by Robin Johnson

The CIO Questionnaire: Dell CIO Robin Johnson

Apr 29, 2010
IT StrategyMobileSmall and Medium Business

Q. Where were you born? A. Hillingdon, West London, UK

Q. How many people work in your IT department? A. About 6500, no outsourcing.

Q. What is the size of your annual IT budget? A. $1.2bn

Q. What is the basic structure of your IT department? A. Application development is aligned by business process, with support and infrastructure as shared services.

Q. Who are your key suppliers? A. Oracle,, Red Hat, Teradata, Microsoft

Q. Who has/have been the most influential people in your career? A.I’ve had the good fortune to work with great companies and great people: Marks & Spencer, Ernst & Young, Safeway (US) and Dell – all well led by excellent senior executives who have taught me a lot over the years.

Q. Do you believe in mentoring? A. Yes, I’m a product of Marks & Spencer’s management training programme, which I think was hugely beneficial in getting my career started off right. I try to return that favor by passing on the lessons I’ve learned whenever I can by mentoring others and working hard to develop my direct staff.

Q. Which tools or tactics have given you most success in communicating up/down/across?  A.I think the most important thing we can do as IT leaders is to convert the ‘IT speak’ into plain English. We are great at communicating among our own kind, but usually fail spectacularly at talking to the business in terms they can understand and in terms of business value or business risk.

Q. What has been your biggest mistake? A.Not letting go as you change roles in your career – when you’re no longer the project manager, you have to get out of project management, when you’re no longer the developer you have to get out of development, etc. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but you have to know how to move into the role you have now and let go of the role you used to have so you can grow and develop and focus on managing the right things.

Q. And your greatest success? A.Businesses forever change, and really the best success is just maintaining an agile enough organisation to keep up with that change – organisation change, technology change, personnel change, economic change, and so forth. I think the fact that I have been lucky to do that, at multiple companies and in changing roles, as the biggest real ‘success’ in my career.

Q. How do you keep up to date with the march of technology? A.Very simple – you seek out and find the very best technologists you can, developers, architects, etc., and you surround yourself with them so you can learn from them all day, every day. Then keeping up with technology isn’t a separate effort, it’s just ingrained in your day-to-day job.

Q. How do you deal with stress? A. I don’t really ‘do’ stress – I believe you focus on what you can control, and let go of what you cannot control.

Q. What profession would you most/least like to attempt? A.Most: landscape photographer (not that I feel I have any particular aptitude for this – I just think it would be a wonderful profession). Least: lawyer, or anything in the legal profession.

Q. Which word or phrase do you most use/overuse? A.My mantra: “I’m not in the technology business, I’m in the value creation business.”

Q. Which business (or other) books have been influential in your career? A.Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins; Organizing Genius, by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman.

Q. Do you have a sport you practise or sportsperson/team that you follow? A.Take part – Sailing, Skiing. Follow – English football, particularly Queens Park Rangers.

Q. What else do you do outside of work? A.Running, gardening, reading, listening to music.