by Meridith Levinson

On the Move – Why a CIO Makes a Good Business Strategist

Apr 01, 20062 mins

As CIO of UniGroup, the transportation company that operates Mayflower Transit and United Van Lines, Randall Poppell spent a lot of time doing strategic planning for the company as part of his effort to create an IT strategy. The IT strategy meetings Poppell held always involved discussions about the business strategy, business processes and business transformation.

Last fall, Poppell, 48, was rewarded for these efforts when he was named UniGroup’s vice president of strategic planning. He’s the first person in his company to hold the title.

He is also among three CIOs in the past year to move into the role of chief strategist. First was Marv Adams, Ford’s senior vice president and CIO who was given the added role of strategy chief last May. Then in January, Bed Bath & Beyond CIO Richard McMahon was appointed his company’s chief strategy officer and vice president of corporate operations.

Poppell, who remains UniGroup’s CIO, says he didn’t explicitly prepare himself for his new role. However, he believes that his creation of an IT strategy and successful execution of his company’s first major IT project in years demonstrated to his boss the ability “to create an end-state picture, put all the tactical pieces in place, and drive all the initiatives to successfully get to that end-state picture.”

When he’s not tied up with his CIO responsibilities, Poppell works closely with the CEO and board of directors to develop the company’s long-term business plans. He also guides the business unit heads through scenario planning exercises to help them envision what their businesses might look like in three years as well as to identify opportunities and threats. He says his new role forces him to think more broadly about the company, his industry and macroeconomic forces.

As Poppell ponders his company’s future, more may very well be in store for Poppell at UniGroup. When asked if he thought his promotion might be part of his company’s succession planning process, he answered, “The thought has certainly crossed my mind.”