Experience Base: Starting a New Team

On-the-Job Leadership Development - A CIO Executive Council Leadership Development Monthly Series

The thrill of booting up a team never gets old for Steve Finnerty, Applied Materials' vice president of IT and vendor services and a mentor in the CIO Executive Council's Pathways leadership development program. Good thing. The 40-year IT veteran and former CIO for Kraft Foods, Johnson Controls and JM Huber has headed up no fewer than three big new teams in as many years since joining Applied Materials, the world's largest supplier of manufacturing equipment to the semiconductor, display and solar photovoltaic industries.

The experience of team start-ups is the gift that keeps on giving for any IT leader, and not just because they will employ the associated skills over and over again as they rise through the ranks. "It forces you to establish and deepen relationships," explains Finnerty, who served as a judge for the 2010 CIO Ones to Watch awards. "If you're leading a new team, you have to develop pretty quickly a compelling vision of where you're going and a path to get there."

Initial attempts at team leadership can be eye-opening for future CIOs. Paul Capizzi always thought of himself as a people person; it was his good rapport with teammates that drew him to management. But Capizzi, SBLI USA's vice president of IT and a participant in the Council's Pathways program, learned early that being Mr. Nice Guy wasn't nearly enough to successfully lead a new group.

"My biggest mistake in the beginning was trying to make everyone happy so they would work hard," Capizzi says. "You can never make everyone happy. However, being realistic about deliverables dates, helping your team prioritize their workload and holding people accountable has helped my team develop a focused, positive mindset."

An engineer by training and temperament, Capizzi also had to let go his love of doing in favor of leading. "I have to spend more time managing my team and thinking about my budget these days than talking switches, routers and firewalls," he notes.

How to choose an all-star team is perhaps the biggest takeaway for IT up-and-comers. "The leader's there to lead, not to have all the expertise [himself]," says Finnerty, who encourages direct reports to seek out the best and brightest when forming teams. "If they need a great marketing communications person, I say, let's go find the best person even if we have to wait for them. Some people will say, 'It's not fair. You have all the best people.' Well, duh! If you're going to take the hill, you've got to have the 'A' team."

Staffing was the key for Ruchir Rodrigues, vice president at Verizon Communications, who was charged with creating a consumer products development group within Verizon's IT department—an organization traditionally focused on back-office support. He sought out IT team members with an inclination for consumer product design, usability or engineering. "There was no model for this," says Rodrigues, a 2010 CIO Ones to Watch Award candidate. "We leveraged small entrepreneurial teams of developers, strategists and designers who were responsible for pitching their own ideas and then helping take them to market." The team has grown every year and now generates millions in revenue for the company.

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