by Derek Slater

How New CIOs Quickly Get New Skills

Nov 01, 20013 mins

Elizabeth Shuttleworth is executive vice president of operations and CIO at Radian Guaranty, a mortgage insurance provider in Philadelphia. Previously, she was CIO of pickle-maker Vlasic Foods International. Before that, she worked for SmithKline Beecham and Bell Atlantic, and earlier still at Computer Horizons in South Africa. CIO talked to Shuttleworth about changing industries. She’s done that a lot and evidently has kept her sense of humor.

CIO: Industry knowledge is so important for today’s CIOs. How do you ramp up your knowledge for a new gig?

Shuttleworth: You have to learn very quickly. Really it’s reading, reading, reading. Each industry has its own rags; the ones in this industry are a little dull. There’s one called Secondary Market Executive that I try not to read too much. [Secondary market executives] do very heavy-duty structured transactions. Here they’ve been very good; I’ve brought in a lot of new staff, and we’ve done lunch together so that people can share expertise and plans. The businesspeople need to get to know our group and what we’re going to do for them, and we need to understand what they’re doing. You [have to] ask a lot of questions too. I tell my staff, “Go into a project as if you know nothing about it.” You get much better specifications or requirements if you ask questions instead of making assumptions.

Any key differences between your work at Radian and at Vlasic Foods?

At Vlasic, everything was supply chain optimization. That was the most crucial piece. Here you have a supply chain, but it’s virtual. I also have [responsibility for] operations here. We do manufacture something in a sense?paper. A mortgage certificate, instead of a jar of pickles.

What motivated the switch?

The food business is very old and staid, and the opportunities to change how you do business are few. What really interested me about this job was putting IT and operations together. I wanted to work for a company that “gets it.” Here I don’t feel like I’m dragging people along; instead they’re pushing me to deliver as fast as possible.

So you don’t find this kind of industry transition intimidating at all?

The things that keep you awake at night are very much the same. A mobile user is a mobile user, and the issues they face are the same whether you’re at an insurance company or a food company. In every business, you put something in, move it around a bit and put it back out. That’s what we do here; we take data in, move it around and put it back out again. When you boil it down like that, it’s not so hard.