CIO — Jan Franklin was 17 when she landed her first job at Farmers Insurance as a keypunch operator
on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. Within two years, the driven college student got herself promoted to a programming job, launching her steady ascent up the IT ranks. Fast-forward to 2001, and Franklin had become vice president of IT applications and development, overseeing a $300 million budget as IT chief operating officer. At that point, she knew pretty much everything there was to know about IT at Farmers, having done most of it herself.
But Franklin had the good sense to know what she lacked: direct business experience. So she ventured outside the realm of IT to ask then Executive Vice President of Property and Casualty Stephen Leaman to be her mentor. When he suggested a tour of duty on the front lines of the business to round out her experience, she readily agreed. So Leaman put a bug in CEO Martin Feinstein’s ear. Having served as CIO himself in the early ’90s, Feinstein understood that letting Franklin broaden her horizons would make her a more valuable employee—and knew that IT would benefit from having a scout on the business side. Franklin would be able to identify opportunities to apply IT strategically and get a chance to view IT from a user’s viewpoint. When the business-side position of executive director of the Los Angeles Service Center (LASC) became available in September 2001, Leaman called Franklin in London, where she was celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary. Was she interested? Absolutely. Three weeks later, she found herself heading up one of Farmers’ largest service centers—leading a staff of 550 who do underwriting and provide administrative support for up to 5,000 agents who sell Farmers insurance.
The lessons Franklin would learn in the trenches not only made her a more savvy businesswoman but also gave her an appreciation for how customers of IT really use technology. Those lessons serve her well today because, as fate would have it, the CIO spot did open up in March 2003, when Cecilia Claudio left to head up IT for Europe, Asia and Africa for Farmers’ parent company, Zurich Financial Services. And when Franklin got tapped to fill it, she was more than ready. Here she shares four lessons that she learned on the other side of the fence.
Lesson 1 Take the Time to Walk the Floor and Listen
Franklin was always known As a no-nonsense, bottom-line manager with little patience for office politics or excuses—and often little patience for listening. She had so much experience that she could act quickly and decisively. Markus Nordlin, vice president of IT strategic projects, recalls that after a short time of listening to a problem, she’d say, "You guys are idiots. This is the way it’s going to be." While she always did this with her tongue planted firmly in cheek, says Nordlin, her good-natured conversation-stopping technique did have the desired effect of, well, stopping conversations.