Thor Olavsrud
Senior Writer

Molex CDO proves the value of customer-centric IT

Apr 11, 2022
Chief Digital OfficerIT Leadership

After years as a CIO at many different companies, Mike Giresi is defining the role of CDO at Molex and Koch Industries as one focused on customers and business operations, not just technology.

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Credit: bgton / Getty Images

The past decade has seen an increasing proliferation of digital transformations across nearly every industry, and with it, keen debate over the value and view of the traditional CIO role in light of the emergence of the chief digital officer.

For Mike Giresi, who has done tours of duty as CIO at Godiva, Direct Brands, Tory Burch, and Royal Caribbean Cruises, as well as two years as chief digital and technology officer at Aramark, the answer is clear. When he joined Molex in 2019 with a digital transformation mandate, he told leadership that it had to be as the CDO.

“I said I don’t want to be the CIO,” Giresi says. “That’s not the role.”

Molex, a manufacturer of electronic, electrical, and fiber-optic connectivity systems, is a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Giresi signed on as the first CDO in the company’s 84-year history (and the first CDO in all of Koch Industries). Since 2019, he has helped Molex redefine its product development and mass manufacturing intake capability, become more responsive to customers, and increase its operating profitability.

“I’ve worked very hard within Molex to help connect people to a vision that is not CIO-specific because the role of the CIO at the Molex store was SAP; it was really around transaction processing,” Giresi says.

With a long history in the CIO role himself, Giresi is quick to note that he thinks CIOs can fill the role of a CDO. In fact, he says, CIOs are often well-suited to leading digital transformation because they are one of the few executives in an organization that sees it from back to front.

“The role of the CIO and the role of the CDO don’t have to be different roles,” he says. “CIOs can provide this leadership to an organization, but they have to be willing to embrace things that might not feel comfortable to them because it’s not technology centric. It’s really business operating centric.”

A customer-centric outlook on leadership

In Giresi’s view, the CDO’s role is to drive value in the marketplace with the customer and to help their organizations differentiate the delivery of products, services, and innovation in that context. Anyone who leads an organization through digital transformation must understand the challenges customers face through the architecture and operating model the organization has created. Otherwise, they’re not really pushing through to the front-end of the business.

“If you don’t want to feel like you’re being disintermediated through a CDO or something like that, embrace that you sit at the front of the business,” he says. “If you embrace it, you can be that person, because there are honestly not enough people to do it. You’re not going to be thinking about your ERP or your data infrastructure. You’re going to have to find people that can help you with that because your focus is going to be on the front end of the business.”

When he first spoke to Molex leadership about the new role, he asked them what digital transformation of the business meant to them and how they defined it.

“The initial perspective was that our operating model, everything from innovation and NPI [new product introduction] to fulfillment, is not working that effectively,” he says. “It takes us a long time to respond to the customer, we’re not as strategic as we’d like to be, we don’t think people are doing the things that create the greatest value for business. This transformation is all about enabling that.”

Achieving that sort of transformation requires more than just technology, Giresi says. It’s all about understanding the customer and how they interact with Molex. It’s about culture.

When Giresi took on the mantle of CDO at Molex, he, together with leadership, decided the existing Molex CIO would report to him. Giresi’s plan was the CIO would lead technology transformation while he focused on product transformation. They would integrate those two foci to bring the operating model together.

“The challenge was that the mental model of those folks was so rooted in SAP, and there was no modernization of technology under way, we weren’t really creating a data services layer, we weren’t thinking about an open API economy. It was all very traditional IT-like work,” Giresi says.

To get Molex’s digital transformation under way, they had to redefine the role of the CIO through the lens of customer interactions with Molex.

The first order of business for Giresi was a customer journey mapping exercise. His team walked through all the critical interactions a customer has with Molex, whether Molex was creating value for them, and how much challenge Molex was creating for customers through that process.

“Technology is not the problem, nor the solution,” Giresi says. “It’s our mental models. Once we were able to connect on that, the work, the whole concept of the transformation, became much easier, because we were focused on driving value where the business unit leaders and folks in the business would really benefit. It wasn’t about a better PLM [product lifecycle management] system that no one was asking for.”

Incremental change management

The journey mapping process helped the team identify gaps in the company’s operating model in terms of talent, process, capability, data — all the dimensions that matter. With that in place, the team could start to address each of those areas with an eye to reducing friction for customers.

“Our operating model has lots of challenges in it, and that’s because of how the company grew up,” he says. “We were a traditional manufacturing, global company. There’s a lot of local entrepreneurship and local decision making, not a lot of strategy around data.”

In the past, for example, the company struggled to provide customers with accurate lead times. The architecture of Molex’s technology wasn’t positioning the company’s employees to deliver success.

“If I commit to a lead time, can I really believe that lead time? Or do I need to email 25 people around this process to confirm it? We called it human middleware. You have a system that says something, and no one believes it,” he says.

To move the needle in the right direction regarding lead times, Molex has been leveraging data, AI, and ML to gain deeper visibility into its supply chain and provide greater transparency and confidence in lead time projections.

Identifying those sorts of pain points for customers is the essential first step to a successful digital transformation, Giresi says. It not only allows you to focus on those things that will really help your customer, its also fundamental to successful change management.

“Change management is not necessarily about training people how to do something better. It’s really about connecting them to why they should want to do it differently and then incentivizing them, having a culture that reinforces that,” Giresi says.

Giresi will be the first to tell you that Molex’s digital transformation has not yet created a perfect experience for customers, but the company is continuing to push incrementally in that direction. That’s another element of Giresi’s secret sauce when it comes to digital transformation: Keep moving in the right direction and take small wins.

“What can we do without transforming all of the architecture? We have data, we have information,” he says. “How do we start to aggregate that in a way where we can deliver more effective metrics, develop confidence, and remove some of that friction? Maybe it’s not going to be 100% better, but it might be 25% better. If we wait until everything is transformed to get better at some of these things, it will be five years from now. And by then it’s not going to matter. We’ll have been outflanked by someone who will be significantly better than us.”