by CIO Staff

The CIO Questionnaire: Chris Airey, Lifestyle Services Group

Dec 08, 20114 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Where were you born? Bebington, Merseyside

What was your first job in IT? I did a year industrial placement at British Coal just after the miner’s strike ended. It was a difficult time for the R&D staff I worked with as the mines closed.

It was a fascinating place to work, a blend of mine control systems and analytics. The people in the main had a sense of pride, made the effort to build friendships and importantly I discovered malt whiskey due to the Scots placement students there which has been life enhancing.

Who have been the most influential people in your career? There have been many and I have been blessed by people who have made an effort. Some great managers at Ford and the old Littlewoods Group in particular.

For example, Steve Goodheart at Littlewoods who had a great attitude of calm when I was leading the .com era integration of ecommerce into the different brand supply chains.

Jim Riffe of RR Donnelly who was not IT but led the post acquisition integration of Astron and brought US military thinking to the process.

In IT terms the thought leader Chris Potts has helped me with understanding why the wrong decisions can get made, and Iain Baughan of Learning Curve has helped with personal development.

I would say the greatest influencer was Ken O’Brien global CIO of RR Donnelly who makes it all look a breeze.

What is your best tip for learning about the business? I would say go do business projects and make sure the IT team is located with the key functions that drive the agenda.

One business project I was on involved six months of supply chain audits, store dawn visits for stock, fraud investigations — I learnt an immense amount about data and it’s misuse.

I have been lucky to work in B2B2C organisations with top tier clients over the last decade and tried to take time to regularly do the basics like listen to calls, show an interest and people will feed you information.

Do you have an MBA? Yes, I was sponsored by Littlewoods at the Open University. It was a good choice for me to have an on-going mechanism for reflection over a number of years, and meeting so many different people on the different modules and summer schools.

What company and role do you believe you learnt most from? I would say Ford has been unrivalled for me in terms of ability to précis, decide and fund properly.

Appraisals were one pagers, investment decisions were one pagers. Brilliant!

What tools or tactics have given you most success in communicating? We had a particularly tough year at Home Delivery Network when the business was turning around, peak getting later and higher yet the team was still forming. I wasn’t confident that the core tracking system was going to make it.

Running a peak readiness project as a project or top down communication was not going to get the right results so we used a personal development coach (Neil Sampson) to run sessions for the more junior levels with ‘Peak’ as the subject of the teamwork challenge.

It had an amazing result and the goodwill generated from investing in people who don’t usually get personal development or leadership training was priceless. Without asking people did the right things such as 4am start rotas.

What has been your biggest mistake? Assuming people know the systems they look after sufficiently to change them.

And your greatest success? Building or rebuilding some great teams that have personality.

How do deal with stress? I have found that my children cure that is if you don’t just dump stress they will finish you off!

Do you have a team that you follow? Liverpool FC.

If you were given Gardening Leave for a year, what would you do with it? 1. Start a distillery, anyone interested in joining in? 2. Find a way to buy the farm house. The Airey’s were tenant farmers for over 100 years in the Lake District and turn it into a getaway

iPad, book, newspaper or magazine for a long journey or commute? iPad

How do you keep up to date with the march of technology? I make an effort to mix with different people outside of where I work.

Business friends from prior roles give me a good balance with the corporate IT and financial services responsibilities.