An outside-in view on IT management

An outside-in view on IT management

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August 13, 2015
Leadership CIO with lightbulb

NetSuite CIO, Douglas Brown, recalls that one member of his team once told him, “There’s really only three things I want from you as a manager: tell me what you want, don’t change your mind, and stay out of my way.”
 
He says that reflects his own management style. “It’s not that I have a magic wand and can coax things into being, sometimes I am just there to pose the hard questions. We have interesting problems and great engineers.  Once you have those key elements, you just have to have the discipline to give them space and room to innovate.”
 
Accordingly, he believes in crediting the team for his managerial results. “If you’re able to articulate goals well and you’ve got a motivated team, a high-powered team communicating well to a common goal, well that’s about as good as it gets,” he says.
 
“I tell my team I love it when they correct me,” he adds. “If I’m right all the time, then I wouldn’t need them! You have to have a sort of humility and maybe a nice thing that came out of my move across industry was that I knew I didn’t know everything.”
 
While there are many paths to the CIO role, Douglas Brown’s has to be viewed as atypical. He was a research chemist in a laboratory in Detroit, MI at Henkel Corp. with several patents in the field of anti-corrosive coatings for ferrous substrates, until he visited a buddy working at a startup in the San Francisco Bay Area and became enamored of the firm’s founders and business plan.
 
When he made that visit in 2000, that startup was known as NetLedger. NetSuite today has more than 4,000 employees and recorded $556.3 million in revenue for fiscal year 2014 from its cloud-based business software offerings.
 
“Chemistry was an exciting field, but there weren’t a lot of ‘We’re going to change the world’ moments,” Brown recalls of his career switch. “It was not as cool as what they were doing at NetLedger —  really changing the way businesses ran.”
 
Brown joined the firm as a quality assurance engineer and, he says, “came in to learn computer science with just entry-level knowledge.” Later he took on a leadership role on the QA team and subsequently led various engineering functions before being named to run data center operations for the NetSuite services.
 
Ultimately he became senior vice president of Engineering Operations, a role he still holds in combination with that of CIO. In that dual role, he has one foot inside and one foot outside the organization. “We are a vendor for other CIOs so I’m a consumer in one direction, a vendor in another,” he says.
 
His experience in on-the-job learning in the technology field influences his hiring and management philosophy. “I take the long term view that you get the most talent you can onto the field,” he says. “I always thought if you got motivated people who could solve problems over the long haul, they’d do great.”

Douglas A. Brown is Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer and Engineering Operations at NetSuite Inc. In his current role, Doug is responsible for up time, performance, security, and compliance of the NetSuite service as well as worldwide IT and facilities. Doug has worked for NetSuite for over 14 years, with previous experience as a Research Chemist at Henkel Corporation, and holds several patents in the field of anti-corrosive coatings for ferrous substrates. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Indiana University and a Masters in Science in Chemistry from the University of Detroit-Mercy.

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Pete Bartolik writes regularly about business technology and IT management issues for IDG. He was news editor of the IT management publication, Computerworld, and a reporter for a daily newspaper. He resides in Naples, Florida.

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