By Peter High, Published on Forbes
Diane Schwarz has the killer combination of skills and experiences to be a chief information officer. She was an engineer as an undergraduate, and therefore learned important technical skills. She has an MBA from the University of Chicago and learned key business disciplines. She was a consultant, gaining experience solving problems across many different companies who were her clients. By the time she joined IT departments, she had depth and breadth to her experiences, and quickly rose to become a CIO.
For nearly five years, Schwarz has been the Enterprise CIO of Textron, the $14 billion revenue multi-industry conglomerate in aircraft, defense, industrial and finance businesses. With such diverse businesses in the company’s portfolio, it can be tricky to get the balance right between standardizing processes and technologies, and allowing the business units of the company to have autonomy. She has simplified things by operating with four key strategies that she describes in more depth in this interview:
- Advance the Business
- Make IT Easy
- Protect the Enterprise
- Succeed with Talent
Peter High: You are the enterprise level Chief Information Officer of Textron, but I know there is also IT leadership within the business units themselves. Could you talk about the structure of IT at an organization as complex as yours?
Diane Schwarz: We have a CIO in each of our business units and major product lines, and they have their own IT organizations that report to them. Those CIOs have dual reporting to the business unit leadership as well as to me. The business units do what I call the fun stuff. They support the stakeholder applications, whether it is ERP or CRM or PLM tools.
With that much disparity in the organization, we communicate often and at great lengths to make sure that we know what is going on in our different locations. I have only 50 percent of the staff in the United States. I have many folks in India, who roll up independently to each of their business units, but who also happen to sit in a common office building. It may seem complex to an outsider, but we know how our puzzle pieces fit together.
High: In an organization as diverse as yours, how do you think about what should be common versus what should be unique as it applies to that diverse range of businesses?
Schwarz: That is a question our CEO answers. He has said our business units are empowered to make decisions on what is going to be best for them to meet their strategic objectives. Of course, profitability is part of that. Let’s say a business unit wanted to host its own email system. We do not have any rules that say they cannot, but it is going to cost more for them.
Profitability objectives help keep people in line without deviating too much from the standards. This enables employees to be able to interact across our locations. Our CEO also recognizes that when it comes to, for instance, ERP systems, what serves a business unit in aerospace is different than what serves somebody in automotive. If you make people share too much, you sub-optimize what is going to support their business. We look at what is going to best serve their business needs.
High: Could you talk about your strategy? What has risen to the top of your strategic plan?