Plano, Texas, has worked at the lender subsidiary of Capital One Financial Corp. for two and a half years, but his IT career dates back to 1971. "Computer operator and junior programmer were the titles back then," he says. "The head of data processing evolved into MIS director and then into CIO. I really fell in love with this field and set out to learn all I could."

Daniels says he learned by moving around within IT and then applied his knowledge across areas. "My goal was not to move up but to explore and enjoy every aspect of the profession, from the data center to telecommunications, telecom to application programming, and applications to tech support," he recalls. "I found myself building bridges across disciplines and communicating with people across tactical as well as strategic elements."

Dick Daniels

Looking back, it's that method that helped him build a successful IT career. However, there are a few things he might have done differently. "At one time, I had a very senior guy tap me on the shoulder to take on more responsibility," says Daniels. "I turned him down because I felt I wasn't finished with learning. Fortunately, he came back a year later."

Daniels observes that mentors and non-IT experiences were crucial to his development. The late Doris Bencsik, a former executive at Datapoint Corp., "saw some things in me I didn't see in myself. She gave me opportunities and a chance to grow," Daniels says.

"From outside IT, I learned to give back to the community," he adds. "It helps with the leadership role in IT to learn to develop, to hear and support people." Daniels is a member of the Capital One Auto Finance Diversity Council and serves as a sponsor for its mentoring program. He is also a board member at the Texas Diversity Council, a supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America chapter in Collin County and a supporter of the United Way of America.

Daniels has tried to apply lessons about recognizing the potential of others within his own staff.

For example, Scott Lutz, vice president of IT at Capital One Auto Finance, started on the application development side. "I've had opportunities to go into other parts of the business over the years, including loan servicing and the data warehouse," he says.

"Shifting gears from being a technologist to a manager is difficult, but Capital One develops people with the management aspects," says Lutz. "Dick says management is a skill to be learned and practiced, like any other skill — applications [development] or accounting."

Lutz adds that Daniels nurtures his staffers while also holding them accountable. "Dick provides a forum for managers to get their jobs done and not look behind their backs in case they fail," says Lutz. If a project wasn't successful, he adds, "Dick as a leader would completely understand and ask that we learn from that mistake."

Daniels also says IT leaders should learn from one another. "Affiliation with other executives is very important — there are similar problems across companies," he says. "Leadership can be a lonely place."

Despite his success, Daniels hasn't rested on his laurels. He says he hopes to "further IT within the corporate world [and] make it even more engaged with business operations." Daniels adds that he sees the CIO role becoming more integrated with the chief operating officer's as technology and operational functions become intertwined.

See the complete 2007 Premier 100 IT Leaders special report.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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