Kmart Appoints Karen Austin CIO

Kmart Looks Within for CIO

Karen Austin was driving home from work in April when she heard the chime of her cell phone. "Hello?" she answered.

It was Julian Day, president and COO of beleaguered discount retailer Kmart in Troy, Mich. "We’ve made our decision," said Day. "It’s unanimous. We want you to be our CIO."

Austin had applied for the senior vice president and CIO post that had been vacant since last August. She was thrilled with Day’s news.

"Awesome!" she responded. This was the outcome that the company’s former vice president of application development had hoped for. "I’ve been here [with Kmart] 18 years. I’ve had a vast amount of experience in IT and in interfacing with the business. I felt like I was the most qualified person for the position," she says.

Still, there was some small part of her psyche that was nervous. The phrase "Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it" gnawed at the back of her mind. After all, the 40-year-old Austin is assuming the top IT job at a company caught in the throes of bankruptcy. Five others have held the CIO post since 1994. Using IT to resuscitate the ailing retailer should be about as easy as sailing across the Atlantic in a row boat.

"Doing what we need to do while in Chapter 11 and while controlling costs is a big challenge," she says. "We’re making sure we’re working on projects that support the business. We’ve stopped some projects and accelerated others."

Solidifying infrastructure is Austin’s most critical issue. Last February, the company combined its core hard-line and soft-line systems. Austin says consolidating those systems will eliminate overhead, shorten lead times and simplify store and distribution center operations. Now she has to make sure this consolidated core system is solid enough to carry the company through its recovery from bankruptcy and into future growth.

Equally important are technology initiatives she’s sponsoring to ensure that prices match from shelf to register and to prevent stock-outs. "These are all things that help us decrease costs, improve comparative sales and increase our return on assets," she says.

When asked if she’s worried about meeting the same fate as those other short-lived CIOs, she says, "Not with my history. I made a commitment on day one. I held a pep rally in the cafeteria for the entire IT group, and I said, ’I am here to stay, and I am committed to doing what it takes to make sure IT helps the company emerge from bankruptcy.’"

News of Other Moves

Ruth Bruch has been named senior vice president and CIO of Lucent Technologies in Murray Hill, N.J. As CIO, Bruch will focus on reengineering the company’s information systems and completing an SAP implementation. She joins Lucent from Visteon, where she served as vice president and CIO.

Beth Perlman joins Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group as vice president and CIO. Perlman, former vice president of Enron Wholesale Trading Technology, will report to senior vice president and CFO E. Follin Smith.

Tsvi Gal, the former president of ATT.com, joins New York City-based Warner Music as senior vice president and CIO. Gal will supervise the integration of Warner Music’s global IT operations and will look for opportunities to leverage IT synergies with the parent company, AOL Time Warner.

Lucia Ahnemann leaves the CIO role to join global ERP vendor Adonix as vice president of marketing and channels. She spent two years at consultancy Scient as CIO.

Paul Volkman has been promoted to CIO of Vivendi Universal Games in Los Angeles. The company’s former director of information technology, Volkman will be responsible for developing information technology strategy and overseeing the company’s infrastructure and applications.

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Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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