Power Projects

High-impact systems upgrades required both top-notch leadership skills and sharp execution for success.

There's no checklist for leadership. There's no single formula that can be duplicated time and again to achieve all of a business's objectives. However, individuals can learn the skills and strategies it takes to become a business leader who can successfully juggle many tasks. Here's how three Premier 100 IT Leaders navigated three very high-impact projects.

Michael S. Israel
Senior vice president of information services, Six Flags Inc., New York

  • Project at a glance: Six Flags, the world's largest regional theme-park company, set about updating, centralizing, streamlining and standardizing the aging, distributed IT infrastructure used throughout its offices and 21 theme parks.

  • Signature leadership move: First envisioned, then managed, a detailed and multiphase project plan.

Israel, 40, started at Six Flags in April 2006 with his eyes set on change. President and CEO Mark Shapiro and other senior managers wanted technology that would support immediate and long-range business objectives, not just keep the lights on.

But Israel says that as he took stock, he realized that he had neither the infrastructure nor the staff to reach that goal. He discovered that each park was using different technologies and there was no standardization of the company's IT infrastructure.

Premier 100 2007

"After determining what we had, I basically architected where we had to be," he says.

Israel walked through every park to see how guests came into the facilities, how they bought pizza, how they waited in line for rides and so on, to get the information he needed to design a system that would meet business needs and goals. He also hired consultants to help assess the existing infrastructure and design a new one.

His plans called for centralizing the company's IT infrastructure at Six Flags' main data center in Dallas and standardizing certain technologies and procedures across all parks.

Israel attributes the project's success to several fundamental steps: standardizing key technologies such as servers, storage and software; documenting details of the new system so that there's a clear record of every asset and how it integrates with other assets; and re-educating the IT staffers to ensure that they can support the new systems and that they understand the new policies and procedures.

"The project wouldn't be a success if no one knows how to manage it, how to use it, how to support it, and what and where the equipment is," Israel says.

That's a tall order, and Israel says he also had to ensure that the project didn't get derailed by local interference or a lack of support from senior managers. He credits good communication between his two project management teams and the various groups involved in or affected by the upgrades.

"It was constant communication and a lot of airplane rides," he notes. "It was project meetings, conference calls and senior staff updates."

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