Mark Brooks is executive vice president and CIO of Centene Corporation, a Fortune 24 multi-national healthcare enterprise. With executive responsibility for information technology and systems for the $125 billion company, Brooks leads a team of more than 4,000 employees who develop and implement software and services focused on the organization\u2019s health plan members. In November of 2021, he was recognized with the St. Louis Leadership CIO of the Year ORBIE Award.\n\nCentene has acquired 20 companies since its founding, including seven in the last five years, and Brooks\u2019 Centene Technologies team has experienced dramatic growth as part of that process. He most recently led the successful technology integration of two $10+ billion health plans. When we spoke for my CIO Whisperers podcast, Brooks explained how a culture of \u201cradical candor\u201d has helped them navigate the scale and complexity of these integrations, particularly the people and talent dynamics, which can often be the most challenging.\n\nBeyond the acquisitions, Brooks\u2019 story is also instructive when it comes to making the business case for investment in IT to grow the team and increase its impact. Key to that, he said, is building capabilities into the team to bridge business needs and technology needs. After the show, we spent some time talking about what it takes for IT to get and keep its seat at the leadership table and why learning is fundamental to evolving the culture and delivering results. What follows is that off-air conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.\n\nDan Roberts: Can you talk about the process you went through to rebrand and also when and why a CXO should consider rebranding?\n\nMark Brooks: When we started together back in 2016, we were IT. And as the leadership team formed, it became clear that what we were trying to accomplish was much more than what IT implies\u2014a service organization or a call center. We really wanted to be a strategic partner to our internal customers. We wanted to sit at the leadership table, help create strategy, generate outcomes. We wanted to really have a direct connection between the work that we did and, ultimately, the P&L.\n\nSo, as I mentioned on the podcast, we created business engagement teams\u2014well-organized centers of excellence focused on the specific business processes that support the health plan. As part of our operating model, we selected those people so that they could engage with our business partners and start to build that brand and reputation. And as those things started to come together, the team, in a very thoughtful process, decided that Centene Technologies was really the descriptor that embodied the outcomes that we were trying to generate.\n\nYou talked in the podcast about some of the transformations you\u2019ve gone through going to an agile way of working. One thing I\u2019ve been very impressed with is the whole service culture you put in place and that you stayed the course for the duration and delivered. How do you cultivate that in terms how your people show up, how they engage, how they partner?\n\nWe do have a structured service excellence training program, and we make that investment for a variety of reasons. Starting with the mission of Centene matters, we are providing health insurance to people who are genuinely in need of quality care. So, we start thinking about that and the results that we need to generate for those individuals. And, obviously, the best way to generate that result is to have teams that can be successful and to deliver their part of that result. And that starts with how we treat our internal partners.\n\nSo, there are many things, but we ultimately must support our partners within the business, and that service mentality, that service excellence mentality, is something that we really covered as part of doing that.\n\nOne of the things that's been interesting for us as we try to hire talent right now is that there are a lot of technologists who actually embrace that mission and want to be part of Centene\u2014not only because we\u2019re working in the most current technologies, but because the work that we do is actually helpful and impacting lives in a very positive way.\n\nYou\u2019re the CIO of a Fortune 24 business. Why is it important for you to continue to learn?\n\nOne of our phrases is if you\u2019re not winning, you\u2019re learning. And we think that learning is fundamental to continuing to evolve our culture and our ability to deliver results. And, personally, I fell in love with technology over 30 years ago and have always loved the widgets. So, I\u2019ve literally taught myself programming languages. Some of the younger programmers on the team will tell you that over the years, I have embarrassed myself learning Java and embarrassed myself trying to learn Golang and those types of things. But I really see that the analogy for me is if you love the widgets, then the work product is that much better.\n\nIn fact, my grandfather used to say the best furniture maker must love the smell of sawdust, and I really believe that\u2019s true. I\u2019ve never understood folks who try to work in a way without having the foundational pieces or an understanding of how things work. I was not a computer science major, but I have always felt very comfortable leading technology teams because I\u2019ve always aspired to learn the technology. And when I say learn it, I don\u2019t necessarily mean master it, but I mean understanding it at a level where I can have a good common sense about what it takes to do something. So, I think that\u2019s important in any trade. If you don\u2019t kind of have a love for the building blocks, it\u2019s very difficult to oversee and lead.\n\nThe flip side of that is that the best leaders are also teachers. And I know you do that every day. Can you share with us about what you do on Monday evenings in your spare time?\n\nI got involved in the Capstone course at Washington University here in St. Louis a few years back. And I teach that Capstone course, in part, because I have a real passion for the development of technology talent and the course is unique. It\u2019s a course that assumes technical confidence. It assumes that at that point in your learning journey as a student you know the technology piece very well. But what it challenges you to do is to be a very constructive and active participant in a team.\n\nIt requires you to learn to write about technical concepts in a way that are discernible to non-technical audiences. And most importantly, it pushes the students to do an effective executive presentation where they make a recommendation to solve a problem; describe it technically again to audiences that are not necessarily technical. So, I think it\u2019s a really good way to help technologists round out their skill set, and I hope over time, is impactful in terms of helping them to build their careers.\n\nThe last 18 months have been a challenging time, just in general, and certainly in IT. What are your thoughts on the future of the profession?\n\nWell, I think that if I were to frame my response speaking to college graduates considering either a career in business or career in technology, I would really encourage them to consider a career in technology, because I think, ultimately, Centene\u2019s philosophy that technology is the core competence of the business becomes just an accepted truth for all businesses at scale. Technology and the way that it\u2019s evolved, the digital technologies fundamentally change the opportunity to do business. For example, where two smaller entities can disrupt legacy businesses.\n\nIn some ways, I feel like the learnings of the last 18 months, some of the acceleration that occurred because of the pandemic, even better positions individuals to benefit from a career in technology.\n\nFor more insights from Brooks on how to bridge IT and the business, as well as some of the lessons he\u2019s learned from diverse business leaders and mentors over the years, listen to the full podcast episode here.