As the CIO role goes beyond transactions and even digital, what does it mean for the Chief Information Officer to be a transformational leader? Industry analyst, Michael Krigsman, explores this topic with innovative and outspoken CIO Jay Ferro.

Jay Ferro is the Chief Information Officer for Quikrete, the largest manufacturer of packaged concrete in the United States. Previously, he served as CIO for a number of other companies including Earthlink, the American Cancer Society and AIG.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: The concept of the transformational CIO is crucial to the chief information officer role. It truly represents the next evolution of the CIO. We're speaking with somebody who embodies the traits of the transformational CIO. Jay Ferro is the CIO of Quikrete. It's the largest manufacturer of concrete in the U.S. Jay Ferro, welcome to CXOTalk.

Jay Ferro: Michael, thank you. The thrill is mine. I appreciate it and I'm excited to be here. Thank you.

What is a Transformational CIO?

Michael Krigsman: Jay, when we talk about transformational CIO, let's begin with transformation. What do we mean in this context?

Jay Ferro: It's interesting. The word is so overused, today, that it's lost some of its meaning, I think, what we talk about today in 2019. We used different language in the past, continual improvement or whatever. To me, taking the digital out of it and just talking about transformation, it's going from one state to another and constantly looking for opportunities to deliver higher quality to more customers, internally and externally, and always challenging yourself to stay one, two, three, four steps ahead of where you need to be.

My team looks at it. [Laughter] I always tell them. I say, "We will always have the bar set for us higher than our customers have for us." Now, that's not always true, but the way we do that is constantly challenging ourselves to get better in all aspects of our roles and it has very little to do, often, with technology and a lot more to do with transformational leadership first.

Michael Krigsman: The essence, then, of what we're talking about is the idea of CIO as business leader. Is that fundamentally it?

Jay Ferro: I think that's spot on. I think you've heard me say, and I've said many times, that the CIO is a business executive or business leader first and then he or she is a technologist second. Now, they're closely related, clearly, but I hear so much bellyaching and questions about how we get seats at the table. It's amazing that, still, in 2019, we're talking about that.

To me, one of the keys is that you operate and are constantly thinking of yourself as a business leader who happens to have a domain of expertise in technology. You always have an understanding and you're always seeking to learn more about the business that you're in. I've spent enough time at Quikrete already to understand that the best way I can be effective is to understand our business and what we do, how we produce our products, top to bottom. I don't know that there's a better role to learn that than the CIO.

Michael Krigsman: Jay, here's a dumb question. That seems pretty obvious to me. You're in business. You have to know what your company does. Why are we having this conversation at all?

Jay Ferro: I think we're stubborn. I think CIOs are stubborn. To me, it seems obvious. To you, it seems obvious. It's a common thread, I think, with CIOs, and I'm certainly not throwing myself into that category but, when I meet world-class CIOs, they always seem to understand that they work for a company that's in business for a reason.

When I was at ACS, we were not a technology company. Now, I know we always say every company is a technology company and, to a point, they are, but we existed there to end the pain and suffering from cancer. Here, we are the largest concrete and concrete products company in North America and we want to continue to grow, excel, and be the market leader, not the best IT company that happens to be concrete.

Michael Krigsman: How pervasive is this issue among CIOs, in general, would you say?

Jay Ferro: I think it's 50/50. You and I talk a lot. We run in a lot of the same circles. I still see arguments. "Argument" is probably not the best word, but vigorous debate around technologies, around those types of philosophies. Amongst ourselves, I think that's fine because we're still being called on to be technology leaders. You expect that your CFO is going to be at the top of her or his game in the financial arena. The same thing with your chief accounting officer, head of talent, or whatever.

We certainly are expected to be that way, but that's not what we need to be leading with. We need to be leading with the business driver. What is going to grow and retain our customer base and continue to delight them? I think often we kind of fall back into our comfort zone of talking about pain, power, pipe, bits and bytes, and all of those things. I feel like we shoot ourselves in the foot a good bit when we lead with that and we don't ascribe business context to what we're talking about.

Michael Krigsman: Is the issue then one of priority? Obviously, we have to talk; as CIOs, we have to talk about technology. Is the issue one of where we prioritize?

Jay Ferro: It might be. It might be we fall back into our comfort zone. It might be we have crossed over from an era where five nines was actually a thing and we want to be patted on the back for keeping the training running on time. To me, those are all table stakes.

It might be misaligned priorities, Michael. I think that's a very, very good point, but we have to ask ourselves as leaders. This is where the leadership component of being a C-level executive comes in where you're always looking at yourself first and saying, "How can I get better? How can I communicate more effectively? Is it just the magnificence of the PowerPoint that I put in front of them that they should have gotten my point, or am I building the right relationships? Am I getting out in front of our customers? Am I spending time at our plants, at our retail stores, at our hospitals, or out with volunteers really understanding what's going on?"

I know for a fact not enough CIOs do that. I know it. I've talked to too many that just are in some operation center somewhere.

"Have you visited your stores?"

"Yeah, when I first joined."

"That was five years ago."

You need to get out there and understand. Build relationships with the people who are doing the real work on the frontline. To me, not only do you earn credibility, but you're going to be a better solution provider because you're going to understand how your company makes money and where IT fits into that.

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan Khan, on Twitter, makes a really interesting point. He says, "CIOs need to be business first, but the business does not always consider them to be so. For example, even today, most annual reports list execs that are not the CIOs but, rather, CFO, COO, and CEO."

Jay Ferro: I think we still have some runway ahead of us for that CIO to be listed in the same breadth, particularly with older companies or companies that have been slow to change. I think he's spot on, and he usually is, that there is still some evolution that has to happen. But I still see CIOs, Michael, that bellyache, lament, and just are struggling with that and, instead of complaining, I think [it's], continue to build relationships, continue to work with your CEO, your president, your CFO. To me [it's], continue to deliver and exceed.

I think I posted something the other day. I said, "Winning cures all ills." It's true of sports teams and it's true of a CIO role where, if you deliver, you're proactively delivering, you're prototyping, you're solutioning.

I see so many CIOs still talk in order taker type language. "Well, they didn't invite me to the strategy meeting." Well, you've been here for three years. Don't you know 80% of it on its own? You can extrapolate some and begin to show them that you understand it. Maybe they should invite you, and I know they should, but don't wait to be knighted all the time.

It frustrates me. I know a number of our fellow colleagues, Tim Crawford being one, he and I just talked about this at CIO Chat live in Boston. We were laughing because I just have no tolerance for CIOs who are their own worst enemy and they shoot themselves in the foot constantly with kind of pouting and pounding the table that they should be invited but they're not doing the things they need to get invited.

Executing Against Transformational Goals

Michael Krigsman: If we were to drill down into the components of transformational leadership, as it applies to the CIO, how do we now execute against this intention to be a business leader?

Jay Ferro: Well, I think practice makes perfect. I think it starts with the man or the woman in the mirror and holding yourself accountable to authenticity, ethical behavior, transparency, coaching, mentoring, a strategic mindset, resiliency. I think it's very much tied to a servant leader type approach to leadership. I think the transformational leadership versus the servant, I think there's a lot of overlap, but I think it starts with the person in the mirror.

You've got to challenge yourself. Believe me; I know that's tough. You're getting yelled at. Customers are needing things. People are still going to treat you like you're the IT girl or the IT guy. I've worked for, and I do work for, very large organizations. When I was at AIG, I worked for one of the largest organizations on the planet.

There's nothing more demoralizing than when you walk into a meeting with the CEO, he or she has been there for 30, 40 years, and he goes, "Oh, a new member of our board, I want you to meet our IT guy, Jay." Okay. That's our HR person. There's the finance dude. There's the sales lady. But we're always the IT guy.

I jokingly correct them and say, "No, I'm Chief Information Officer. I've earned the role and I'm proud of it." We've still got some work to do, but it always starts with yourself. It's amazing what happens, Michael, when you start with yourself and you hold your direct reports and their reports, et cetera, and your modeling your behavior, how quickly it permeates an organization.

Michael Krigsman: As you're going through these things, you're describing maintaining operational excellence, meaning systems, of course, have to be running without a glitch at the same time.

Jay Ferro: Yeah, and nobody wants to be that guy walking in. You're walking in and you're a newly knighted CIO. You're an experienced CIO. You walk in, and you're all excited with a PowerPoint deck about IoT, big data, and machine learning, and people can't get email or the AS/400 sales order process is broken because of some arcane technology that just isn't functioning all the time. You have to do that. To me, that's table stakes.

Like I said, winning cures all ills. Part of winning is that you're fundamentally taking care of the blocking and tackling. I know I get beat up for using sports analogies all the time. [Laughter] In fact, when we were in Boston, I think Jeannie Hamilton from RedHat or Enterpriser said, "Everybody drink when Jay uses a sports analogy," so everybody out there, you can go ahead and drink.

In this case, football championships are built in the trenches. Yes, you have Hail Marys in all the big plays, but they're built in the trenches with sound defense, sound offense, one play at a time. IT is no different. IT is absolutely the same. We're all going to have big bets, and we want those, but you are never going to get the opportunity to make those big bets if you can't make the small bets or you can't execute on the blocking and tackling every single day. Going back to your point, Michael, of just having the trains run on time, and that's really what that means in our world.

Customer-Facing Activities and the CIO

Michael Krigsman: Jay, what about the role of the CIO in customer-facing activities and generating revenue in customer experience? Is there a role for the CIO in these activities?

Jay Ferro: I think it varies from industry to industry to what degree, but I think the answer is almost always yes. No matter which company I've been with, I've always tried to be the best ambassador of that organization that I can. If nothing else, to attract and retain talent, to make sure that, as you're recruiting people, they know they're going to a destination of choice, that IT is something that is valued at that organization.

Beyond that, yeah, I think we're considered senior business executives. I want to be at sales ops meetings. I want to be meeting our customers. I want to hear firsthand how we are meeting or not meeting--hopefully, it's more of the former--or exceeding our customers' expectations.

You know this, Michael. You've talked to a number of world-class leaders. I don't know how you get better information than when you're talking to your customers. I don't know what else builds more credibility than when you're looking at your customer and they know you're listening.

It was the same at AIG with brokers or insureds. It was the same at Earthlink. It was the same at the American Cancer Society with volunteers and donors. It's the same here at Quikrete with either our smaller customers or our large ones. If they have a concern or things are working well and you're looking at them listening to them, are you going to tell me you're not going to want to do more business with somebody that you know is responsive and is all in on your needs?

I think we do it every day in our normal lives. You go back to somebody you trust. I think it's no different in the role of the CIO, and I take that part of my job very seriously.

Michael Krigsman: Does the CIO need permission to engage in these customer-facing activities or is it something that you just do?

Jay Ferro: [Laughter] I laugh because I'm sure you probably have figured this out, but I'm more of an ask for forgiveness versus permission kind of guy.

Michael Krigsman: Oh, I definitely figured that out. [Laughter]

Jay Ferro: [Laughter] I think, more often than not, when you have a good relationship with your CEO, president, COO, CFO, whomever you report to, there's a certain level of latitude where they trust that you're going to make good decisions. I certainly think, as a representative of a company, you certainly have fiduciary responsibilities and other things that you may not know in a new role where you probably should just kind of sanity check those before you go out and say certain things.

That said, I think, more often than not, I've had the luxury and the blessing of having bosses that have encouraged that. Again, it goes back to what you said earlier, Michael, is that the trains have to run on time.

I know I've learned this the hard way. We can do all the speaking engagements, the sales meetings, the publicity, the writing, and all the fun stuff, and a lot of us enjoy it. Some don't, but a lot of us enjoy that. But if the house is on fire back home, that's not good.

We're not immune from that here. I know I have a lot of burning platforms right now at any company at any given time, but I think it's still important that we take time for this part of our role.

Building a Transformational IT Organization

Michael Krigsman: Again, I want to remind everybody; we're talking with Jay Ferro. He's a very innovative CIO. Jay, we're talking about the practicalities of being a transformational CIO. How do you build an IT department that reflects these characteristics as well?

Jay Ferro: It starts with yourself, of course. You're hearing a recurring theme. It starts with modeling the behavior, incenting that behavior, and them making sure that folks who don't follow that same behavior are held accountable for their actions.

It goes beyond just modeling it. There is communication, of course training, reinforcement, mentoring, all of those things. I think, more often than not, people want to do the right thing, and they are trying to do the right thing. They just may need a little nudging. I have found that the power of just looking somebody in the eye and telling them that you trust them or, "Thank you," "Great job," or, "I knew you had that. Good."

I'll never forget a story, Michael, early in my career, a gentleman named Mike Long, who was the CIO for the division of AIG that I worked for. I remember bringing in an invoice or a PO. I was giving him a heads up that I was signing it.

Now, I had significant signing authority, but he was new to the company. He looked at me, smiles very gently, sits down, looks at it, looks back at me. He goes, "Why did you show me that?"

I knew what he meant. He meant, "I trust you. You're in your role for a reason. I have a question, I'll absolutely tell you." That never was lost on me, the power of trust.

Now, it wasn't blind trust. He had gotten to know me well enough to know that he could trust me. It wasn't day one, "Yeah, do what you do, man." But he knew he could trust me and, as long as it was in my threshold and as long as it was part of our strategic plan, in the budget, and there were no other outside forces that would have curtailed it, he trusted me.

I've tried to pay that forward throughout my entire career. He was and still is one of the best bosses I ever had and a terrific mentor to me. I think that's where it starts.

The hard part of this, Michael, is that, often, there are people that just don't get it. They don't want to come along with what you're doing. They're not drinking the Kool-Aid. They're not buying what you're selling. Maybe they were used to being hidden. Maybe it's just not their cup of tea, and that's okay.

In my turnarounds or transformations, the train leaves the station one time and you're on it or you're not. You've heard me say before, "If you can't change people, change people." That's never easy. It's the hardest part of any leader's job, I hope, but you have to do it because all you're doing is poisoning people by keeping the C, D, and F players onboard and being scared to root them out.

You're giving other A players, you're sending a message to them that performance doesn't matter or the way you conduct yourself doesn't matter, and it's absolutely demoralizing. When you get rid of them, and hopefully it's not that many, to me it's just addition through subtraction.

Michael Krigsman: The talent management aspect of this is where you start that's a crucial element.

Budgeting and Investing

Jay Ferro: Absolutely.

Michael Krigsman: What about when it comes to things like budgeting, allocation of resources? What's the impact? If you're being a transformational CIO, what's going to be the impact on budgeting and investing?

Jay Ferro: Well, we all wish we didn't have one, right? [Laughter] We want a blank checkbook, Michael. Come on. I want to spend money.

To me, you earn that credibility. A couple of thoughts on that.

One, I think it requires CIOs to be fiscally savvy and to operate their organization as if they were a CEO. I generally don't like that analogy, the CEO of It. It just rubs me the wrong way. But I think, in this case, it works because you are fiscally responsible for your organization, making sure that you're constantly looking for opportunities to better reinvest dollars, for growth opportunities, for cost savings opportunities. You're working with your colleagues to look for revenue generating opportunities.

The second part of that is that I try to push down budget authority as far as I can within the organization. It goes back to trust. If I'm the one that has to sign off on literally everything, what message does that send to my team, "I don't trust you to sign a $500 PO"?

I've got to be able to create layers of approval. I don't mean layers in red tape, but making sure people understand that you trust them and, if they have a budget, they're being held accountable to it. But as long as they're within their budget and, again, there are no extraordinary circumstances like, "Hey, we're in a budget crunch right now. We're kind of putting some things on hold," that you don't want to see every $500 invoice. To me, that trust and that teaching of fiscal responsibility, and there may be a training component, is really important to building a world-class team.

Obstacles to Transformation

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears and talk about some of the obstacles that come up that prevent a CIO or an organization from having transformational IT. I think a good way to start is we have an excellent question from, actually, the @CXOTalk Twitter account. @CXOTalk asks, "What if your company does not have a culture of business innovation? Then what do you do?"

Jay Ferro: That's tough. That's tough. Look, I'm in the concrete business, right? When you start listing companies or industries, rather, that are at the cutting edge, I'm not sure concrete or cement products is necessarily always vaulted to the top of the list.

I'm a big believer in playing the hand you're dealt and doing the best you can with what you're given. Even in this space, I think we can be highly innovative. I was pleasantly surprised that we can be. We're going to get better and we're going to continue to grow that aspect of our business, but I think it all starts, number one, with delivery, relationships with your fellow C-suite executives and your CEO.

You may hit a point where you've done it time and time again, you've been there a number of years, you're delivering and the cultural inertia is just so thick that you can't break out of it. Then, and only then, maybe would you consider moving on or moving to another role because you're just never going to crack that shell.

I haven't been in too many companies. I've been in maybe one or two in my career where you just gave it the old college try, you did everything you could, and they just aren't going to come along. Then I think you have to take a hard look and maybe move on to another role.

I'm a big believer, again, also in living to fight another day. When I have ten big, innovative ideas, ten big things that I want to do, let me deliver one. Let me just start with the smallest one and deliver that one flawlessly, show the revenue, show the cross-savings, show the customer sat, show it in terms that the business is going to understand and I will say, at least 80% of the time, over time, they come along. I think a lot of CIOs are impatient and they don't want to wait for that. They don't want to build it over time.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We have another question from Twitter. Chris Petersen asks, "Is it possible for the CIO or the organization as a whole, to be transformational if they're unwilling to make that initial investment?"

Jay Ferro: Chris, hello. Thanks for the question. I don't know how you would do that because I think we probably ascribe transformational to more people that maybe deserve it. [Laughter] T me, it's a lifestyle. It's a mindset. It's an everyday way you are kind of being. If you're not willing to do the introspection or make the investment in yourself, I don't know how you can be transformational or invest in your team.

Now, if you're talking about dollars, I still think there is a lot you can do with what you have because a lot of it is behavioral and a lot of it is leadership based. I can't think of a very good example where somebody has said, "I want to be transformational, but I'm not willing to invest in what it takes to be transformational." I don't see how you could do that.

Michael Krigsman: I think, in his case, he was talking about budgets and dollars.

Jay Ferro: Fair enough. Okay, so I still think there's some runway. I have found, in the last three or four organizations I've been in, I'm a big believer also in self-funding a lot of transformation. When I was at the American Cancer Society, we found significant savings through cost optimization in our first year, and it had nothing to do with, "Hey, we're going to do a giant riff and we're going to recoup some salary dollars." We did a reorg, of course, as part of our transformation, but we spent a lot of time in renegotiating contracts and looking at our current spend and we ended up finding a material amount of opportunity right out of the gate that I was able to repurpose toward transformational activity.

Earthlink was no different. AIG was no different. Right out of the gate, I didn't have to go asking for a big capital outlay in order to make some of the transformational moves that I did. If you don't have those opportunities and the company is not willing to invest, then I think you're pretty hamstrung because, certainly, it's going to cost some dollars to move the needle.

Michael Krigsman: We're talking about the obstacles to transformation of IT. Clearly, one of those is if the company, if other business leaders, just don't see the opportunity for IT and they just want to operate IT as a cost center and cut that cost to the bone as low as possible.

Jay Ferro: Yeah, I think that's still very common. It's still considered a back office function. You're the IT girl; you're the IT guy; you're the plumbing. To a degree, we always will be. You have to embrace that part of the role.

If you're the CFO, you still have to close the books every month. I'm not sure any CFO is going to call that sexy and he or she is going to go into a meeting saying, "You know, I really want to focus on some more cutting edge stuff, so we're just not going to close the books this month." [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Jay Ferro: Look. It's part of the job. We've got to do both. I feel like, to me, I've never shied away from that. I don't know how I'd have any credibility with my peers.

Let me back up. Think about this, Michael. If you're an average executive in a company or just pick an executive. It doesn't really matter. It could be at any level. What is IT to them? I don't mean, "Is it plumbing?" or whatever. What is their interaction, generally, with IT for your average employee or colleague? It's email, clearly, some collaborative workspace, a CRM, an ERP, a handful of other applications.

They're not in your meetings every day talking about IoT, machine learning, and all of these other whizzbang things that we all love, yet. Some are. If you can't make those six or seven core functions work for them, why do you think you're going to have any credibility with them when you do bring them spend opportunities and say, "Hey, I think I can generate $25 million in net new income if you just give me $5 million"?

"Wait a minute. Aren't you the guy that downs our CRM every other day? Aren't you the head of the department that can't seem to roll out mobile tools? You want me to give you $5 million? What?!" So, take care of business.

Michael Krigsman: You have to earn that.

Jay Ferro: Every day. You never own it, man; you rent it. The rent is due every day.

Look. Every organization screws up. I screw up every single day. We have so much opportunity here and it is not a slight against Quikrete whatsoever. Every company has opportunity.

I'm a newer CIO, so, certainly, I want to get my DNA on it, and we have a lot of fundamental blocking and tackling things that we have to do here and we are doing it. We're working 24/7 to do that. Just because it's not the sexiest work doesn't mean I'm not on the hook for it. If those things are happening, I end up with a better class of challenge and a better class of project other than kind of all the plumbing stuff that a lot of people focus on.

Maintaining the Transformational Process 

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Douglas Lecato asks, "How do you maintain a transformational process after it's started?"

Jay Ferro: Great question, Doug. I hope you're doing well. Doug and I worked together at the American Cancer Society. He was one of my rock stars. I'm sure no doubt he's still rocking it. Doug is good people.

Doug, I'm going to tell you, and you know this because we went through it, it's that typical change curve. Everybody is hyped. Everybody is jacked, and you fall into the valley of despair. That's when your medal is tested as a leader.

Doug has heard me say this a thousand times. When I say "leader," I don't just mean the CIO. I mean every role in IT or the company. Everyone is a leader and it all starts with the tone at the top. I get that.

It's easy to be a leader when you're winning awards and you're doing all those kinds of things and everything is great. It's easy to do that. Look, when you're going through a change and people are bellyaching, maybe you rolled something out and it didn't work as expected, maybe the customers are angry, maybe there's an outage, whatever, that's how great leaders are made.

Again, it all falls at the doorstep of the CIO or the senior leaders. You've got to model the behavior and get out of the ivory tower where the action is to show them, you're there with them, and not just a dog and pony, "Here I am for five minutes. Keep it up, guys. I've got a plane to catch." You've got to be in it with them.

Technology vs. Business Leadership

Michael Krigsman: Jay, how much of your time as CIO is spent dealing with specific technologies, whether it's network infrastructure, whether it's evaluating any kind of different technologies versus the leadership dimensions of your role?

Jay Ferro: That's a great question, Michael. I think the leadership aspect permeates everything that I do, no matter what it is, whether I'm talking to my network engineers, my systems engineers, my support desk staff, our tech center folks out in the field, or folks at the plant. That leadership aspect is always there. It's got to be.

Michael Krigsman: Okay.

Jay Ferro: We've always got to be there. But, that said, I think it also depends on where you are in your evolution, too. Right now, being a newer CIO at Quikrete, a lot of what I'm doing falls more into stabilization than improvement and transformation. I think a lot of times our work falls into those three buckets. We can get into a Twitter argument later about the names or how many there are but, generally, they fall into those.

My man Doug has heard me talk about this a hundred times. We spend a lot of our time there in the first year, 18 months, around stabilization. I don't mean always that things are dying. Although, in some cases, that's because they are. You're spending a lot more time in the trenches with that than you are evaluating emerging technologies.

I think, once the patient is not at risk of dying on the table and you're more in improvement mode and you can carve off more time, that percentage changes. Right now, I am probably over-indexing on the stabilization and improvement buckets because I'm new; I'm learning the organization. We have some opportunities. We're a very big company. We're a great company and I think we've turned a corner, but I'm over-indexing there. I think that'll pay big dividends as I do begin to evaluate transformational technologies.

Selling to the CIO

Michael Krigsman: Enterprise software vendors want to pitch CIOs.

Jay Ferro: Right.

Michael Krigsman: But the really good CIOs are not focused on these products. They're focused on the leadership and the business dimensions that we were talking about earlier. Is there a disconnect there between what technology vendors are trying to do and what CIOs are trying to do?

Jay Ferro: I get asked that question a lot. In fact, I did a panel not too long ago made up of a lot of vendors out in the audience. It was a panel of CIOs asking that very question, "How do we get more of your time? How do we get our foot in the door? How do we carve off a little bit of your time to kind of show you why we think our product is so awesome for you?"

I will say, most vendors that I've talked to are salespeople. They don't listen very well. They don't have patience. When I say that, "Hey, really now is not a great time, but I'm going to keep you in mind and we'll definitely make some time down the road," for a lot of them, I don't hear from them again or they think "a lot of time" or "down the road" means two weeks later.

I think, understanding that tone and learning how to read a CIO is super important. I think they need to also build relationships at that SVP, VP, director level as well. CIOs cannot be masters of every domain. We can't.

I am dependent on my vice presidents and my senior staff to evaluate a lot of these technologies and their applicability for our environment and to vet some of those before they even get to me. Now, if I have a trusted VP or SVP and they're coming to me saying, "Jay, I really think we ought to take a look at this. We're spending this much time on this today. It's going to automate that. It's going to do this. It's going to generate revenue," whatever, I'm much more likely to make time for that versus a cold call which, by the way, I will never ever pick up.

I think the last time I picked up an unknown number on a landline was 2012. [Laughter] The automated email, "Dear, Sir," "Dear, Jacob," which is my real name--clearly you don't know me if you're calling me that--I'm not going to answer that either.

I think you also need to go to where the CIOs are. We're in a lot of places and we're very public. Support some of our philanthropic causes. Show up where we are. Build relationships.

I do business today, Michael, with people who had patience, who I could not give any business years ago. Couldn't do it. I just didn't have the money or whatever. I didn't need them, but they were patient. They kept the relationship warm. They remembered what we talked about. When I did need them, guess who got the business.

Michael Krigsman: Great points. Jay, we're almost out of time, so let me ask you a couple of quick questions because we have some questions from Twitter and I always like to take those. Number one, we have a question from Andrew Nebus. He says, "When you jump into organizations at different stages, do you find different leadership tools are needed to bring your team along and are there "tools" that are always critical?"

Jay Ferro: What a great question. I think you always have to meet your company where they are in their state of evolution, or your department. Yeah, I think where CIOs get in trouble is, they have the Jay Ferro playbook or the Michael Krigsman or Andrew Nebus playbook and they just want to hit the reset button. In some cases, maybe that's necessary. I feel like that throws a lot of the baby out with the bathwater.

I think you've got to take the Hippocratic Oath when you land and first do no harm because, often, you're going to have some diamonds in the rough. There are terrific executives that are now CIOs in this town that I inherited over the years or senior executives that I was told that might not be a great fit. Had I just listened to that blindly, I would have missed an opportunity.

I think there are constant tools: integrity, transparency, a strong work ethic, mentoring, listening, thanking people, being resilient. I don't know at any point in the continuum where those aren't applicable.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. That's great. Another question from Twitter, again from @CXOTalk, "Is it better to try to change corporate culture or limit the extent of transformation when you have a culture that's resistant?"

Jay Ferro: Oh, wow. I think you're going to hit a point where you're banging your head against a wall. It's a great question. Thank you for the question.

I like pushing the boundaries, so I want to at least transform as much as I can within the confines that I have, whether that's dollars, people, or whatever. Then, after that, continue to push, continue to push, continue to push.

I think a lot of CIOs bask in their own magnificence and think that if they sell it without delivering other things that it's just going to kind of pop into existence where people are going to go, "Oh, God. Thank God you said that. Email is on fire but, man, that's going to be great that you want to put sensors in everything."

I feel like you've got to start with doing as much as you can with what you're given and then begin to kind of push the envelope from there. I think you're going to change the corporate culture through delivery, communication, and transparency.

At six different companies, at least, I've had people say, "We hear from you a lot more than we've ever heard from CIOs before."

My next question is, "I hope that's a good thing."

They're like, "Nah, it's a great thing. The other guy or the lady before you, we never heard from her."

I think there are things you can do to begin to influence that just sometimes it's easier than you think.

Michael Krigsman: That communication and transparency are foundations.

Jay Ferro: Transparency is a CIO's best friend.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We are out of time. It's been a very quick 45 minutes. We've been speaking with Jay Ferro, who is a very seasoned CIO. Right now, he is CIO of the largest cement manufacturer in the United States called Quikrete. Jay, thank you very much for taking your time to be here with us today.

Jay Ferro: A pleasure to be here, Michael. I appreciate you having me.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody who was asking questions, thank you for participating. Again, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and subscribe right now, please, to the newsletter. Just go to our CXOTalk website and click "subscribe" and we'll send you the latest. We have great shows coming up. Thanks so much, everybody, and I hope you have a great day. Bye-bye.

Michael Krigsman: The concept of the transformational CIO is crucial to the chief information officer role. It truly represents the next evolution of the CIO. We're speaking with somebody who embodies the traits of the transformational CIO. Jay Ferro is the CIO of Quikrete. It's the largest manufacturer of concrete in the U.S. Jay Ferro, welcome to CXOTalk.

Jay Ferro: Michael, thank you. The thrill is mine. I appreciate it and I'm excited to be here. Thank you.

What is a Transformational CIO?

Michael Krigsman: Jay, when we talk about transformational CIO, let's begin with transformation. What do we mean in this context?

Jay Ferro: It's interesting. The word is so overused, today, that it's lost some of its meaning, I think, what we talk about today in 2019. We used different language in the past, continual improvement or whatever. To me, taking the digital out of it and just talking about transformation, it's going from one state to another and constantly looking for opportunities to deliver higher quality to more customers, internally and externally, and always challenging yourself to stay one, two, three, four steps ahead of where you need to be.

My team looks at it. [Laughter] I always tell them. I say, "We will always have the bar set for us higher than our customers have for us." Now, that's not always true, but the way we do that is constantly challenging ourselves to get better in all aspects of our roles and it has very little to do, often, with technology and a lot more to do with transformational leadership first.

Michael Krigsman: The essence, then, of what we're talking about is the idea of CIO as business leader. Is that fundamentally it?

Jay Ferro: I think that's spot on. I think you've heard me say, and I've said many times, that the CIO is a business executive or business leader first and then he or she is a technologist second. Now, they're closely related, clearly, but I hear so much bellyaching and questions about how we get seats at the table. It's amazing that, still, in 2019, we're talking about that.

To me, one of the keys is that you operate and are constantly thinking of yourself as a business leader who happens to have a domain of expertise in technology. You always have an understanding and you're always seeking to learn more about the business that you're in. I've spent enough time at Quikrete already to understand that the best way I can be effective is to understand our business and what we do, how we produce our products, top to bottom. I don't know that there's a better role to learn that than the CIO.

Michael Krigsman: Jay, here's a dumb question. That seems pretty obvious to me. You're in business. You have to know what your company does. Why are we having this conversation at all?

Jay Ferro: I think we're stubborn. I think CIOs are stubborn. To me, it seems obvious. To you, it seems obvious. It's a common thread, I think, with CIOs, and I'm certainly not throwing myself into that category but, when I meet world-class CIOs, they always seem to understand that they work for a company that's in business for a reason.

When I was at ACS, we were not a technology company. Now, I know we always say every company is a technology company and, to a point, they are, but we existed there to end the pain and suffering from cancer. Here, we are the largest concrete and concrete products company in North America and we want to continue to grow, excel, and be the market leader, not the best IT company that happens to be concrete.

Michael Krigsman: How pervasive is this issue among CIOs, in general, would you say?

Jay Ferro: I think it's 50/50. You and I talk a lot. We run in a lot of the same circles. I still see arguments. "Argument" is probably not the best word, but vigorous debate around technologies, around those types of philosophies. Amongst ourselves, I think that's fine because we're still being called on to be technology leaders. You expect that your CFO is going to be at the top of her or his game in the financial arena. The same thing with your chief accounting officer, head of talent, or whatever.

We certainly are expected to be that way, but that's not what we need to be leading with. We need to be leading with the business driver. What is going to grow and retain our customer base and continue to delight them? I think often we kind of fall back into our comfort zone of talking about pain, power, pipe, bits and bytes, and all of those things. I feel like we shoot ourselves in the foot a good bit when we lead with that and we don't ascribe business context to what we're talking about.

Michael Krigsman: Is the issue then one of priority? Obviously, we have to talk; as CIOs, we have to talk about technology. Is the issue one of where we prioritize?

Jay Ferro: It might be. It might be we fall back into our comfort zone. It might be we have crossed over from an era where five nines was actually a thing and we want to be patted on the back for keeping the training running on time. To me, those are all table stakes.

It might be misaligned priorities, Michael. I think that's a very, very good point, but we have to ask ourselves as leaders. This is where the leadership component of being a C-level executive comes in where you're always looking at yourself first and saying, "How can I get better? How can I communicate more effectively? Is it just the magnificence of the PowerPoint that I put in front of them that they should have gotten my point, or am I building the right relationships? Am I getting out in front of our customers? Am I spending time at our plants, at our retail stores, at our hospitals, or out with volunteers really understanding what's going on?"

I know for a fact not enough CIOs do that. I know it. I've talked to too many that just are in some operation center somewhere.

"Have you visited your stores?"

"Yeah, when I first joined."

"That was five years ago."

You need to get out there and understand. Build relationships with the people who are doing the real work on the frontline. To me, not only do you earn credibility, but you're going to be a better solution provider because you're going to understand how your company makes money and where IT fits into that.

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan Khan, on Twitter, makes a really interesting point. He says, "CIOs need to be business first, but the business does not always consider them to be so. For example, even today, most annual reports list execs that are not the CIOs but, rather, CFO, COO, and CEO."

Jay Ferro: I think we still have some runway ahead of us for that CIO to be listed in the same breadth, particularly with older companies or companies that have been slow to change. I think he's spot on, and he usually is, that there is still some evolution that has to happen. But I still see CIOs, Michael, that bellyache, lament, and just are struggling with that and, instead of complaining, I think [it's], continue to build relationships, continue to work with your CEO, your president, your CFO. To me [it's], continue to deliver and exceed.

I think I posted something the other day. I said, "Winning cures all ills." It's true of sports teams and it's true of a CIO role where, if you deliver, you're proactively delivering, you're prototyping, you're solutioning.

I see so many CIOs still talk in order taker type language. "Well, they didn't invite me to the strategy meeting." Well, you've been here for three years. Don't you know 80% of it on its own? You can extrapolate some and begin to show them that you understand it. Maybe they should invite you, and I know they should, but don't wait to be knighted all the time.

It frustrates me. I know a number of our fellow colleagues, Tim Crawford being one, he and I just talked about this at CIO Chat live in Boston. We were laughing because I just have no tolerance for CIOs who are their own worst enemy and they shoot themselves in the foot constantly with kind of pouting and pounding the table that they should be invited but they're not doing the things they need to get invited.

Executing Against Transformational Goals

Michael Krigsman: If we were to drill down into the components of transformational leadership, as it applies to the CIO, how do we now execute against this intention to be a business leader?

Jay Ferro: Well, I think practice makes perfect. I think it starts with the man or the woman in the mirror and holding yourself accountable to authenticity, ethical behavior, transparency, coaching, mentoring, a strategic mindset, resiliency. I think it's very much tied to a servant leader type approach to leadership. I think the transformational leadership versus the servant, I think there's a lot of overlap, but I think it starts with the person in the mirror.

You've got to challenge yourself. Believe me; I know that's tough. You're getting yelled at. Customers are needing things. People are still going to treat you like you're the IT girl or the IT guy. I've worked for, and I do work for, very large organizations. When I was at AIG, I worked for one of the largest organizations on the planet.

There's nothing more demoralizing than when you walk into a meeting with the CEO, he or she has been there for 30, 40 years, and he goes, "Oh, a new member of our board, I want you to meet our IT guy, Jay." Okay. That's our HR person. There's the finance dude. There's the sales lady. But we're always the IT guy.

I jokingly correct them and say, "No, I'm Chief Information Officer. I've earned the role and I'm proud of it." We've still got some work to do, but it always starts with yourself. It's amazing what happens, Michael, when you start with yourself and you hold your direct reports and their reports, et cetera, and your modeling your behavior, how quickly it permeates an organization.

Michael Krigsman: As you're going through these things, you're describing maintaining operational excellence, meaning systems, of course, have to be running without a glitch at the same time.

Jay Ferro: Yeah, and nobody wants to be that guy walking in. You're walking in and you're a newly knighted CIO. You're an experienced CIO. You walk in, and you're all excited with a PowerPoint deck about IoT, big data, and machine learning, and people can't get email or the AS/400 sales order process is broken because of some arcane technology that just isn't functioning all the time. You have to do that. To me, that's table stakes.

Like I said, winning cures all ills. Part of winning is that you're fundamentally taking care of the blocking and tackling. I know I get beat up for using sports analogies all the time. [Laughter] In fact, when we were in Boston, I think Jeannie Hamilton from RedHat or Enterpriser said, "Everybody drink when Jay uses a sports analogy," so everybody out there, you can go ahead and drink.

In this case, football championships are built in the trenches. Yes, you have Hail Marys in all the big plays, but they're built in the trenches with sound defense, sound offense, one play at a time. IT is no different. IT is absolutely the same. We're all going to have big bets, and we want those, but you are never going to get the opportunity to make those big bets if you can't make the small bets or you can't execute on the blocking and tackling every single day. Going back to your point, Michael, of just having the trains run on time, and that's really what that means in our world.

Customer-Facing Activities and the CIO

Michael Krigsman: Jay, what about the role of the CIO in customer-facing activities and generating revenue in customer experience? Is there a role for the CIO in these activities?

Jay Ferro: I think it varies from industry to industry to what degree, but I think the answer is almost always yes. No matter which company I've been with, I've always tried to be the best ambassador of that organization that I can. If nothing else, to attract and retain talent, to make sure that, as you're recruiting people, they know they're going to a destination of choice, that IT is something that is valued at that organization.

Beyond that, yeah, I think we're considered senior business executives. I want to be at sales ops meetings. I want to be meeting our customers. I want to hear firsthand how we are meeting or not meeting--hopefully, it's more of the former--or exceeding our customers' expectations.

You know this, Michael. You've talked to a number of world-class leaders. I don't know how you get better information than when you're talking to your customers. I don't know what else builds more credibility than when you're looking at your customer and they know you're listening.

It was the same at AIG with brokers or insureds. It was the same at Earthlink. It was the same at the American Cancer Society with volunteers and donors. It's the same here at Quikrete with either our smaller customers or our large ones. If they have a concern or things are working well and you're looking at them listening to them, are you going to tell me you're not going to want to do more business with somebody that you know is responsive and is all in on your needs?

I think we do it every day in our normal lives. You go back to somebody you trust. I think it's no different in the role of the CIO, and I take that part of my job very seriously.

Michael Krigsman: Does the CIO need permission to engage in these customer-facing activities or is it something that you just do?

Jay Ferro: [Laughter] I laugh because I'm sure you probably have figured this out, but I'm more of an ask for forgiveness versus permission kind of guy.

Michael Krigsman: Oh, I definitely figured that out. [Laughter]

Jay Ferro: [Laughter] I think, more often than not, when you have a good relationship with your CEO, president, COO, CFO, whomever you report to, there's a certain level of latitude where they trust that you're going to make good decisions. I certainly think, as a representative of a company, you certainly have fiduciary responsibilities and other things that you may not know in a new role where you probably should just kind of sanity check those before you go out and say certain things.

That said, I think, more often than not, I've had the luxury and the blessing of having bosses that have encouraged that. Again, it goes back to what you said earlier, Michael, is that the trains have to run on time.

I know I've learned this the hard way. We can do all the speaking engagements, the sales meetings, the publicity, the writing, and all the fun stuff, and a lot of us enjoy it. Some don't, but a lot of us enjoy that. But if the house is on fire back home, that's not good.

We're not immune from that here. I know I have a lot of burning platforms right now at any company at any given time, but I think it's still important that we take time for this part of our role.

Building a Transformational IT Organization

Michael Krigsman: Again, I want to remind everybody; we're talking with Jay Ferro. He's a very innovative CIO. Jay, we're talking about the practicalities of being a transformational CIO. How do you build an IT department that reflects these characteristics as well?

Jay Ferro: It starts with yourself, of course. You're hearing a recurring theme. It starts with modeling the behavior, incenting that behavior, and them making sure that folks who don't follow that same behavior are held accountable for their actions.

It goes beyond just modeling it. There is communication, of course training, reinforcement, mentoring, all of those things. I think, more often than not, people want to do the right thing, and they are trying to do the right thing. They just may need a little nudging. I have found that the power of just looking somebody in the eye and telling them that you trust them or, "Thank you," "Great job," or, "I knew you had that. Good."

I'll never forget a story, Michael, early in my career, a gentleman named Mike Long, who was the CIO for the division of AIG that I worked for. I remember bringing in an invoice or a PO. I was giving him a heads up that I was signing it.

Now, I had significant signing authority, but he was new to the company. He looked at me, smiles very gently, sits down, looks at it, looks back at me. He goes, "Why did you show me that?"

I knew what he meant. He meant, "I trust you. You're in your role for a reason. I have a question, I'll absolutely tell you." That never was lost on me, the power of trust.

Now, it wasn't blind trust. He had gotten to know me well enough to know that he could trust me. It wasn't day one, "Yeah, do what you do, man." But he knew he could trust me and, as long as it was in my threshold and as long as it was part of our strategic plan, in the budget, and there were no other outside forces that would have curtailed it, he trusted me.

I've tried to pay that forward throughout my entire career. He was and still is one of the best bosses I ever had and a terrific mentor to me. I think that's where it starts.

The hard part of this, Michael, is that, often, there are people that just don't get it. They don't want to come along with what you're doing. They're not drinking the Kool-Aid. They're not buying what you're selling. Maybe they were used to being hidden. Maybe it's just not their cup of tea, and that's okay.

In my turnarounds or transformations, the train leaves the station one time and you're on it or you're not. You've heard me say before, "If you can't change people, change people." That's never easy. It's the hardest part of any leader's job, I hope, but you have to do it because all you're doing is poisoning people by keeping the C, D, and F players onboard and being scared to root them out.

You're giving other A players, you're sending a message to them that performance doesn't matter or the way you conduct yourself doesn't matter, and it's absolutely demoralizing. When you get rid of them, and hopefully it's not that many, to me it's just addition through subtraction.

Michael Krigsman: The talent management aspect of this is where you start that's a crucial element.

Budgeting and Investing

Jay Ferro: Absolutely.

Michael Krigsman: What about when it comes to things like budgeting, allocation of resources? What's the impact? If you're being a transformational CIO, what's going to be the impact on budgeting and investing?

Jay Ferro: Well, we all wish we didn't have one, right? [Laughter] We want a blank checkbook, Michael. Come on. I want to spend money.

To me, you earn that credibility. A couple of thoughts on that.

One, I think it requires CIOs to be fiscally savvy and to operate their organization as if they were a CEO. I generally don't like that analogy, the CEO of It. It just rubs me the wrong way. But I think, in this case, it works because you are fiscally responsible for your organization, making sure that you're constantly looking for opportunities to better reinvest dollars, for growth opportunities, for cost savings opportunities. You're working with your colleagues to look for revenue generating opportunities.

The second part of that is that I try to push down budget authority as far as I can within the organization. It goes back to trust. If I'm the one that has to sign off on literally everything, what message does that send to my team, "I don't trust you to sign a $500 PO"?

I've got to be able to create layers of approval. I don't mean layers in red tape, but making sure people understand that you trust them and, if they have a budget, they're being held accountable to it. But as long as they're within their budget and, again, there are no extraordinary circumstances like, "Hey, we're in a budget crunch right now. We're kind of putting some things on hold," that you don't want to see every $500 invoice. To me, that trust and that teaching of fiscal responsibility, and there may be a training component, is really important to building a world-class team.

Obstacles to Transformation

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears and talk about some of the obstacles that come up that prevent a CIO or an organization from having transformational IT. I think a good way to start is we have an excellent question from, actually, the @CXOTalk Twitter account. @CXOTalk asks, "What if your company does not have a culture of business innovation? Then what do you do?"

Jay Ferro: That's tough. That's tough. Look, I'm in the concrete business, right? When you start listing companies or industries, rather, that are at the cutting edge, I'm not sure concrete or cement products is necessarily always vaulted to the top of the list.

I'm a big believer in playing the hand you're dealt and doing the best you can with what you're given. Even in this space, I think we can be highly innovative. I was pleasantly surprised that we can be. We're going to get better and we're going to continue to grow that aspect of our business, but I think it all starts, number one, with delivery, relationships with your fellow C-suite executives and your CEO.

You may hit a point where you've done it time and time again, you've been there a number of years, you're delivering and the cultural inertia is just so thick that you can't break out of it. Then, and only then, maybe would you consider moving on or moving to another role because you're just never going to crack that shell.

I haven't been in too many companies. I've been in maybe one or two in my career where you just gave it the old college try, you did everything you could, and they just aren't going to come along. Then I think you have to take a hard look and maybe move on to another role.

I'm a big believer, again, also in living to fight another day. When I have ten big, innovative ideas, ten big things that I want to do, let me deliver one. Let me just start with the smallest one and deliver that one flawlessly, show the revenue, show the cross-savings, show the customer sat, show it in terms that the business is going to understand and I will say, at least 80% of the time, over time, they come along. I think a lot of CIOs are impatient and they don't want to wait for that. They don't want to build it over time.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We have another question from Twitter. Chris Petersen asks, "Is it possible for the CIO or the organization as a whole, to be transformational if they're unwilling to make that initial investment?"

Jay Ferro: Chris, hello. Thanks for the question. I don't know how you would do that because I think we probably ascribe transformational to more people that maybe deserve it. [Laughter] T me, it's a lifestyle. It's a mindset. It's an everyday way you are kind of being. If you're not willing to do the introspection or make the investment in yourself, I don't know how you can be transformational or invest in your team.

Now, if you're talking about dollars, I still think there is a lot you can do with what you have because a lot of it is behavioral and a lot of it is leadership based. I can't think of a very good example where somebody has said, "I want to be transformational, but I'm not willing to invest in what it takes to be transformational." I don't see how you could do that.

Michael Krigsman: I think, in his case, he was talking about budgets and dollars.

Jay Ferro: Fair enough. Okay, so I still think there's some runway. I have found, in the last three or four organizations I've been in, I'm a big believer also in self-funding a lot of transformation. When I was at the American Cancer Society, we found significant savings through cost optimization in our first year, and it had nothing to do with, "Hey, we're going to do a giant riff and we're going to recoup some salary dollars." We did a reorg, of course, as part of our transformation, but we spent a lot of time in renegotiating contracts and looking at our current spend and we ended up finding a material amount of opportunity right out of the gate that I was able to repurpose toward transformational activity.

Earthlink was no different. AIG was no different. Right out of the gate, I didn't have to go asking for a big capital outlay in order to make some of the transformational moves that I did. If you don't have those opportunities and the company is not willing to invest, then I think you're pretty hamstrung because, certainly, it's going to cost some dollars to move the needle.

Michael Krigsman: We're talking about the obstacles to transformation of IT. Clearly, one of those is if the company, if other business leaders, just don't see the opportunity for IT and they just want to operate IT as a cost center and cut that cost to the bone as low as possible.

Jay Ferro: Yeah, I think that's still very common. It's still considered a back office function. You're the IT girl; you're the IT guy; you're the plumbing. To a degree, we always will be. You have to embrace that part of the role.

If you're the CFO, you still have to close the books every month. I'm not sure any CFO is going to call that sexy and he or she is going to go into a meeting saying, "You know, I really want to focus on some more cutting edge stuff, so we're just not going to close the books this month." [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Jay Ferro: Look. It's part of the job. We've got to do both. I feel like, to me, I've never shied away from that. I don't know how I'd have any credibility with my peers.

Let me back up. Think about this, Michael. If you're an average executive in a company or just pick an executive. It doesn't really matter. It could be at any level. What is IT to them? I don't mean, "Is it plumbing?" or whatever. What is their interaction, generally, with IT for your average employee or colleague? It's email, clearly, some collaborative workspace, a CRM, an ERP, a handful of other applications.

They're not in your meetings every day talking about IoT, machine learning, and all of these other whizzbang things that we all love, yet. Some are. If you can't make those six or seven core functions work for them, why do you think you're going to have any credibility with them when you do bring them spend opportunities and say, "Hey, I think I can generate $25 million in net new income if you just give me $5 million"?

"Wait a minute. Aren't you the guy that downs our CRM every other day? Aren't you the head of the department that can't seem to roll out mobile tools? You want me to give you $5 million? What?!" So, take care of business.

Michael Krigsman: You have to earn that.

Jay Ferro: Every day. You never own it, man; you rent it. The rent is due every day.

Look. Every organization screws up. I screw up every single day. We have so much opportunity here and it is not a slight against Quikrete whatsoever. Every company has opportunity.

I'm a newer CIO, so, certainly, I want to get my DNA on it, and we have a lot of fundamental blocking and tackling things that we have to do here and we are doing it. We're working 24/7 to do that. Just because it's not the sexiest work doesn't mean I'm not on the hook for it. If those things are happening, I end up with a better class of challenge and a better class of project other than kind of all the plumbing stuff that a lot of people focus on.

Maintaining the Transformational Process 

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Douglas Lecato asks, "How do you maintain a transformational process after it's started?"

Jay Ferro: Great question, Doug. I hope you're doing well. Doug and I worked together at the American Cancer Society. He was one of my rock stars. I'm sure no doubt he's still rocking it. Doug is good people.

Doug, I'm going to tell you, and you know this because we went through it, it's that typical change curve. Everybody is hyped. Everybody is jacked, and you fall into the valley of despair. That's when your medal is tested as a leader.

Doug has heard me say this a thousand times. When I say "leader," I don't just mean the CIO. I mean every role in IT or the company. Everyone is a leader and it all starts with the tone at the top. I get that.

It's easy to be a leader when you're winning awards and you're doing all those kinds of things and everything is great. It's easy to do that. Look, when you're going through a change and people are bellyaching, maybe you rolled something out and it didn't work as expected, maybe the customers are angry, maybe there's an outage, whatever, that's how great leaders are made.

Again, it all falls at the doorstep of the CIO or the senior leaders. You've got to model the behavior and get out of the ivory tower where the action is to show them, you're there with them, and not just a dog and pony, "Here I am for five minutes. Keep it up, guys. I've got a plane to catch." You've got to be in it with them.

Technology vs. Business Leadership

Michael Krigsman: Jay, how much of your time as CIO is spent dealing with specific technologies, whether it's network infrastructure, whether it's evaluating any kind of different technologies versus the leadership dimensions of your role?

Jay Ferro: That's a great question, Michael. I think the leadership aspect permeates everything that I do, no matter what it is, whether I'm talking to my network engineers, my systems engineers, my support desk staff, our tech center folks out in the field, or folks at the plant. That leadership aspect is always there. It's got to be.

Michael Krigsman: Okay.

Jay Ferro: We've always got to be there. But, that said, I think it also depends on where you are in your evolution, too. Right now, being a newer CIO at Quikrete, a lot of what I'm doing falls more into stabilization than improvement and transformation. I think a lot of times our work falls into those three buckets. We can get into a Twitter argument later about the names or how many there are but, generally, they fall into those.

My man Doug has heard me talk about this a hundred times. We spend a lot of our time there in the first year, 18 months, around stabilization. I don't mean always that things are dying. Although, in some cases, that's because they are. You're spending a lot more time in the trenches with that than you are evaluating emerging technologies.

I think, once the patient is not at risk of dying on the table and you're more in improvement mode and you can carve off more time, that percentage changes. Right now, I am probably over-indexing on the stabilization and improvement buckets because I'm new; I'm learning the organization. We have some opportunities. We're a very big company. We're a great company and I think we've turned a corner, but I'm over-indexing there. I think that'll pay big dividends as I do begin to evaluate transformational technologies.

Selling to the CIO

Michael Krigsman: Enterprise software vendors want to pitch CIOs.

Jay Ferro: Right.

Michael Krigsman: But the really good CIOs are not focused on these products. They're focused on the leadership and the business dimensions that we were talking about earlier. Is there a disconnect there between what technology vendors are trying to do and what CIOs are trying to do?

Jay Ferro: I get asked that question a lot. In fact, I did a panel not too long ago made up of a lot of vendors out in the audience. It was a panel of CIOs asking that very question, "How do we get more of your time? How do we get our foot in the door? How do we carve off a little bit of your time to kind of show you why we think our product is so awesome for you?"

I will say, most vendors that I've talked to are salespeople. They don't listen very well. They don't have patience. When I say that, "Hey, really now is not a great time, but I'm going to keep you in mind and we'll definitely make some time down the road," for a lot of them, I don't hear from them again or they think "a lot of time" or "down the road" means two weeks later.

I think, understanding that tone and learning how to read a CIO is super important. I think they need to also build relationships at that SVP, VP, director level as well. CIOs cannot be masters of every domain. We can't.

I am dependent on my vice presidents and my senior staff to evaluate a lot of these technologies and their applicability for our environment and to vet some of those before they even get to me. Now, if I have a trusted VP or SVP and they're coming to me saying, "Jay, I really think we ought to take a look at this. We're spending this much time on this today. It's going to automate that. It's going to do this. It's going to generate revenue," whatever, I'm much more likely to make time for that versus a cold call which, by the way, I will never ever pick up.

I think the last time I picked up an unknown number on a landline was 2012. [Laughter] The automated email, "Dear, Sir," "Dear, Jacob," which is my real name--clearly you don't know me if you're calling me that--I'm not going to answer that either.

I think you also need to go to where the CIOs are. We're in a lot of places and we're very public. Support some of our philanthropic causes. Show up where we are. Build relationships.

I do business today, Michael, with people who had patience, who I could not give any business years ago. Couldn't do it. I just didn't have the money or whatever. I didn't need them, but they were patient. They kept the relationship warm. They remembered what we talked about. When I did need them, guess who got the business.

Michael Krigsman: Great points. Jay, we're almost out of time, so let me ask you a couple of quick questions because we have some questions from Twitter and I always like to take those. Number one, we have a question from Andrew Nebus. He says, "When you jump into organizations at different stages, do you find different leadership tools are needed to bring your team along and are there "tools" that are always critical?"

Jay Ferro: What a great question. I think you always have to meet your company where they are in their state of evolution, or your department. Yeah, I think where CIOs get in trouble is, they have the Jay Ferro playbook or the Michael Krigsman or Andrew Nebus playbook and they just want to hit the reset button. In some cases, maybe that's necessary. I feel like that throws a lot of the baby out with the bathwater.

I think you've got to take the Hippocratic Oath when you land and first do no harm because, often, you're going to have some diamonds in the rough. There are terrific executives that are now CIOs in this town that I inherited over the years or senior executives that I was told that might not be a great fit. Had I just listened to that blindly, I would have missed an opportunity.

I think there are constant tools: integrity, transparency, a strong work ethic, mentoring, listening, thanking people, being resilient. I don't know at any point in the continuum where those aren't applicable.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. That's great. Another question from Twitter, again from @CXOTalk, "Is it better to try to change corporate culture or limit the extent of transformation when you have a culture that's resistant?"

Jay Ferro: Oh, wow. I think you're going to hit a point where you're banging your head against a wall. It's a great question. Thank you for the question.

I like pushing the boundaries, so I want to at least transform as much as I can within the confines that I have, whether that's dollars, people, or whatever. Then, after that, continue to push, continue to push, continue to push.

I think a lot of CIOs bask in their own magnificence and think that if they sell it without delivering other things that it's just going to kind of pop into existence where people are going to go, "Oh, God. Thank God you said that. Email is on fire but, man, that's going to be great that you want to put sensors in everything."

I feel like you've got to start with doing as much as you can with what you're given and then begin to kind of push the envelope from there. I think you're going to change the corporate culture through delivery, communication, and transparency.

At six different companies, at least, I've had people say, "We hear from you a lot more than we've ever heard from CIOs before."

My next question is, "I hope that's a good thing."

They're like, "Nah, it's a great thing. The other guy or the lady before you, we never heard from her."

I think there are things you can do to begin to influence that just sometimes it's easier than you think.

Michael Krigsman: That communication and transparency are foundations.

Jay Ferro: Transparency is a CIO's best friend.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We are out of time. It's been a very quick 45 minutes. We've been speaking with Jay Ferro, who is a very seasoned CIO. Right now, he is CIO of the largest cement manufacturer in the United States called Quikrete. Jay, thank you very much for taking your time to be here with us today.

Jay Ferro: A pleasure to be here, Michael. I appreciate you having me.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody who was asking questions, thank you for participating. Again, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and subscribe right now, please, to the newsletter. Just go to our CXOTalk website and click "subscribe" and we'll send you the latest. We have great shows coming up. Thanks so much, everybody, and I hope you have a great day. Bye-bye.