IT leaders who shatter the mold

Some technology executives don't simply defy convention; they craft a whole new definition of leadership. Learn who was named to the Premier 100 class of 2009 -- and how they're blazing new management trails.

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There's no question that the potential payoffs of such leadership are enormous. Consider Mike Baker, managing director of Chicago-based Citadel Investment Group. At 43, Baker has already led a ground-breaking initiative to convert 1,500 PCs into a private computing cloud that can perform more than 8 billion computations for complex analytical tasks such as evaluating all mortgages in the U.S.

Building a data center to handle such tasks would have been cost- and space-prohibitive. By designing the computing grid from desktops -- which were not 100% utilized -- and breaking down large jobs into smaller tasks that could be run across the grid, Baker and his team have made available huge amounts of computing capacity without increasing power and cooling needs. They're also saving the trading firm millions of dollars in racks and racks of new servers.

In the same 12-month period, Baker led an effort to decommission and sell off all of the copper cabling in Citadel's data center, replacing it with 10 Gigabit fiber. The team also implemented VMware systems to virtualize 70% of the servers in the data center, reducing both energy consumption and computing costs.

As a trading firm, "everything we do is about performance," Baker says. "There's nothing that Citadel does that doesn't have a performance implication. We look at things in millisecond time frames. We're very focused on the performance aspect of technology. That's the culture."

Yet make no mistake -- Citadel's IT professionals also know the trading business inside and out, Baker says. "If you go to a Citadel trading floor, it's difficult to figure out who the IT person is and who the trader is. In our culture, technology is deeply integrated with the business."

Mapping the Business

Deep knowledge of the business, its processes and its day-to-day operations is absolutely critical in order for IT to fully leverage technology and provide real business value, say the 2009 Premier 100 IT Leaders.

Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the manufacturing industry, where "if you can squeeze even a fraction higher yield or faster throughput, it has a large impact," says Sam Coursen, 58, CIO at $5.7 billion Freescale Semiconductor in Austin.

Freescale's award-winning, multiyear Advanced Intelligence Manufacturing (AIM) program, which involves tightly integrating business and manufacturing data, has already contributed more than $38 million to the chip maker's gross margin.

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