COO is the Logical Next Step for the CIO says Duane Anderson of Marquette Group/ USMotivation
After getting an MBA, spending time as a consultant for a major consultancy, and serving under multiple legendary CIOs in various corporate positions, Duane Anderson joined Marquette Group/USMotivation in June of 2009. Marquette Group is a directional marketing agency that connects qualified, local customers to national brands by designing integrated media strategies. USMotivation is an incentive management company focusing on incentive strategies and awards, group travel and meetings, creative communications, and analytics. When Anderson joined this combined entity, it was his first role as CIO, but the moves that he made were as sophisticated as a seasoned veteran. He was ahead of the curve on cloud computing and virtualization, moving the vast majority of the companies’ infrastructure into the cloud, rendering what had long been a fixed cost into a much more variabilized cost structure. He also wove IT’s activities and projects more explicitly into the strategies of the rest of the organization. Lastly, he became much more end-customer-centric, spending time on customer calls, while also ingratiating himself to the field employees.
Anderson was so successful that in September of 2011, he was asked to become the chief operating officer of the companies. In that role, he has overseen a merger with another company TMP, effectively doubling the size of the organization. As he sees it, the COO is in many ways the logical next step for the ambitious CIO, for reasons he makes clear in my interview with him below.
(The “Beyond CIO” series kicked off with this article, and the all past interviews in the series can be found here. If you are interested in future articles in the series with executives from companies like HP, Symantec, T.D. Ameritrade, Schneider National, Fifth Third Bancorp, Ameristar Casinos, and Aetna, please visit here.)
Peter High: Duane, your CIO role at Marquette Group / USMotivation was your first in that position. When you took it on did you have any ambition to rise above that position?
Duane Anderson: When I first took on the CIO role here, my only ambitions were to learn the organization and execute on a fairly sizeable list of objectives the ownership team had in place for me across both of our companies. The IT organization had become run-away in terms of costs, open-ended projects and dated infrastructure. Priorities were aligned in the best interest of IT, not the business so it was really a first 18 months focused on getting back to an acceptable baseline. Anyone who’s been a part of those efforts knows the all consuming nature they can take, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for ambition. The instinct that comes to mind was more survival!
PH: Walk us through the major steps you undertook during your tenure as CIO.
DA: Beyond the objectives provided to me by our ownership there were four primary tracks I pursued.
- Align IT with the overall business strategy and ensure the existing set of IT projects and priorities fit with that direction
- Understand the Total Cost of Ownership of IT and how that portfolio is split between strategic efforts and commodity expenses. For the commodity expenses, our goal is to manage those as efficiently as possible to return the savings to more strategic efforts or the overall business
- Spend as much time as possible outside my office (a sometimes difficult task) with our customers, business teams, vendors, and the IT team to ensure we understand the true needs of the business, and that the IT team has clear direction and priorities within those needs
- Build and maintain our core IT Infrastructure– traditional infrastructure, applications, data, and service desk. This is an area the business thinks about the least, but everything falls apart without it
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- Was the idea of taking on the COO role suggested to you, or did you offer feedback that you had the ambition to do this?
- Do you think the CIO position is an ideal breeding ground for COOs, and do you think others will follow your lead?
- Were there any gaps in your experience that you needed to fill in order to better equip yourself to take on broader responsibilities?