No stranger to executive roles at some of America’s most recognizable brands – Starbucks, Best Buy, and now, Symantec, Stephen Gillett admits: once a CIO, always a CIO.
Stephen Gillett first became a chief information officer in his early 30s. He rose to become a CIO-plus at Starbucks, holding the CIO role in addition to being the executive vice president of Digital Ventures. After a brief stint as president of Digital, Global Marketing & Strategy at Best Buy, he took on his current role as chief operating officer of Symantec. Still in his mid-30s, Gillett embodies the characteristics of that rare but growing number of executives who have risen beyond CIO. Not so typical to the group, however, he was an offensive guard on the University of Oregon football team. During his time as an undergrad, he started a business that provided technology support and consulting. The ambition and drive that were apparent during his time as an undergraduate have served him well, and provided some insight into the meteoric rise through the corporate world that would follow.
(To hear an extended audio version of this interview, please visit this link. The “Beyond CIO” series kicked off with this article, and the all past interviews in the series can be found here, including interviews with executives at companies such as HP, American Express, Marsh & McLennan, Fifth Third Bank, and T.D. Ameritrade, among others. If you are interested in future articles in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: Stephen, you are an example of two trends I have been covering of late. You were a CIO-plus at Starbucks, and your positions at Best Buy and now at Symantec are beyond the CIO role. I want to go back to the earlier part of your career. At what point in your career did you decide you wanted to be a CIO, and why?
Stephen Gillett: My first job in IT was the equivalent of the Geek Squad at Best Buy in the 1990s. From there, I had a range of IT positions from working in the help desk to network operator to applications development to engineering to Director of Information Technology. This experience was key for me because I got to know most of the traditional functions of an IT operation. I exposed myself to these diverse areas out of technical curiosity and progressed naturally to the CIO role.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- You also went back to get an MBA, as many people profiled in the Beyond CIO series have. Why did you elect to do so?
- When you joined Starbucks, the role technology played was very different from what it would play when you left. How did this evolution toward developing a digital business model occur?
- How did you develop the Digital team?
- How did you elect to make the move to become Executive Vice President and President of Best Buy Digital, Global Marketing, and Strategy?
- This brings us to your latest stop as chief operating officer of Symantec. You are nearly half a year into your new role. What have you drawn from your prior experiences into this one?
- Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future at Symantec?
- What do you draw from your past experience as a CIO in your current role as a boss to one?
- What advice would you offer to others who wish to follow in your footsteps?