CIO says community service builds team bonds

Annual volunteer projects help people in need and strengthen working relationships among DHL Express Americas colleagues, says Pablo Ciano.

As CIO of DHL Express Americas, Pablo Ciano's work impacts employees and customers around the globe. A recent example is his effort to implement and maintain a global process standard.

As part of this multiyear project, Ciano and his team delivered 120 core global applications and decommissioned 1,500 applications around the world. "That brings a lot of consistency to the processes and technology, which has multiple benefits," he says, noting that much of his work involved change management and convincing others of the project's benefits.

Such leadership earned Ciano a spot as one of the four finalists for the 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award, presented in May. Here he shares his thoughts on leadership and technology.

You recently returned from volunteering in Haiti. What did you do there? The Americas Management Board [of DHL Express Americas], every year we choose a country in Latin America and spend time doing community service work, in conjunction with TECHO [a nonprofit organization of youth volunteers]. They usually build houses or infrastructure.

This year, we went to a community that was mainly comprised of people who were displaced after the earthquake five years ago and installed solar-paneled light posts, and we planted around 150 trees. It was a very good experience.

How does that experience shape your work dynamics? It's a great opportunity to strengthen the working relationships among ourselves, because in this kind of situation you go through an experience that's very different from a typical work situation like sitting in a conference room. We had to do a lot of physical work, and that requires full alignment and cooperation.

But the most important value is that it helps us to get much closer to the communities where we operate. It's difficult to understand the overall economic situation in a country, unless you get into areas of those countries you don't see on typical tours. We bring employees of the country and work together and spend the weekend together. So you're spending time with people you wouldn't otherwise work with. We had 25 employees from Haiti working with us for the weekend.

How many countries are involved in this effort? We've been doing this for the past five years. So we've been in Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico and Haiti.

Pablo Ciano, CIO, DHL, Haiti [2015] DHL

Pablo Ciano (right) and other DHL Express Americas senior executives were among the volunteers who installed utility poles with solar-powered lights and planted lemon and mango trees in a Haitian village in September.

What do you get out of this type of work? I'm on the board of directors [of TECHO], so I have a strong personal commitment to help this organization grow in Latin America. And absolutely it adds a lot of value from an accomplishment standpoint. The feeling of going for the weekend and building a house, working with the families and the volunteers, and by Sunday evening allowing these families to move into a new place, that's priceless. To be able to give something back is fantastic.

It's one of the things I appreciate most about this company. We're very conscious that we need to make money and deliver value to our shareholders, but we're extremely conscious that we can't do that if we're not helping the communities where we operate to become better.

What's the most exciting project you have going on right now? The most exciting one is the area of business to consumer. Our business has changed in the last five years as a consequence of more people buying online. [For example] we were picking up pallets in China for Apple. Now we're picking up those pallets, but we're delivering them to the end consumer as well as Apple. That has significantly changed our profile.

The challenge of that is that these receivers aren't our customers. If you buy something from Amazon, you're not dealing with DHL, you're dealing with Amazon. So we don't have a relationship with that receiver, and that brings a lot of complications -- like not knowing if the receiver will be home at the time of delivery. Nowadays, 40% of our volume is B-to-C. Five years ago, it was 20%, and we envision it will be 80% in the next five years.

So we're doing things with technology that will allow us to do better, [such as] on-demand delivery, that's geared toward interacting with that receiver in a more efficient way. And we offer the possibility to pay through electronic means, so that duties and taxes are paid before the shipment is delivered. That wouldn't be possible without a lot of sophisticated software.

What makes you stand out as a leader? It's all about the team. Although the MIT award is to the individual, from my point of view, for me, my No. 1 priority is having the right people in the right place. It's about hiring people who can do better than you, who can become better than you.

And it's about having a lot of focus. I prefer to do less and do well than do too much and do it halfway. And I think I have a good balance between hands-on, so I can dive into whatever needs attention, and letting our leaders execute and drive our initiatives forward. I would add that I also like to be very, very close to the business. When I visit a country, I spend time with my team and I spend time with customer service. I help deliver packages. I like to meet with customers.

I understand you're an athlete. Does that pursuit lend anything to your professional life? I'm a triathlete, and I think there are a lot of commonalities, especially if you want to compete in races. I like to say, "Focus on the process and the outcome will follow." It's about endurance and determination, pushing yourself beyond what you think you cannot do. I did an Ironman in 2005, and since then I've been doing mainly half Ironmans. Sometimes you're training in very hard conditions with weather and heat, and sometimes you don't think your body will continue, but it's about staying positive.

What's the biggest challenge facing CIOs today? The main challenge we see is the pace at which technology is evolving. It's moving at such a pace that you cannot have the knowledge in-house to keep up with everything going on, so you have to rely a lot on vendors. So we're becoming more vendor managers than a true IT factory.

What's the biggest challenge you face? Today you can automate everything, because technology has become so inexpensive. The challenge, as a CIO, is where do you put the energy and the focus? I receive requests to automate something every day. HR wants to automate how they process the talent management forms, marketing wants to automate how they receive job requests internally, and we have major requests that impact much broader groups. But you cannot do everything, sometimes the ROI isn't reasonable.

How do you prioritize? It starts with the business priorities. It starts with the business strategy that triggers changes in processes and the technology that supports the processes. We get together with the business leaders to understand their priorities, which processes they're optimizing or launching. And based on that, we make the determinations.

It's not purely on ROI. You can have a project with a great ROI that only impacts five people in the company. It's business impact, ROI, alignment to the business priorities.

And we have a very disciplined governance process. Every single IT project of more than 5,000 euros goes through a global portfolio review board, and every month we look at requests and approve or deny. The number might seem low for a company like ours, but it's how we keep focused on the key priorities.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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