Vanguard CIO: When business leaders speak tech

Our business leaders have everyday conversations that include tech — and that's key to our success
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Consumers no longer compare your client experience to others in your industry. They expect the same fast, responsive, and seamless experience whether it’s booking a room, getting a ride, or investing their money. Technology has become the major disruptor of businesses and industries today.

At Vanguard, we understand this and proactively work to empower tech-savvy employees at every level and across all business units. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to know how to code; rather we want everyone to understand the possibilities that technology enables today.

This is something we focus on in IT – helping to increase the organization’s technological aptitude.

This pervasive understanding of technology and its role in business from the top down has undoubtedly helped to spotlight IT’s role in generating top-line results. But, just as important as growing tech-savvy business units, is ensuring that our IT group has a mutual understanding and appreciation of the business and its opportunities.

When senior leaders embrace technology’s role

Five years ago, there were very few members of our senior team who could explain what an API was, or the purpose it served. Their vocabulary didn't include "APIs," or related technologies – or their significance to business strategy.  

Fast-forward five years, and our business leaders regularly discuss technology in everyday conversations – including robotic process automation, the API economy, and cloud. They understand that technology gives businesses the ability to create new products and capabilities quickly, and share them, both internally and externally. They also acknowledge that technology is a major catalyst to both business strategy and scale. This shift came partially as a result of setting new expectations, educating our leaders, and showing the potential of having engineers and business leaders speaking the same language. 

This summer, Vanguard named Chief Investment Officer Tim Buckley as our new CEO. This appointment was noteworthy – not only because of his combination of tech-savvy, business acumen, and investment acumen – but also because he served as Vanguard’s Chief Information Officer for five years. He has a unique understanding of IT, which serves as a major advantage in today’s business world.  He understands how technology can solve business issues and drive strategic value.

[ Successful CIOs know the value of soft skills. See our related article: Top soft skills for IT leaders and how to master them. ]

Equally critical to our leaders’ understanding and acceptance of technology’s strategic role is ensuring that our employees share those same values. At Vanguard, one way we encourage developing technical acumen and innovation is by hosting hackathons. Small, cross-skilled teams collaborate around the clock to solve real problems they feel passionate about, without the constraints of the enterprise. It’s inspiring to see what a team of business and IT participants can create in a short time, utilizing their combined domain expertise and technical acumen. The top teams get the opportunity to present their ideas to both IT and business leaders for further consideration. In fact, one team of summer interns just had the chance to present their idea and results to our Chairman. 

Cultivating business-savvy IT

While it’s important for the organization to understand the role of technology, it’s just as important for members of our IT group to understand the business and its opportunities. Key to cultivating this mutual understanding has been a rotational program where business leaders spend time in IT, and vice versa. 

Today, the IT leadership team consists of leaders who have decades of experience running corporate strategy and business units. We have a legacy of rotating talented technologists into our business lines and then rotating them back to IT after they gain strategic business experience.  It’s one of the best ways to grow a truly blended executive that can steward our technology and business agendas. 

Programs like this require commitment and long-term career planning, but the payback is huge. Vanguard is invested in technology and in developing talent: We recognize the role that technology plays in helping drive business results. Building a well-rounded workforce where the business and IT are mutually respected will help you innovate, collaborate, scale in the marketplace, and achieve the experience your clients expect, no matter your market.

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John T. Marcante is Vanguard’s chief information officer and managing director of Vanguard’s Information Technology Division. Vanguard is one of the world’s largest investment management companies. As of May 31, 2021, Vanguard managed more than $7.9 trillion in global assets.

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