CIO and Interim VP for IT, Purdue
Based in West Lafayette, Ind., Purdue is a public, four-year
institution of higher education.
Purdue University is in a
somewhat unique position when it comes to mid-market
challenges. Although we are a mid-market organization, we are
also the biggest IT employer in our area. So we can act like a
The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a mid-market CIO
is churn at the leadership levels within IT. It is absolutely
true that you are only as good as your people. So hiring the
best people you can get is critical to the organization. The
best people are smart, can pick up new ideas and concepts
quickly, and have energy, focus and motivation.
Once you get the best employees, you need to be able to
retain them. That means having very clear staff development
models. You need to make it attractive for your best individual
contributors to stay in your organization.
One of the ways I’ve overcome this challenge is by
giving top-performing senior managers more significant
development opportunities, such as major projects and external
exposure. This allows them to experience their own career
growth, which is essential to succession planning.
I’m not really aware of any other particular
challenges from being a mid-market CIO. I do believe that to
succeed as a leader you need to know what drives your industry
and therefore your organization. That’s the first step.
The second is to focus all the resources you can on those
drivers. Along those lines, a close relationship to the
business is essential. When IT has a major proposal, you need
to test it against your core business drivers. The CIO also
needs to make sure all managers and staff understand how what
they are doing relates to those core drivers. So at least twice
a year you need to strategically review your actual projects to
ensure that you’re staying focused on your industry and
I think this is what any leader should do regardless of the
size of the organization.
CIO and SVP, Choice Hotels
A hospitality corporation with a portfolio of hotel brands
including Comfort Inn, Clarion and EconoLodge.
Choice Hotels International is a total franchise company.
Our franchise revenue figures may put us in the mid-market
category, but we are bigger than that from an IT perspective.
The information systems department supports a $5 billion
enterprise with over 5,300 hotels located in the United States
My number-one concern is trying to provide all the systems
capabilities desired by the other business units as quickly as
they want them, but to do so within Choice’s IS
architectural framework. In order to be as effective as
possible, it is important that our systems are well integrated.
That allows us to provide consistent, easy-to-use functions to
our guests and our franchisees across the enterprise. The
tension we feel is to get projects done quickly while staying
within a consistent information systems architecture.
I suspect, however, my key challenges are similar to those
of other CIOs, whether they are with large or small companies.
Choice, like many companies, is highly dependent on IT. Our
business model is to provide a set of marketing and sales
distribution services to our franchisees at a price point that
makes them profitable. Increasingly, those services are
becoming IS and technology dependent. Hiring and keeping the
appropriate staff is the number-one leadership challenge. We
appeal to potential hires by convincing them that there are a
lot of exciting technical challenges here at Choice and that
it’s a good career move for them to learn and grow their
skill sets. Moreover, a good technology environment with a
positive attitude toward innovation helps us retain good
My leadership style is to keep a collegial, relaxed
environment despite the need to move quickly to meet the
demands of the business. I try to make sure that I give my
staff authority when I give them responsibility. If a person
does well, I want them to get the recognition. If someone
messes up, I never berate them. Rather, I try to use the
situation as a learning opportunity for personal and team
I manage in a quiet, supportive mode. I want people to feel
like they can try out new ideas, be innovative and be
recognized for their innovation. Other than that, I try to lead
with integrity, candor and trust.
CIO, Air Force Reserve Command
A major command of the U.S. Air Force with headquarters at
Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
As the CIO for the Reserve Command (AFRC), I divide my
responsibilities into three major areas: providing core
information technology services to reservists at 17 host
locations, using IT to make AFRC better, and providing
combat-ready communications and information capabilities to the
war fighter. The primary challenges we face are balancing
access to the AFRC network against securing it from outside
attacks, maintaining a qualified workforce and looking for
opportunities to reduce service costs. My largest leadership
obstacle was entering the job as an outsider. I am actually an
active-duty Air Force officer and had never dealt with AFRC
before in my 25-plus-year career. When I arrived at our
headquarters in July 2005, none of the senior staff knew me,
and I didn’t know any of them. It took me until a few
months after my arrival to feel like I was part of the team. My
previous jobs gave me technical credibility, but I had to earn
the senior leader trust before I could be effective as the
Reserve Command’s CIO. I earned this trust by not being
the IT geek but instead learning the uniqueness of the Reserve
Command mission, establishing personal relationships with my
fellow senior staff and visiting many of our 45 locations. As I
think about the secrets of my success in a mid-market
organization, I don’t feel any of them are
earth-shattering. I try to surround myself with people who are
smarter than me (not a difficult task). I make sure that we
don’t hire people who match the skills we already have.
For instance, when I was hiring my deputy, I hired an
individual without a strong IT background but who had a very
strong Reserve Command operations background, unlike me. I tend
to hire people who I periodically have to rein in because
I’d rather have an overly aggressive staff than one that
needs to be kick-started every once in a while. I’ll
gladly fix the broken glass that comes with aggressive
individuals. From a personal standpoint, I’ve had to
shift my focus from the “tyranny of the immediate”
to a longer-range, more strategic perspective. If I’m not
working a couple of issues that will take one to two years to
complete, I’m being too short-sighted.
CIO and SVP, Worldspan
Provider of travel technology services for industry
suppliers, agencies, e-commerce sites and
Worldspan provides travel technology services for industry
suppliers, agencies, e-commerce sites and corporations. But as
a mid-market company, we don’t have an unlimited IT
budget. Our challenge was that too often customers would assume
that IT couldn’t support an initiative, had problems or
To overcome those negative perceptions, we implemented a
monthly Balanced Scorecard and quarterly portfolio reporting.
This gives us an opportunity to present a balanced picture of
performance, show what has been delivered and what is being
worked on, and sets up an opportunity to discuss issues and
plans with stakeholders. This dialogue and reporting ensures
the customer is informed and involved in setting priorities and
making resources decisions. We never say no. We present options
and let the customer make the trade-off decision.
There are several critical success factors that have helped
me as an IT leader of a mid-market company. One of the most
important is to motivate my staff. To engage the staff, they
need to understand the value IT delivers to the organization.
They also need to know how what they are doing fits into the
overall strategy of the company. They need to have
well-documented processes and standards so they know what is
expected and have the opportunity to have challenging and
A great way to do this is to develop an IT strategy map that
flows from the company strategy. The strategy map illustrates
the IT value and the linkage between objectives and
initiatives. It helps us balance the various perspectives: what
we are trying to do in terms of IT value and user satisfaction,
how we do it and preparing for the future. The frontline
managers have a huge role when it comes to the linkage between
IT value and delivery. They know what the organizational issues
are and how to solve them. I found that listening to the
managers and having them lead projects to improve processes and
performance can deliver solutions far superior to top-down
Another key to leadership is to keep employees encouraged
and happy. We recently implemented a new “pay for
performance” program that provides more than the annual
merit and profit-sharing bonus. We also have spot awards,
skills improvement salary increases, bonus opportunities
throughout the year, an employee-of-the-week parking spot and
so on. These programs help us reward good work all year long
and keep the staff motivated.
Contact Associate Staff Writer Katherine Walsh at