Secrets Of The Greatest CIO For Hire In History
Charlie Feld was one of the first outstanding CIOs in corporate America, as he rose to the top of the IT function at Frito-Lay. As Feld overcame the early challenges of the post, and developed a mature IT department, he found that he longed for the challenge of the early days once again. He elected to found his own firm, The Feld Group. It would provide temporary CIO services for behemoths like Southwest Airlines, Delta, and BNSF. Feld’s influence was felt across a variety of industries, and he has become an eminence gris of the IT community. He was one of the earliest inductees in CIO magazine’s CIO Hall of Fame, in recognition of his superior contribution to the IT field.
Along the way, many Feld Group employees went on to become CIOs at the companies that they consulted to, and therefore, Charlie Feld’s influence in the world of IT can be measured not from his own significant contribution, but also from the contribution of the many leaders who he spawned.
I recently spoke with Charlie about the importance of the first 100 days of one’s tenure, the need to get results early while creating a strong foundation that can be built upon. Given the number of first 100 days he has navigated with his clients, there is perhaps no better person to talk about the CIO’s first 100 days as Feld.
(To hear two unabridged interviews with Charlie Feld, please visit this link and this link. This is the 18th interview in the CIO’s First 100 Days series. To read past interviews with the CIOs of Intel, Caterpillar, Time Warner, J. Crew, and Johnson & Johnson among others, please visit this link. To be apprised of future interviews in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: The Feld Group was a rare breed of firm when you founded it. In providing advice and guidance to a leadership team and to the IT team in the throes of some sort of transformation, your team and you became a “CIO for hire” group that focused your attention on the early stages of that transformation when there is the most uncertainty. What drew you to this model?
Charlie Feld: After over a decade of being the CIO at Frito-Lay, I felt myself getting stale. Upon examining my career I realized that the enjoyment and satisfaction I gained from my role at Frito-Lay came from the early years of my tenure. It was the uncertainty, lack of direction and employee morale, and the challenge of turning the IT group around that appealed to me. During the course of this turnaround, we were able to put together a strategy and a plan, hire the right people and rebuild the culture to have a real impact on the business.
Realizing that I enjoyed the early years of a CIO’s tenure, I opted to forgo staying at Frito-Lay (PepsiCo) or becoming the CIO of another large company. Instead I decided to build my own company, focused on the beginning stages of a CIO’s role to ensure I could always be involved in solving the challenges I had such a passion for.
I started The Feld Group with a “dream” of leading the early two-years of an IT turnaround at a number of companies that were struggling with – mergers that did not proceed as smoothly as desired, troubled IT initiatives, or major business model changes. The Group’s first client was the BNSF merger, where we discovered, early on, that most of the talent in the client organization was very good but lacked a well-articulated agenda that aligned with the business and the IT leadership to drive the change.
The Feld Group’s “CIO for Hire” model was embedded in BNSF to develop the plan and successfully executed the merger. In addition, we left behind the roadmaps, architectures, leadership and culture to sustain long term success. I’m proud to say that 20 years later they are still a well-run IT organization. From there we went to Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, CBS, Southwest Airlines and a number of other challenges with similar success.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- Why is it so difficult for many CIO’s to connect with the business to clearly articulate a compelling agenda that is well understood and embraced by the Executive Team?
- You and your Feld Group teams have a framework that seemed to be able to bridge this chasm and eliminate these “Blind Spots” to use in the CIOs first 100 days and beyond. Can you describe it?
- What other trends particularly excite you as you look forward, say, five years?
- That begs the larger question of: What does it take to become this new definition of a successful CIO in the 21st century? Should they have more business orientation or more technical capability?
- You have mentored a number of terrific IT leaders. How did you approach their development?