FedEx’s Rob Carter On What It Takes To Be A Board-Level CIO
There are few chief information officers with as stellar a reputation as Rob Carter’s. He has played an integral role in FedEx’s sophisticated logistics and analytics systems, which have been sources of efficiency for the company and its customers, and have fueled tremendous revenue growth at the same time. It is not surprising that Carter has been asked to sit on the boards of multiple companies including Saks Incorporated and First Horizon National Corporation. He has added tremendous value to each board, but as he notes herein, he has also gained a lot for himself and for his company in the process. It has afforded him tremendous insights into two industries of critical importance to FedEx (retail and financial services), and it has continued to hone his business skills.
It is that last point that he reiterated multiple times in my conversation with him: IT leaders need to think in terms of business value, and need to communicate in a similar fashion to other executives across the company. These are pre-requisites to be asked to lead other functions, as Rob has done, but they are also pre-requisites for CIOs with the ambition to join the boards of other companies as well.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of my interview with Rob, please visit this link. This is the second article in the Board-Level CIO series. To see a summary of the series, please click this link. To read future articles in the series, including interviews with Board-Level CIOs from Intel, Texas Instruments, Cardinal Health, Lincoln Trust, and BDP International, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: Rob, you were instrumental in transitioning FedEx from a package delivery company to an incredibly sophisticated logistics company. Can you provide an overview of that transition to being a company for which technology is so strategic?
Rob Carter: FedEx is a special place when it comes to applied technology. Our chairman and founder, Fred Smith, said all the way back in 1978 that the information about the package was as important as the package itself. This established a culture that made information central to our mission in order to strategically scale a business.
Now it is the backbone of how we operate the company, from delivering ten million plus packages each day, to how we interface with our customers; it is all technology based. We have one group of people who do an incredible job for our customers, but the tools that they use to make sure things are running smoothly and that nothing is overlooked are technologies aligned with the pulse of the business.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- Can you elaborate on the evolution of your responsibilities and why you and the company determined that having the single role of CIO was best?
- Could you talk a little bit more about your initial foray into board membership, and what needs these organizations had that you helped fill?
- Is the lack of CIO’s sitting on a board more of a reflection of something lacking among CIOs (experience, skills, knowledge), or a lack of creative thinking on the parts of the executives of companies?
- Is there wisdom that you might impart upon those who might wish to emulate your experience?
- What excites you in terms of the future of technology? What are certain trends that you are keen to leverage three to four years in advance?
- Given these tremendous, new opportunities, what new skills are necessary within the IT department in order to ensure that value is in fact seized?