by Elana Varon

20/20 HONOREES – David Kepler

Oct 01, 20022 mins

Corporate Vice President and CIO

Dow Chemical Co.

Dave Kepler is a practical risk taker. That’s not an oxymoron. It’s a guiding principle. In 27 years at Dow, the 49-year-old CIO has pioneered cutting-edge technologies, making Dow a leading user of IT, and that experience has taught him the difference between smart risks and foolish choices. “If you can understand what the issues are and be pragmatic when approaching something,” he says, “I think you know how to pick the right things.”

Under Kepler’s direction in the mid-1990s, Midland, Mich.-based Dow was one of the first companies to successfully install an ERP system. Since becoming CIO in 1998, Kepler has driven Dow’s investment in Elemica, a B2B electronic marketplace, and been an early adopter of voice-over-IP technology to carry Dow’s telephone and data services. Kepler has also made some unconventional decisions to stick with legacy systems?notably migrating Union Carbide back to an old version of SAP after its merger with Dow. “His strategy around that is crystal clear,” says Stewart McCutcheon, CTO with Elemica. “He’s made his investment in ERP, and upgrading isn’t going to buy him much.”

From age 12 through his early 20s, Kepler worked in his father and uncle’s hardware store in his hometown of Pleasant Hill, Calif. There, he picked up three pieces of wisdom: First, success depends on your relationship with your customers; second, cash flow is critical; and third, “spend money as if it’s your own because it is,” Kepler says. At the University of California in nearby Berkeley, he’d planned to become an oceanographer but “got into chemistry” and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. “Computers were being used [for] controlling plants, and that got me into the broader IT area,” he says.