BostonCIO Keynote: GE CIO shares what he looks for in IT talent

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When GE CIO Jim Fowler gave the keynote speech at the Boston CIO Leadership Association annual awards event this year, he gave more background on the company’s planned relocation of its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston. At the time, the news was still fresh, and Fowler explained that after considering 20 cities, GE chose Boston in part because of its rich technology and education communities. 

Among the benefits of the move that Fowler cited is the ability to attract talent to Boston. The Enterprisers Project caught up with Fowler to learn more about what he looks for when hiring technology talent as GE aims to become a $15 billion, top 10 software company “in a relatively short period of time.” 

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): What traits do you consider essential when hiring well-rounded technology talent? What do you look for?

Fowler: At GE, our people are our differentiator. We spend a great deal of time making sure we put the right person, with the right skills, in the right role – at the right time. We look to hire clear thinkers who are adaptive and agile. We want people with a strong sense of imagination who are also willing to take risks. Most of all I’m looking for people who have the ability to influence. Driving change is probably the hardest part of the job and influence is key.

TEP: Can you talk a little about your efforts to recruit millennial technology talent? What has surprised you most as you get to know this generation of technology talent? How are your efforts going to bring attract millennials?

Fowler: A few years ago when we talked about how to attract millennials, we went straight to the source and assembled a group of young leaders to get their perspective on a whole host of things. That helped us redefine how we were looking at things – we want to do more than retain employees, we want to inspire them. Another key takeaway was that the workforce is more global and diverse than ever and everyone has different needs. So, we changed our benefits package to adopt a model that allows customization for each employee. You’ve also probably seen the “Owen” commercials. We’ve been successful by being self-aware and making fun of our reputation as an “old school” company and talking honestly about how we’re evolving. It’s an exciting time to be a part of GE and we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in the volume of young job seekers.

TEP: What do you think will be your most challenging talent needs/problems/issues to overcome in the next year, and why?

Fowler: We’re trying to become a $15 billion, top 10 software company in a relatively short period of time, and we’re competing with the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working to change the perception of GE as an industrial company to one that is at the forefront of the digital industrial transformation. The war for talent is real, and we’re putting a lot of energy into attracting the right people to GE to join us on this transformation journey. This is a tremendous challenge and opportunity for us. In addition to our advertising campaigns, we’re making real change internally to ensure we’re creating the right environment to attract and retain talent to GE. This includes everything from changing the way we conduct our performance reviews to the technology and services we provide to our employees.

TEP: As a CIO, how do you stay current? Are there other types of media and peer sources that you’re using to help do that beyond Boston CIO?
Fowler: I have teenagers, so that helps. They‘re always pushing the limits of new technology – breaking rules and playing with the possibilities. I often see the future of work through them and think about whether we can apply what they’re doing to the work we do at GE. I spend time on Twitter and LinkedIn to see what’s on their minds of my peers and other big thinkers and I try to engage in interesting conversations – both on and offline – as much as possible.

As community manager for The Enterprisers Project, Ginny Hamilton helps build the site's community of CIOs, IT leaders, and readers. She is responsible for helping tell the stories of leading IT executives – showcasing the projects, experiences, and challenges they're facing in their roles as IT leaders.


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