Q&A: ADL CIO Sam Memberg on the big picture

The Anti-Defamation League's CIO talks about his postretirement odyssey, life as a change agent and the big picture -- in IT and elsewhere.

How did you come into your role at the Anti-Defamation League? I retired as CIO of the New York Public Library more than 10 years ago. I thought, "That's it! I don't have to work anymore -- I'm a happy guy." I spent almost a year playing racquetball every day. I swam, I cooked. My wife and I fight about who cooks. I'm good; she's a little better. I was in great shape.

And then one day she says to me, "You're not as happy as you think you are." So at that time, we had been married, geez, more than 30 years, and I said, "Well, maybe she knows something." I thought about it and realized she might be right.

Since I had retired, people [had] kept calling me [to offer IT executive roles], and I kept saying, "No. I'm retired."

And then I thought about it, and I talked to someone who had been calling me from U.S. UNICEF. I had this vision of working in my underwear one day a week from home. But I wound up working there full time. In all humility, I fixed their problems.

At about that time, the Anti-Defamation League called me. I was talking to [executives] and realized that the issues they had were not as technical as they thought. It was really more cultural; it was organizational. I said, "If you're really willing to try to address the underlying organizational issues, then I'm interested." And I got carte blanche assurances from the CEO, the chairman of the board, the CFO and the COO. That's not a bad place to be. That's how I wound up at the Anti-Defamation League.

I promised them three [years], and it's been five. Right now, I have projects in front of the board that will require two to three years of work. They're willing to fund some of them on the contingent basis that I stay. [Laughs]. So I must be doing something right.

What are some of the not-so-obvious ways that you apply IT to try to support ADL's mission? I spend less than half my time on traditional IT work. I'm truly part of the management team. We have division directors of each functional unit, and I'm one of them.

In addition to that, I chair the internal operations task force. We talk of not just day-to-day stuff but actually longer-term issues: strategic planning, operational issues that span the organization. [I'm] given an opportunity to help deal with the issues -- it's anti-Semitism, it's discrimination, it's hate crimes, it's a wide range of activities that ADL has been involved with.

I was always interested in civil rights. And the fact that ADL is so involved in broad-spectrum civil rights activities and not just focused solely on anti-Semitism, I think that's what attracted me to it.

Interview with Sam Memberg, CIO at the Anti-Defamation League

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