Jeff Kuckenbaker, vice president, information systems and technology, Star Trac Unisen

When the country finds itself in a tough military situation, it calls in the U.S. Army's Special Forces. When commercial fitness equipment manufacturer Star Trac Unisen Inc. needed someone to command its global IT operations, it hired combat veteran and former Army Ranger Jeff Kuckenbaker to provide steady, no-nonsense leadership as its first vice president of information systems and technology.

Today, Kuckenbaker, 39, and his 28 IT employees are in the trenches of a global reinvention of the Irvine, Calif.-based company's business processes, including a global implementation of Oracle systems that could improve net income by 2%.

"For me, the biggest skill I got from the military for this job is the ability to take on big projects and not be fearful, and [to know that] while I'm implementing and doing all the work, you've got to keep it together," he says.

Kuckenbaker also has a degree in finance that helps him clearly foresee business issues, and he maintains a plain-spoken approach to management. "Nobody wonders what's on my mind," he says. "I think [my staff] likes it because they know where I'm coming from. It's very clear. The duties and tasks are clear."

But colleagues insist he's not a drill sergeant in the office. "He's bringing us into the 21st century now," says Sean Irby, vice president of global manufacturing and operations.

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