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Forbes Board Level CIO Series: Brian Bonner, CIO of Texas Instruments

Brian Bonner, Texas Instruments’ Board-Level CIO

by Peter High, published on Forbes.com

04-14-2014

Brian Bonner is the CIO of Texas Instruments, a $13 billion dollar semi-conductor company, and he manages a central IT organization that supports all aspects of IT including manufacturing, sales, and product development throughout the world. His organization is 1,100 people strong. Although Bonner has engineering degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, he spent time in a wide array of functions outside of IT, such as his role as vice president of Worldwide Mass Marketing and Acquisition Integration at Texas Instruments. He has also held general management, sales, and product development roles and was responsible for product strategy & development as well as revenue generation. His vast experience across nearly 20 years at Texas Instruments has made him a particularly business savvy IT executive, and it has meant that he has not been patient with any perception of IT as a support organization.

His business savviness has also made him an attractive candidate to sit on boards of different kinds. Currently, he is a board member of Copper Mobile and he is an advisory board member to for Gemini Israel Ventures. Bonner says that board membership has made him a much stronger executive at Texas Instruments, and recommends that others who might seek a board position first work on demonstrating business value in their current roles as CIO, demonstrating that they have the know-how necessary to become a board-level CIO.

(To listen to an unabridged podcast version of this conversation, please click this link. This is the fourth article in Board Level CIO series. To read the other articles in the series, including an interviews with the CIOs of FedEx and Lincoln Trust, please click this link. To read future articles in the series, including interviews with the CIOs of Intel and Cardinal Health, please click the “Follow” link above.)

Peter High: Brian, you have a rather non-traditional path to the CIO role. Can you talk a bit about your own personal history and what led you to the current position several years ago?

Brian Bonner: That’s right, Peter. I think the key ingredient for anybody working in technology is to have a curious mind, and I have always been interested in learning new things. I started out with a masters in electrical engineering and actually worked as an automotive engineer before coming to TI. At TI, I went into technical sales where I sold technology to customers and then progressed to sales manager. From there I had an opportunity to become an engineering manager in one of our major sites. I then advanced to running a couple of profit and loss centers and for several years I became a global business manager responsible for a collection of businesses that were around a couple hundred million dollars in size.

Then I was asked to build our mass marketing capabilities. This was really an exciting opportunity to take of some of the things I had learned in sales and business and put together the infrastructure to take care of our customers worldwide. Just as I was really starting to enjoy that, I got the opportunity to do two acquisition integrations, one in New Hampshire, and one near Chicago. I was asked to be the interim leader of those companies as we folded them into Texas Instruments. As that was winding down, I was asked to take over the role as CIO for TI, which was something I didn’t feel I was at all prepared for and never had on my career path. But after talking with our CEO, I realized that all the things I had done prior to this role had prepared me very well for the role of CIO and run it like a business function. So I think the path that I took to get here came from some of my curiosity about technology and how business operates.

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • If you think about the stereotypes of the IT department you know historically it has been a support organization; an order-taking organization of sorts, rather than a strategic organization.  You just walked us through a series of past responsibilities that were very much customer-facing.  You also mentioned the fact that you had profit and loss responsibilities.  These are not the traditional facets or descriptions one would attribute to the IT department.  As you contemplated the move to become CIO, obviously a very senior level of the organization, how did you feel about stepping away from that customer-facing aspect and the P&L responsibilities?
  • As you mentioned, it was an opportunity for you to develop a team that thought of IT as a business function within the organization.  Was there a cultural change necessary with the team that you found yourself leading so that IT would think more like another one of the business functions that you had already led?
  • In your past roles, you gained an appreciation of what made the company successful.  I wonder now that you are CIO, are you still involved in sales to any degree?  Obviously the people on the other side of the table in those equations are often very tech savvy themselves.   I wonder what aspects of your role as CIO have given you a different appreciation either of sales calls or customer contacts of various kinds.
  • Another really interesting aspect of your career path is your membership on a number of boards of organizations. You are currently on the boards of Copper Mobile and Gemini Israel Ventures.   As you think about your experience on each of those, what aspects of your role as CIO has been a particular advantage to you as well as to those companies, and to what extent can you draw comparisons or provide insights to CIOs who would wish to follow in your footsteps?
  • I wonder also what you draw from your board experiences that you use to your advantage back at Texas Instruments?
  • As we mentioned earlier, you didn’t grow up in the IT department.  Instead you were involved in marketing, sales, and P&L, which in some ways are more the common  experiences of people who traditionally populate boards.  To what extent are those the essential ingredients to gaining board membership, and in addition to being a Chief Information Officer?
  • So those CIOs who have mastered some of these realms that you have just described: Big Data, analytics, cloud computing, and cyber-security, are in some ways very well suited to come to the fore in terms of board leadership?
  • A lot of people who are very busy Executives choose to join boards that are in their general geographic vicinity.  Your past membership with the Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, and now with Copper Mobile don’t require you to get on planes in order to participate. However, your involvement with Gemini does involve some international travel, and I wonder what attracted you to those boards.
  • Having been a functional leader of multiple parts of the organization and now a CIO, you have had to contemplate strategic planning from a variety of different perspectives.  I wonder now, as CIO, how do you think about the strategic planning process for IT and how do you weave that into the broader process of the organization?

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