I am one of those weird people fascinated by banking, brokerage and insurance. I get a rush from mapping where finance and technology intersect, which is what I did when I created the first online bank for Wells Fargo in the early ’90s.
Though banking is what I did for most of my career, an offer from Warner Music Group in 2002 caught my attention. At the time, the music industry was grappling with illegal downloading and how best to get digital music to customers—legally. Although I had other financial CIO offers, they were more maintenance than innovation. So I ventured to where the opportunity and excitement were.
I wasn’t hired for my musical talents. I was so ignorant of the industry that I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I was hired because I could help Warner as it expanded in the digital age—look no further than the growing iTunes and ring tones markets, on which we’ve capitalized.
I dove in headfirst, spending lots of time with the sales force, the manufacturing division, the record labels—basically trying to understand the industry’s mechanics. I soon discovered that the music business isn’t the Wild, Wild West atmosphere that some may think it is. Most of my job is the same as that of most other CIOs: We operate a global network in 47 countries; we support data centers, applications and desktops.
It’s the other part that’s unique and exciting. In banking, you strive for commonality in your corporate message—for example, the company website. But at Warner, each of our 1,250 sites has its own look and feel that reflects each artist’s and label’s creativity. The originality of the content takes precedence over how the site works.
The most interesting difference between the two industries, though, is that people work at Warner because they love music. Of course, a lot of people who work in finance love money, but the energy level here is that much higher because everyone is doing what they would otherwise be doing as a hobby. It’s an amazing environment to work in.
I haven’t changed that much. I’ve yet to don tight pants and sunglasses or dye my hair green. But I do like to go to our artists’ shows. Do I mingle with them? No. I’m more back-office than center stage. Of course, my teenage girls adore me when I take them to one of our artists’ shows. Which is a great perk.
—As told to Thomas Wailgum