Former Musician Turned Board-Level CIO, BDP International’s Angela Yochem’s Unconventional Path To The Top Of IT
Angela Yochem is the Global Chief Information Officer of BDP International, a privately held, multi-billion dollar revenue company providing global logistics solutions to some of the largest companies in the world. The company specializes in movements of materials that require special handling, either across borders or special physical handling. Yochem notes that logistics is the “final frontier in competitive advantage for many of our customers.” Naturally, IT has a big role to play in facilitating the major logistics organization that fuels these competitive advantages. For instance, many logistics operations provide historical and real-time data on the goods that they ship. Yochem’s IT department provides predictive analytics, scenario planning, and blended cost analyses to enable clients to make better decisions.
Yochem had an unusual path to become an IT executive. She studied music as an undergraduate before getting a master’s degree in computer science. Though she had learned to love technology as a child programming with her father, she credits the study of music, and the discipline and teamwork it takes to be successful as offering critical lessons for her in her rise through the ranks of numerous IT departments.
More recently, she has joined the boards of three subsidiaries of BDP International as well as the board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh. In my interview with her, Yochem provides interesting insights into the path she took to become a board-level CIO, the insights she has brought to the boards she serves, and the insights she has brought back to her day-to-day responsibilities as a CIO.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this interview, please visit this link. This is the eighth article in the Board-Level CIO series. To read the prior seven articles, please visit this link. To read future articles in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: You have been an IT executive at multiple companies in multiple industries. You were a divisional CIO at Dell, a CTO at AstraZeneca, and now a CIO at BDP International. As you contemplate your journey, how have you seen the IT executive role evolve?
Angela Yochem: Early on, I made my stamp in the industry in the era of cost savings, and at the time the mindset was always that “IT is bloated, IT spends too much money,” – and by the way, we did. The way most businesses had evolved, whether organically – with high focus in regional growth – or through acquisition, we tended to end up with a lot of redundancy across multiple regions around the world, especially in some of the global organizations at which I’ve worked.
As a result, at the time when I was becoming an executive the focus tended to be, “How can we reduce the complexity?” It was absolutely the right thing to do at that point in time to free up investment. I don’t get too many of those questions anymore: On one hand, most companies, including BDP, have already gone through that process. Very few forward-thinking, or even just the average players, are looking at a plain, pure cost play in the IT space.
Rather, progressive companies look at IT as a differentiating capability for the company. As a result, we have a lot of conversations about investments because how we manage technology investment, not only within the IT division but outside the IT division, determines how we are going to pay for some things that are differentiating both for our customers and for the company. The biggest change I see is that shift from cost containment to conversations about smart investment that could change the way our customers interact with our company, and the type of value we provide to our customers.
IT has an opportunity to take deep dives into every single line of business and into every corporate function. We can engage as deeply as we wish in the leadership teams of those respective lines of business and corporate functions. There are very few cases in which we get the stiff arm from someone. If we choose to engage, or want to engage in a business-focused way, we’re always welcome to do so. I just wish I saw more IT leaders taking advantage of that opportunity.
High: I know from recent news that you have become the Board member of three different subsidiaries of BDP: BDP Transport, BDP Global Services for Europe, and BDP Global Services for Asia-Pacific. Can you talk about your responsibilities with each of these subsidiaries?
Yochem: BDP International is a privately held company. It is about 50 years old, and is owned today by a group of four owners. We have multiple entities inside of BDP International that serve different customer segments and look after many different market segments. Since technology has a very strong role to play in best serving our customers in a differentiated way, as well as expansion into new markets and into new customers, I have an opportunity to serve on some of those boards. My tenure hasn’t begun yet, but it will be an exciting experience. I’m looking very much forward to it.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- You also represent what I find to be the next iteration of the value that IT leaders can provide, by serving on the Board of Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, an external organization. This has perhaps eluded a lot of talented IT executives in the past for a variety of reasons. I would like to understand your own speculations as to why that might be, how this opportunity presented itself, and why it was attractive.
- What have you brought back to your own organization from this experience?
- Do you have any means of speculating why, historically, CIOs have not been members of boards?
- For others who might wish to walk in your footsteps, what kind of advice would you offer them?
- You have an ambition to become a CEO one day. Thankfully, there are others who have taken that path, though it’s not one that’s been frequently trodden upon. I think it’s very admirable to have that as your own personal strategy. Could you speak about that ambition?
- I’m so pleased by the growing number of CIOs I’m speaking with who are women. You’ve operated in the IT function from a time when there was a real paucity of female talent to one with a growing amount of it. Where and how have you seen that evolve as somebody who’s worked at all levels of the function multiple times over?
- You obviously were somebody who studied engineering at the graduate level, but interestingly enough, you studied music at the undergraduate level. I’m very curious about your path from music into engineering, into IT, and ultimately into your current role.
- Have you found your undergraduate music degree an advantage in your professional life?