By Peter High, published on Forbes
Rick King has had an unusual path to the CIO role of Thomson Reuters. He began his professional career as a high school teacher and as a coach. In his mind, continues to play both roles. He has taken great pride in building great and loyal teams. Moreover, he has pushed Thomson Reuters to have a remarkably diverse mix of women in information technology, though he is first to note that he wants to push the envelope further on that front.
King has joined the elite but growing club of CIOs who have joined the boards of publicly traded companies, as he is on the board of the bank holding company, TCF Financial. In this interview, he offer insights on how others might follow his lead toward board membership, how best to leverage external partners, how to build world class teams, along with a variety of other topics.
Peter High:I thought we would begin with your role as Chief Information Officer at Thomson Reuters. Your organization is information based — data is the key ingredient. How do you, as CIO, and your IT team add value in ways that are different than your peer CIOs that are at organizations that produce physical products, for example?
Rick King: It is significant because you are not the creator of a lot of technologies. However, you use many leading technologies to do things with your data that are unique and that your customers find value in. IT’s responsibility is to ensure that the infrastructure and innovation aspects are in place so that our product people are free to create a product that can go after data sets and harvest unique insights from them. That requires having the data and being able to manipulate it. We deal with different data sets worldwide; abiding by restrictions, like permissions and entitlements; and then allowing the analytics to go after the key insight that somebody is looking for. IT is right in the middle of the value proposition at Thomson Reuters. We are not selling the technology but rather the delivery of the content. The insights and the information that are our product come from having a strong, creative, innovative, and execution oriented technology team.
High: I know that you have always taken great pride in building strong teams, in both recruiting and retaining strong people. This dates to your first job as a teacher and coach before joining corporate America and eventually IT in organizations like Josten’s Learning, Ceridian, and since 2000, Thomson Reuters. Today, top technology talent is increasingly sought after as different divisions, beyond just IT organizations, are looking for people who are technology savvy and technology experienced. What insights can you share about building and retaining strong teams?
King: There is nothing like a strong team to attract strong players. As of the first hire you have to build a team that is strong at technology and strong at delivery. Then, every hire must raise that capability, not diminish it. To do that I involve the team in the hiring situation, they bring in the players that up their game. I think people stay at a place if they work with smart people, they have good tools to use, and the infrastructure works for them.
The career path is as important as anything else. What is my opportunity here? Can I progress? Can I progress by a technology track? Can I progress into a management track? Or maybe, can I move into non-technology product development or an innovation type of role? Having these capabilities as an organization requires first that the people leading the team, the management over the group, and the executive over the group have a vision, and second, that they have dialogues with people. Career planning and succession planning are two things that we do not do enough of for people. If team members are doing interesting work with interesting people at a place that is interesting to them, they will only look up when they have a break between projects, and that is when you want to make sure thattheyknow thatyou know a lot aboutthem and that there are steps in place for them to progress. You create a depth chart just like you do as a coach. You have to know who is lined up behind whom. It is all about the team. You do not get anything done without good people. Team building, team retention; that is our number one goal.
High: With an organization as expansive as Thomson Reuters, do you try to find opportunities for your team members inside and outside of IT to give people a degree of breadth of experience and not just depth of experience?
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