The manufacturing industry is undergoing a renaissance, thanks in part to advances in information technology. Two IT leaders who have been on the forefront of that are Kim Mackenroth and Chris Nardecchia.\n\nKim Mackenroth is vice president and global CIO of Textron, a Fortune 302 multi-industry company with around 33,000 employees worldwide. Her global IT organization comprises five business-segment CIOs, as well as shared services provided by the CISO, CTO, and the leader of enterprise business systems. CIO 100 award-winner Chris Nardecchia also wears multiple leadership hats in his role as senior vice president and chief digital and information officer of Rockwell Automation, the world\u2019s largest pure-play industrial automation and IoT company.\n\nThese two industry leaders have much in common, from their parallel career paths to their leadership philosophies and experiences. When the three of us spoke for a recent episode of the Tech Whisperers podcast, we explored how Mackenroth and Nardecchia are succeeding with their transformation journeys, winning with people, and not only answering the CEO\u2019s call but also changing the IT narrative to get those calls in the first place. Afterwards, we spent some time talking about their career journeys and the technology that excites them about the future of manufacturing and business. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.\n\nDan Roberts: You have similar career stories in that neither of you started out in IT and never intended to get into this profession. Where did you start, and how did you get here?\n\nKim Mackenroth: I believe a career path is not a ladder but a jungle gym of experiences \u2014 some lateral, some vertical \u2014 that provide a solid foundation for the ones that follow. While I never intended to be a CIO, I have always had the philosophy of \u2018take the role that scares you the most because that is where you will grow the most.\u2019\n\nThroughout my career at Textron, I have had many roles, spanning supply chain, manufacturing, integrated product teams, and working on helicopter programs. There was an opportunity to be part of a new way of conducting business at our Bell business unit, so I took that role, and as a result, the CIO took notice and asked me to join his organization as a direct report. He rotated me throughout IT, and then I became a CIO of two other businesses prior to becoming Global CIO.\n\nChris Nardecchia: I started as a chemical engineer doing chemical engineering things, building and operating chemical and nuclear processes, producing polymers and nuclear fuel, etc. That led me into a role in the pharmaceutical industry, again, building and operating processes to manufacture pharmaceuticals. As part of that role, I got involved with computer control of manufacturing processes, and that\u2019s when I started to code. That then led to an increasing involvement of trying to move data across the enterprise to compare manufacturing operations around the world.\n\nDuring this period, when we were expanding at a rapid pace and building new manufacturing plants around the globe, I was approached by the head of our manufacturing division to lead the implementation of SAP across our manufacturing network. I realized it was career-limiting to tell the president of a division \u2018no,\u2019 and that started my journey into IT.\n\nFrom that point forward, I was fortunate enough to lead both the IT and OT teams within global pharmaceutical manufacturing and supply chain organizations. Those experiences prepared me well for what Rockwell Automation needed in their next IT leader \u2014 someone who can not only run the IT operations but also understand manufacturing in the OT environment.\n\nDan Roberts: I recently spoke with Charlie Feld, who said that, before the internet, we had more time to build relationships and to think. But we also we didn\u2019t have the technology to do all these great things we\u2019ve come up with since. What technology are you most excited about now and as you look to the future?\n\nKim Mackenroth: Earlier in my career, I worked at Bell\u2019s drive systems center, where we build all the high-tolerance parts for our complex gearboxes that go into our helicopters. We had large batches of parts, which would have to get through an enormous amount of processing, machines, and external providers to complete. We used to say they travel many miles to hopefully yield the parts that we needed for assemblies.\n\nWe had a dream at that time: Wouldn\u2019t it be great to live in this world where we could have one piece part flow. Where we could have machines that were capable of digital loops where they could adapt, they could produce a quality part every time, they could do multiple operations, they could significantly reduce the amount of equipment that was required, the number of operations and the amount of span time.\n\nBell now has a manufacturing technology center \u2014 a purposeful factory of the future. It was all about creating and testing the capabilities that I just talked about, and how to embed that back into our core manufacturing processes. Everything that I just described is happening, and it\u2019s the culmination of engineering, manufacturing, modern machines and software, all coming together to yield the future we dreamed about.\n\nChris Nardecchia: Those things really excite me. We\u2019re clearly in the age of AI. We\u2019ve seen the amazing progress with open-source AI, with ChatGPT, and previously with DALL-E. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Applying similar capabilities to manufacturing, as Kim just went through, is in progress, and it\u2019s just going to accelerate. I\u2019m extremely excited about the exponential impacts that applying these technologies can have on manufacturing operations.\n\nTo cite just a few results that have been achieved with digitization at Rockwell, we\u2019ve seen a 40% improvement in quality, a seven-figure improvement in productivity, and, prior to recent supply chain issues, our on-time delivery improved from 82% to 96%. These are big numbers, but imagine what the possibilities are when you apply advanced AI algorithms.\n\nHere\u2019s a real-life example at Rockwell. Part of our manufacturing process is to create electronic components with circuit boards, and you embed computer chips in them. We have six plants with 24 manufacturing lines and 50 machines that contain 2,000 nozzles that place these chips from a spool at a very high speed onto the printed circuit board. The exact placement on that board is critical. If you get these off a few millimeters, then you\u2019re scrapping boards.\n\nOver time the nozzles can wear out and drift away from the proper location. To avoid bad boards being created, we used to perform maintenance on a time schedule, and we\u2019d frequently replace good nozzles that still had life in them. Now, we replace them just before failure by leveraging an AI solution that predicts the drift of these nozzles at very high speed and notifies the operator via a visual application when they\u2019re predicted to fail.\n\nAt a cost of $5 to $500 per nozzle, it saves significant costs, but more importantly, it maximizes the machine utilization and uptime. This is just one example. If you think about the countless manufacturing lines across the world, there\u2019s just huge opportunities.\n\nRoberts: Kim, you talk about software like driving a car. What do you mean by that?\n\nMackenroth: Everything was previously hardware-centric. It\u2019s like in the example that Chris gave, we had those windows of opportunities where we\u2019d replace hardware because the source of the world was hardware. Now, software eats hardware for lunch.\n\nLook at Tesla. When you get into a Tesla, it\u2019s not all the bells and whistles from a hardware perspective. That\u2019s not what it\u2019s about. It\u2019s about that software experience \u2014 having those monthly updates, getting the new features and functions. Probably not the most comfortable seat, not all the little ecosystems that you would have in a luxury vehicle, but the enthusiasm is off the charts because of that customer engagement, that customer experience of, what am I going to get next? What am I going to be able to do next? None of that could have been accomplished with the previous automotive industry approach.\n\nRoberts: Back in the day, we used the phrase eating our own dog food \u2014 or drinking our own champagne. Chris, you talk about it as Rockwell on Rockwell. What does that look like?\n\nNardecchia: The concept here is borrowed from the software world where we use our own products and our own solutions and our own manufacturing facilities, not only to improve our own operations, but to showcase them for our customers. So in our manufacturing headquarters today, where there previously wasn\u2019t any manufacturing because everything shifted overseas, we\u2019ve now brought back manufacturing and demonstrated in almost a lights-out facility, one operator, all the technology advancements that people can apply.\n\nThis is us walking the talk, not only with our own products but our partner ecosystem so that we can feel good about what we\u2019re promoting to our customers and find the flaws of the implementation experience. If the customer is going to experience this, we want to experience it first and then modify what that experience is for the end customer. Demonstrating these capabilities in our own four walls allows us to speak about them with conviction with our customers.\n\nRoberts: Is there going to be a manufacturing renaissance in the US?\n\nNardecchia: I think it\u2019s happening and it\u2019s driven by two or three things. One is the supply chain and the geopolitical events that are happening. That\u2019s awakened people to say, \u2018What do we do and how do we secure our supply chain?\u2019 It\u2019s also driven a little bit by the labor shortage \u2014 how do we sustain a society in a growing population through automation and that marriage between machines and human intelligence? How does that work?\n\nA number of companies that moved manufacturing to low-tax havens are now announcing facilities being built in the US in the coming year. We\u2019re seeing the semiconductors move from Asia over to the US. We\u2019ll have to see if it stays and sticks, but I believe that you\u2019re going to see more manufacturing centric in the US.\n\nRoberts: Kim, after 27 years at Textron, what keeps you excited about what you do?\n\nMackenroth: I get this question a lot, and I would go all the way back to the beginning. I am so grateful for the group of leaders that brought me in at Bell where I began my career, the mentors that challenged me, and the wonderful teammates and colleagues I get to work with. There\u2019s that phrase, \u2018Hire people who amaze you and then teach them how to amaze themselves.\u2019 I feel like Textron has done that for me, and it\u2019s part of my legacy to those people that follow me to make sure they\u2019re having a career journey that amazes themselves.\n\nBut there\u2019s two big reasons why I\u2019m here outside of all of that. I love the talent philosophy. It is rare in a multi-industry, global organization to have such a passion for developing and promoting people from within. That\u2019s incredibly special and supports the opportunities that we can offer. My CHRO talks about community, cause, and career. That is important, but I would add people, purpose, and passion. My number one, most enthusiastic item is purpose, and if I summarize everything that we do at Textron, we literally defend freedom. We protect the warfighter. We save lives. We build time machines. We move humanity. Who else can say that?\n\nDig deeper into the career journeys and leadership playbooks of Mackenroth and Nardecchia by tuning in to the Tech Whisperers podcast.