by Compiled by Meridith Levinson

A Stint in the Public Sector Helps Donald Lemma Land His Next Private Sector Job

Aug 01, 20024 mins

While he was working in the IT department at Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck and moonlighting as a city councilor in 1994, Donald Lemma got the call for full-time public service. Christine Whitman, the New Jersey governor at the time, wanted him to work for the state as special assistant for technology and office systems. Lemma saw this as an opportunity to manage a big staff and big budget?experience he would one day need to run the IT department for a Fortune 500 company.

Lemma got the experience he wanted, and then some. For two and a half years, he managed a 140-person staff, a $10 million budget, and he learned invaluable lessons about organizational politics and negotiation that are best realized in the public sector environment. And in June, he moved onto a bigger private sector stage.

As vice president of corporate information technology and CIO for Schering-Plough, the $9.8 billion maker of Claritin, Coppertone and Correctol, based in Kenilworth, N.J., Lemma is as much a politician as he is a businessman and technologist. The 40-year-old holds a master of public administration from Rutgers and a PhD in computer information systems from Nova Southeastern University.

“Corporate environments are political environments,” he says. Understanding how to survive and function in a political environment is exactly what Lemma learned from his time in the public sector. While working for the state of New Jersey, he had to convince 13 state agencies, each with its own e-mail system, of the benefits of standardization. He told them that if they agreed to use a single, standard system, their maintenance costs would decrease by 20 percent. If they insisted on keeping their pet systems, they’d have to justify those extra costs to the governor.

“The real function of a CIO is being the arbiter of limited IT resources in a corporate environment where there’s unlimited demand,” he says. As arbiters, CIOs have to make tough decisions. While Lemma always aims for the win-win, when he can’t reach a mutually satisfactory compromise, he clearly explains to the parties involved why he’s choosing one system over another or making a particular decision.

“If you explain your thought process, the reasons why you’re doing something and the ultimate goal of what you’re proposing, some people may still not support you, but they won’t work against you because they understand you,” he says. “Sometimes, that’s the best thing you can ask for.”

News of Other Moves

Gordon Steele, Nike’s CIO, has been appointed vice president of information technology for the Beaverton, Ore.-based footwear manufacturer. Steele led Nike’s renowned supply chain effort from the IT side.

Freedom Communications, a media company in Irvine, Calif., has hired Mike Brown as its first CIO. He most recently served as vice president of information technology at Twentieth Century Fox.

Washington state Governor Gary Locke appointed Stuart M. McKee as director of the state’s Department of Information Services. McKee previously served as vice president of global Internet operations for the Walt Disney Co.

Inder P. Singh is now the global CIO of Visa International. Singh’s primary responsibility will be to expand the flexibility of VisaNet, the credit card company’s transaction processing infrastructure, by retooling IT systems and coordinating IT standards and processes. In his new capacity, Singh will report to President and CEO Malcolm Williamson.

Steven Weinstein joins Vicinity Corp., a Web, wireless and speech-based enterprise service provider, as CTO. Weinstein comes to the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company from Backstage Pass, where he served as president. He has one patent and four pending in the appliance and broadband space, and serves on the advisory board of several companies.