Katrina Lane of American Express advanced beyond CIO by focusing her career on the intersection of marketing, data, customers, and technology.
CIOs take heart: You don’t have to be an experimental physicist to win a promotion from the IT department into a line management role, but it can’t hurt, as the case of American Express executive Katrina Lane shows. Lane has been achieving at a high-level for a long time. She has a Ph.D. in Experimental Physics from Cornell, spent seven years as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, and took on marketing executive roles at multiple companies, ending up as the vice president of Channel Marketing at Caesars Entertainment. During her time in marketing, she collaborated with IT departments in developing data-driven marketing strategies, and implementing sophisticated customer relationship marketing (CRM) and business intelligence systems. She was so knowledgeable, in fact, that she was asked to take over IT as Caesars’ senior vice president and chief technology officer, the senior-most information technology role in the company.
Although this path may seem strange, there are a number of CIOs and CTOs whose first role in IT were as the senior-most position in the department. Lane’s scientific background, her time in consulting, and her deep collaboration with IT made this possible. Her responsibilities were broader than the average CIO, as well, as over time her role expanded and she oversaw innovation, gaming, IT application development, infrastructure, security, support for customer facing systems, all company web sites, as well as key initiatives to develop new technical capabilities for the Total Rewards loyalty program.
In May of 2012, after more than eight years at Caesars Entertainment, Lane left to become the Executive Vice President of Consumer Cards & Experiences at American Express. In this role, she manages the consumer card products portfolio and customer experiences. She and her team develop new offerings to enhance the card member experience and oversee customer segmentation, retention and advocacy. This is a logical step up based on her past experiences, as she makes clear below.
This is the first interview in the “Beyond CIO” series. Please check out this link to read the introduction to the series. To read other interviews with executives from companies like T.D. Ameritrade, United Airlines, Schneider National, Fifth Third Bank, and HP, please click here.
Peter High: Katrina, you had an interesting path to head of IT. You have a Ph.D. in physics, you were a consultant, and then a marketing executive before being asked to lead Caesars IT department as its chief technology officer. You are now the EVP of Consumer Card and Experiences at American Express. What is the thread that runs through this journey?
Katrina Lane: I have focused my career on the intersection of marketing, data, customers and technology. This intersection is the place where businesses can best leverage what they know about their customers to create compelling products, services and experiences that are also personalized – if appropriate. The physics degree was good training in overall problem solving. Because I wanted to have broad impact, I intended to find a position in applied science rather than stay in academic, although I do love teaching. But what I learned is that your focus becomes narrower as you work toward a graduate degree, and I started to look for opportunities to continue to do problem solving against a broader set of issues. I moved to a role as a management consultant, where I was able to use analytic skills while expanding my business knowledge. I started to focus on B2C businesses and in particular the areas where data could be leveraged to provide a better experience for the customer (at that point the field of CRM was just emerging). This focus area led to my next role in marketing.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- There are those who say that CMOs and CIOs/CTOs are a match made in heaven because they are natural complements, and the nexus of their union is where a tremendous amount of value can be garnered. There are others who say that as Marketing’s IT budget increases, there will be a trend of CMOs taking over the CIO/CTO role. The former is an opportunity for the IT leader and the second means the death of the traditional IT leader. What do you think about these hypotheses?
- In your current role, you manage the consumer cards products and services portfolio. What does this role entail, and what are some of your objectives for the foreseeable future?
- What do you draw from your time as an IT leader in your current role?
- Did you always see IT leadership as a stepping stone back into a more traditional “business” role?
- For IT executives who have the ambition to take on roles above and beyond IT, what advice do you have to offer?