CIO — On Aug. 1, 2002, when Christopher Lofgren reported to work at Schneider National in his new position as president and CEO, he didn’t feel any smarter or any more powerful than he had felt in his previous roles as COO and CIO with the transportation and logistics company.
Yet, he had changed—immediately—in the minds of his colleagues who had seen him come of age at the Green Bay, Wis.-based company (see box). Suddenly, everyone from the receptionist to the CFO was reading into Lofgren’s every word and action, looking for hidden meaning, as if each frown and furrowed brow were biblical signs. It was an outcome that Lofgren had never anticipated but turned out to be a valuable leadership lesson from his first year as CEO: He’s had to raise his awareness of how people perceive him and to adapt to being in the spotlight, nonstop.
"You look at the [CEO] job when you don’t have it but operate close enough to it, and you think you understand it and what’s going to be required of you when you move into it. In general, what you think is true. But all these subtleties of the role that you couldn’t predict surface when you actually step into it," he says.
Lofgren says he has also had to adjust to the inherent differences between the tactical, short-term obsessed COO role and the strategic, long-term focused CEO post.
As COO, Lofgren’s job was to push people to do their best work. While he still does this as CEO, he has learned to know when to be demanding. For example, during one meeting of the company’s top executives, Lofgren was dissatisfied with the level of discussion and was trying to advance it. His demands for a more pointed discussion, however, shut down the conversation entirely. He understood people could tell he was unhappy with the meeting. Afterward, he realized that he should have let the conversation run its course rather than force a change.
"You want [as CEO] to create an environment where everyone is engaged in discussions. To the extent that you express your unhappiness, you can shut them down," he says.
Lofgren has also learned that IT is even more important and more strategic than he ever thought—even when he was chief information and logistics officer. That is not to say, however, that he’s a pushover for IT investments. Lofgren says as CEO he’s more demanding of the analysis that goes into business cases for IT investments and of the returns expected from them.