by Meridith Levinson

20/20 HONOREES – Michael Prince

Oct 01, 20022 mins

Vice President and CIO

Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp.

He doesn’t play blackjack. And you’ll never see him feeding coins into a slot machine. Yet many would consider Michael Prince, CIO of the Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse, a gambler because of the bets he’s placed on unproven technologies during the course of his 19 years at the Burlington, N.J.-based discount apparel retailer. Almost without exception, those bets have paid off in phenomenal year-over-year growth. “Gambler,” however, is a moniker Prince, 61, rejects.

“We just don’t gamble,” he says. “Every one of the technology decisions we’ve made?and that people often associate with being leading edge or high risk?have proven to be mainstream within two to three years after we’ve adopted them.”

Prince has bet (his word) on a wide range of unconventional technologies that have since become, in part due to his success with them, industry standards. In the mid-1980s, he began running Unix, at that time embraced primarily by scientists and grad students. He bought relational databases and installed a TCP/IP network when everyone else was beholden to Novell. When the rest of the world was using dial-up, he installed a satellite network. He began using storage area networks in 1998, and today he’s achieved a measure of notoriety for his support of the Linux operating system, which he began deploying back in 2000.

To mitigate risk, Prince says he “tests the hell” out of these products. And when he finally gives a technology the green light, he deploys it in phases and doesn’t run it in mission-critical environments until he’s sure it’s ready.

Even in the recent economic downturn, Prince is still placing bets. “We need world-class computing, and we need to keep our IT costs under 1 percent of our sales,” he explains. “You can’t do that unless you’re innovating.”