Embrace the Executive Blog

How Michael Smith, CIO of Mylan, used a simple tool to drive a major transformation.

CIO, Mylan, Michael Smith
Michael Smith became CIO of Mylan in 2012, five years after the pharmaceutical company had acquired Merck’s generic drug business. The 50 year old company had become a nearly $7B global company in only five years but still had work to do to fully integrate the acquisition, tear down silos, and establish global processes.   

With huge transformation ahead of them, Smith saw that the IT organization was lacking some basic communication tools necessary to drive change. “We were a company that needed to scale to the next level, but we did not have the technology to allow our executives to send consistent messages throughout the company,” he says. 

The IT organization was also about to experience change. “I walked into an IT organization that was not in the best of shape,” says Smith. “We had no enterprise architecture, no centralized infrastructure group, no business intelligence, and no digital capabilities,” he says. What’s more, like so many CIOs inheriting an IT organization, Smith found that IT had outsourced the wrong functions. “Our resource model was backward,” says Smith. “The commodity work was done in house, and the strategic work was done outside.”

On the verge of a major global business process re-engineering effort and a comprehensive restructuring of the IT organization and sourcing model, Smith needed a better communication tool than email. So with the help of Nina Devlin, VP of Communications at Mylan, Smith started a blog. “The beauty of the blog was that I was able to be transparent about where we were going and why,” Smith says. “The blog turned out to be a fantastic change management tool.”

During most IT re-organizations, people get very nervous as the CIO pulls the IT leadership team into closed door meetings. “I decided to use the blog to hit that issue head on,” says Smith. “I knew that people were aware that the top 15 leaders were heading to an offsite, so I used the blog to let everyone know what our offsite goals were; I tried to make sure we were clear about our goals for restructuring and how we were going to get there.” Smith believes his blog strategy has paid off. “Morale has stayed high during the restructuring, and the buzz around the IT organization is good,” he says.

Not only has the blog helped quell nerves associated with the restructuring in IT, it allows Smith and his leadership team to communicate effectively with the rest of the business.  “We just posted an animated five minute video to show how our IT strategy connects to our business strategy,” says Smith. “As CIOs, we are in the unique position of communicating to the rest of the company how the IT strategy is connected to the business strategy,” he says. “The blog helps me to do that. You can’t find anyone the company who doesn’t understand our IT strategy or anyone in IT who doesn’t understand our business strategy.”

Smith is hardly the only person to use the blog. “The blog has changed the way we communicate as a company,” says Smith.  “Anyone in the company who wants to talk about something has a platform to do it.” In addition to giving voice to employees, the blog helps management understand how well employees are handling change. “With the blog, we can see what employees are thinking about and how the reaction to the transformation is trending,” says Smith. “The blog allows us to be sensitive to our employees and gives us a new level of understanding about our direction.”

A company blog is pretty easy to implement, but harder to sustain. Nina Devlin, VP of Communications, at Mylan, offers some advice:

Prove it: “Some executives embrace writing an executive blog, but others need a lot of encouragement,” says Devlin. “My advice is to show them the results.  When our executives see who is reading the blog, they usually want to post more. We have leaders who embraced the blog once they saw the high level of employee engagement.”

Good enough is good enough: “The blog doesn’t have to be the great American novel,” says Devlin. “The writer just needs to speak from the heart and talk about issues that are meaningful to employees. At first, we had a hard time getting past the notion that 400 people need to vet the blog before we post it. Now, we’ve gotten our executives just to jot down their thoughts and put them out there.”

Be authentic: According to Michael Smith, people who grew up in IT are particularly prone to perfectionism and have the tendency to overthink their blogs. “You need some degree of quality and professionalism,” says Smith, “but if you work on your blog for too long, it will come across as cold and heartless with no emotion or authenticity.”

Stay aligned: But spontaneity should not be confused with shooting from the hip. “Be sure you are aligned with your executive team on what you write,” cautions Smith. “You don’t want the first time your executive peers learn of an issue to be when they read it in your blog.”

About Michael Smith and Mylan

Michael Smith is responsible for leveraging the power of process and technology to help Mylan fulfill its mission of setting new standards in health care and providing 7 billion people access to high quality medicine.

Prior to joining Mylan in 2012, Smith spent most of his career at Nike, the iconic global purveyor of sportswear and equipment, retiring from the company in July after 22 years of service. He started as an applications engineer and assumed positions of increasing responsibility in roles focused on information technology, sales operations, customer service, distribution and supply chain management. Most recently, he was the senior IT executive responsible for leading the company’s global geographies’ and affiliates’ chief information officers.

Earlier in his career, Smith worked in IT positions at AutoZone, an auto parts retailer, and at Malone and Hyde, a food distributor.

Smith earned a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn.

Mylan is a global pharmaceutical company committed to setting new standards in health care. Working together around the world to provide 7 billion people access to high quality medicine, we innovate to satisfy unmet needs; make reliability and service excellence a habit; do what's right, not what's easy; and impact the future through passionate global leadership. We offer a growing portfolio of more than 1,300 generic pharmaceuticals and several brand medications. In addition, we offer a wide range of antiretroviral therapies, upon which approximately 40% of HIV/AIDS patients in developing countries depend. We also operate one of the largest active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers and currently market products in approximately 140 countries and territories. Our workforce of more than 20,000 people is dedicated to improving the customer experience and increasing pharmaceutical access to consumers around the world. 

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