by John Ellis-Braithwaite

The CIO Questionnaire, John Ellis-Braithwaite, CIO ABB UK

Sep 10, 2009
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Somewhere in your building, it is highly likely; there is a piece of electrical equipment manufactured by ABB. It’s a major corporation globally and has a strong manufacturing presence in the UK. John Ellis-Braithwaite, their UK CIO answered the CIO UK questionnaire.

Q: Where were you born? A: I was born in Shrewsbury, just across from the Mid-Wales border where I grew up. My first job was in the Laura Ashley Finance Department in Mid-Wales and there I was introduced to one of the first IBM PCs. This experience kindled my interest in IT. Since then I have moved around and lived in various UK locations.

Q: How many people work in your IT department? A: ABB UK has a small IS team of 21, but also runs a fully outsourced IS Infrastructure services contract with IBM and application support services from Tata Consultancy Services. Getting the right balance of retained IS staff in an outsourced model is very important, with the objective being to achieve a good blend of cost control and effective management of the stakeholder relationships and contracts.

Q: What is the basic structure of your IT department? A: I report to the CEO of ABB UK and Ireland and have functional responsibility for Information Systems. The basic structure is:

IS Management at Country and Division level Infrastructure Services and Contract Management Applications Development & Support IS Risk Management

Q:Who has/have been the most influential people in your career? A:My family have been very supportive of my career, demonstrated by their patience and tolerance of long hours spent at work. A significant factor in my role in ABB UK is that we have a CEO and Management Team that understand and support the importance of Information Systems and Technology as a contributor to business performance.

Q: Do you believe in mentoring? A: Yes – both in giving and receiving of advice. We build on a competency model in ABB which covers effective leadership behaviours as well as technical or business skills.

Q:Which tools or tactics have given you most success in communicating up/down/across? A: It’s no secret that communication is important. We have around 20 locations in ABB UK and travel in order to facilitate communication is a feature of the job. In the current economic climate it’s important that we make effective use of technology in this area so we are increasing use of audio and video conferencing and other collaboration tools. This gives a number of benefits including reduced travel costs (national and international), better use of time and a reduced carbon footprint.

Q: What has been your biggest mistake? A: In the early part of my career, not thinking of mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve. We all make mistakes (at work and outside our working lives) but the real mistake would be to not learn from them.

Q: And your greatest success? A: The recent migration from eight legacy ERP systems (read more here) onto a single instance of SAP ranks as a significant high. That was down to great teamwork and wouldn’t have been possible without significant effort from a team of dedicated people. I think that the ABB UK IS team deserve great credit for their efforts in the data migration process in particular.

Q: How do you keep up to date with the march of technology? A: There’s a wealth of information available on the internet so when time is available I look up sites like, forums, the BCS as well as exchanging ideas with colleagues and peers.

Q: How do you deal with stress? A: Walking i n the countryside and Lakeland fells when time permits is relaxing. One day if I keep it up I’ll have completed Wainwright’s Fells.

Q: Which business (or other) books have been influential in your career? A:Who Moved My Cheese? (CIO UK review) by Spencer Johnson, because every year my career in IS has been characterised by change.

Q: Do you have a sport you practise or sportsperson/team that you follow? A: I like to follow MotoGP and have recently taken to riding a motorcycle (at a slower pace) myself.