by Mark Chillingworth

Gatwick Airport’s Stuart Birrell on recruiting a cutting-edge crew

Nov 29, 2010
CareersFinancial Services IndustryIT Leadership

Gatwick’s heritage as an off-shoot of BAA’s Heathrow flagship meant that not only did the Sussex airport not have the IT infrastructure to go it alone, it lacked the skilled staff to support the divestment.

“I had to get some core management and poached some people off BAA who had the right attitude,” Gatwick CIO Stuart Birrell says of his first move.

“I now have a team of 85, 50 of whom are the separation team. For that we are using the contracting market rather than a systems integrator,” he says, although Siemens is on board as the integrator for a SAP implementation.

“BAA is delivering application clones into our datacentre, and we are doing the documentation and training as receivers, so we really don’t need a systems integrator as BAA are doing all of that role.”

Birrell is one of the few CIOs who is grateful for the economic slowdown as the talent made available by the recession bene­fited Gatwick in its hour of need.

“We have been fortunate to pick up some good people due to the recession. It was a good time to be recruiting people from the financial services sector. A lot of people are travelling out of London and they may not choose to do that if they could.

“Going through a major transformation and change programme makes it exciting and it is a different breed of people that do transformation to the day-to-day running of IT. You have to be conscious of the skills you need and where you are in the business cycle,” Birrell says.

Food for thought With a degree in electronics and engineering, Birrell entered the CIO arena via a more unusual route. He had a five-year stint with the Walkers Crisps brand of the Pepsi snack foods empire and it was here he first bit into IT.

“At Walkers I spent a few years building factories and in 2000 I led the build of a new warehouse and put in the management system. At the same time I was doing an MBA. I was conscious that I was getting bored of engineering and there was an opportunity in IT project management. I first put in Oracle iProcurement and used my engineering skills,” he says.

Birrell joined Pepsi in January 2000 as a logistics technical manager working on auto­mated warehouse and distribution and it was here that he had first major experience of negotiating supplier contracts. This led to a three-year stint with Pepsi as an application development manager and then on to be the systems operations controller for the company.

The energetic CIO ran out of roles at Pepsi and moved to Acco Brands, the office products manufacturer, to carry out his first de-merger, a move that would provide him with the vital skills for his current role.

“Acco were doing a de-merger and an IPO at the same time, they were merging two organisations in Europe and my role was to create a service centre in Holland,” he says.

Birrell’s pre-IT CV also includes stints at food makers Kimberly-Clark and Japanese car maker Nissan.

Like many CIOs, Birrell uses a coachand keen to stress how important having a coach is for C-level executives.

“I first started using a coach when I left Pepsi to go to Acco as I felt I needed help with that senior level of role. We meet once every three months, we talk through a topic­ of my strategy here, or how I present issues.

“My coach is an ex-CIO and has a real understanding of the issues and really understands the challenges as well as ­being an independent person who knows my style. It is great to brain storm on a topic and to sense-check myself.

“I wouldn’t have been successful without some back-up help.”

For more, click on the links below:

Gatwick Airport’sStuart Birrell on the strategy for independence

Gatwick Airport’sStuart Birrell on building IT from the ground up