Forbes CIO-plus Series: Chris Scalet, Merck

December 28, 2012
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As the former EVP of Global Services and Chief Information of Merk, Chris Scalet oversaw the centralizing of IT infrastructure, Human Resources, and Finance, but  the devil was in the details.

by Peter High, published on


This is the fifth article in the CIO-plus series, covering CIOs whose roles have been augmented due to the good work they did first and foremost as CIOs, but also recognizing that the good work translated into other areas.  (You can access the prior four articles here) I recently spoke with Chris Scalet, the former executive vice president, Global Services, and Chief Information Officer at Merck & Co., Inc. as part of the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Scalet developed one of the first shared services organizations at Merck when he centralized infrastructure, yielding a nine-figure savings per year in the process.  The CEO of the company was sufficiently impressed that he asked Scalet to do the same in other parts of the company.  Scalet began with Human Resources and with Finance, but eventually took responsibility for a wider array of functions.  Scalet humbly surmises that the path he pursued should be accessible and achievable by most CIOs, no matter the industry, though he readily admits that the devil is in the details.

Peter High:
Chris, you began your time at Merck as the company’s CIO. Your role was augmented substantially as your tenure continued.  What was it about the CIO role that lent itself well to this augmentation?

Chris Scalet:
There are four factors that come to mind.  First, most CIO’s have a strong business mindset.  They have a strong tendency to focus significantly on the business processes that underpin the operations of the company.  Throughout their careers, they have likely digitized the majority of these processes and have developed a broad and deep understanding of how they fit together as well as how they flow to move the business.

Second, CIO’s today are strategic in their thinking.  They have been forced to be in both a business and a technology sense.  Both business environment and technology are changing quickly, often at paces that are considerably faster than in the past.  Reacting to change is no longer acceptable.   To be effective today, CIO’s must anticipate where both are going, make choices, and put actions in place that make sure the two are effectively aligned.

Third, CIO’s are operational thinkers who are organized and methodical in their thinking.  They can break down complex business problems into simple tasks, and work to solve each simultaneously.  They are also effective risk managers who can see around the corners and ensure proper contingency plans are in place to manage the business.

Finally, CIO’s are generally very good influencers up, down, and across the organization.  They have developed the appropriate skills to set a vision and sell the vision across the organization.

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • What are all the functions and responsibilities that fit under the Global Services umbrella?
  • What was the rationale for augmenting the CIO role? Were there aspects of what was accomplished in IT that you and your colleagues saw as particularly translatable across other parts of the organization?
  • After you took over the various functions you mentioned, did the teams in those functions remain independent of each other, or was there cross-pollination happening from a staff perspective?
  • What other industries do you think this model translates to particularly well?

To read the full article, please visit

To explore other CIO-plus Series articles, please click here.

To explore the Technovation Column library, please click here.

To listen to Chris Scalet’s Forum on World Class IT podcast interview, please click here.

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