Rising To And Beyond CIO.
Legal News & Analysis - Asia Pacific - TMT
13 June, 2017
A fast-paced career has taught Steve Larrabee a thing or two about the CIO role—not just how to be successful in the position, but also how to grow and bring value beyond it, such as through disruptive innovation and broader shared services capabilities.
The best time to start thinking and behaving like a CIO is before you’re in the role. That’s one of many lessons Steve Larrabee has learned over the course of his career. At Mars Inc. he served as CIO and then as head of a broader portfolio including IT, finance, HR, buying, and consumer insights shared services solutions. Rather than a destination, the CIO role is more of a journey, according to Larrabee—one that begins when IT leaders imagine value opportunities beyond the bounds of the role as currently defined.
During his tenure at Mars, Larrabee led the transformation of the company’s IT function using a service business model. When Mars acquired Wrigley in 2009, he led the resulting IT integration. In 2011, he drove the design, launch, and operation of the global business services organization to provide enterprise business solutions across Mars, adding president of Mars Global Services to his title.
Larrabee’s own journey to and beyond the CIO chair has given him plenty of insight into what it takes to be successful. He now offers senior advisory support to companies while pursuing corporate shared services, COO, and CIO leadership opportunities. At a Deloitte University event for rising tech executives, he shared a compelling account of his personal journey, along with some of his top takeaways:
Make an impact as a CIO before becoming the CIO. Those aspiring to be CIO shouldn’t wait until they’re given the title to start thinking like one, Larrabee said. “Think about ways to improve the company’s overall capability,” he said. “Look hard at what you would do today as CIO and volunteer to take on some of these opportunities before you’re thrust into the role.”
Be a business leader. “We’re always talking about the importance of understanding the business and partnering effectively with other business leaders to have impact and credibility,” Larrabee said. “But to be a credible business leader, you also need to structure your commitments, organization, communication, and ways of working as the leader of your own ‘service business.’”
Drive a living, breathing, disruptive innovation pipeline. “At first, I said that innovation is part of everyone’s job and left it at that,” Larrabee recounted. “Today there is so much opportunity in digital, automation, artificial intelligence, and so on, it’s more important than ever to drive a more formalized innovation program across the short-, medium-, and long-term horizons. Do what it takes to make sure experimentation and innovation get a tangible focus and aren’t pushed to the bottom of everyone’s daily to-do list.”
Align around a clear hierarchy of needs. Innovation is critically important, but “you can’t offer opportunities to your business partners from the latest and greatest capability if your operational house isn’t in order,” Larrabee said. Prioritizing and aligning your organization in terms of a hierarchy of needs similar to Maslow’s can help, he suggested. In this case, the base level is excellence in the current operating environment, and the middle level is effective deployment of current initiatives. The top level—fully possible only when the first two are working smoothly—is positive disruption through innovation.
Get professional support with role transitions. When Larrabee was named CIO, one of his predecessors suggested professional transition consulting. “Despite rising from within the organization, I found it to be essential,” he said. “For me, a huge part of the value was coaching on how best to reset all the conversations and relationships within the team and with business and corporate leaders.”
Make friends in industry. “I started doing this several years ago and wish I had done it all along,” Larrabee said. “There’s so much to be learned and shared for mutual benefit, especially with others who are also reaching for new value opportunities. These friendships can be lifesavers and provide a real engagement lift for your leadership team.”
Drive talent management and engagement. Associate development, engagement, and succession planning are a focus and strength at Mars. “I benefitted from that a lot,” Larrabee said. He and his team invested significantly in visible leadership and communication to maximize understanding, feedback, and engagement of their associates. More recently, Larrabee and his team began making more tangible bets on high-potential newer managers and paying extra attention to nurturing their accelerated development. “It won’t be long before the company needs these people to perform at higher levels,” he said.
Make the most of disruptive events. Any period of disruption is an opportunity to embrace change. A large-scale acquisition integration provided just the trigger for Larrabee and his team to transform IT for all of Mars and to launch the broader shared services capability, he said. “Use these periods not to minimize risk and new approaches, but to embrace them,” he said. “You have the hood up on the car—now is the time to do more.”
This article was first published in the Wall Street Journal. Please click here for the article.
For further information, please contact:
Cody Chen, Partner, Qin Li Law Firm, a Chinese law firm and a member of the Deloitte Legal global network.
Mark Schroeder, Qin Li Law Firm, a Chinese law firm and a member of the Deloitte Legal global network.