Rebecca A. Blalock: IT Convert

Rebecca "Becky" A. Blalock, 49, is corporate CIO and senior vice president at Southern Co. in Atlanta. A 27-year veteran of the $12 billion energy company, Blalock's first IT job was as one of Southern's five regional CIOs, at subsidiary Georgia Power Co. She recently presided over Project LightNet, a communications network overhaul that's expected to save the company $78 million over 10 years. She talked recently with Computerworld's Gary H. Anthes.

You started out at Southern Co. in finance and accounting and spent 12 years there. How did you end up in IT? I never anticipated I'd be in IT. I had been singled out for my contributions to the company and made assistant to the CEO at Georgia Power. I'd been in that position for six months when ... the CEO came into my office and offered me the CIO job [at Georgia Power]. I was shell-shocked because I didn't even know what a CIO did. But he said, "Yeah, but you know a lot about information." He was frustrated because he was having a very hard time getting the information he needed to run the business.

You immediately had 650 people in IT under you. Didn't you feel handicapped having no technical background? It became more of a job about leadership than about being a technical expert. What I did was a lot of reverse coaching, and I do that today. I go to the technical experts on my team, and they come up and spend a lot of one-on-one time teaching me. You can't go get a textbook on this stuff -- it's changing too fast. Also, I have a wonderful peer group here in Atlanta -- at Coca-Cola, GE, Atlanta Power & Light and Georgia Pacific. I can pick up the phone and ask my peers to help me with anything, and they are there.

Julie F. Butcher

Rebecca A. Blalock, CIO, Southern Co.

Photo Credit: Ann States

What was your role in the LightNet project? I'm the one who has to go and get the money for these things. I had to convince the business that we had to make the investment in the infrastructure.

Was that hard? No, the IT organization has a good bit of credibility here. It's because we understand the business. A lot of times, IT groups try to communicate with the business in IT terms instead of their terms. They don't understand that, so they're seen as a cost center.

Between finance and IT, you did a stint in economic development. How did that happen? I'd always been fascinated by that. I took a two-grade demotion for a job in Georgia Power's economic development office. I always tell young people, sometimes the quickest way to the top is not straight up. I've had 12 jobs in seven different functional areas, and I've taken three laterals.

That's pretty brave. I'm a very adaptable person. I'm a risk-taker, and I'm not afraid of change.

What's your next step? I love being in IT. In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd be this happy in a job, and I can't imagine going anywhere else. But I have five possible successors -- all five of my regional CIOs.

What advice will you give your successor? First, learn the technology trends. Second, learn the needs of the business and how IT can address them. Third, build your public-speaking skills. Be very public in speaking out about the great things that are going on in this company.

Special Report

2006 Premier 100 IT Leaders

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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