An Interview with Brian Beams, CIO, Pharmavite
THE ENTERPRISERS PROJECT: A recent Computerworld survey of 489 IT professionals showed that 55% didn’t aspire to be CIO, in part because the meetings, budgets, politics and comparatively low status make the job unattractive. Is this true to your experience?
BEAMS: To me that says half of CIOs are still stuck in the old school and not really business focused. That’s surprising. I’ve always been a business-first, IT second executive. And meetings, budgets, and politics are just part of being an executive, no matter the function.
TEP: Clearly there’s a perception gap between some CIOs and the rest of their executives. Is that a self-fulfilling problem?
BEAMS: There is a perception problem that CIOs and IT as a whole have to get past, the whole “If you need to know how to silence your iPhone, call your IT person” thing. People can have this very particular view of you and have to be pretty open-minded to get past it. It’s a Geoffrey Moore-like chasm to cross for some. When you think about it, though, the CIO is the one executive who really understands the enterprise business process end to end.
TEP: How have you dealt with this chasm yourself?
BEAMS: I was immediately given a seat at the C-suite table here, but I still had to earn the right to get past the IT guy stereotype. After I first talked to our head of Sales he said, “You don’t sound like any CIO I’ve ever talked to, because it’s all about business first.” We say at Pharmavite that when you walk into the executive team, you wear your big hat. You’re a business executive first, not a functional head of Manufacturing, Sales, Marketing or IT. That’s your little hat.
TEP: Another finding in the research was that the CIO’s work/life balance was only getting harder to manage. How have you struck the right balance?
BEAMS: Work/life balance is paramount for me. I’m strategic in nature but I don’t like surprises. So no matter what is going on within IT, whenever we have an issue with any system or user group, we have an NTK, or Need to Know, process. My team communicates and does an NTK (via email) on any issue where there may be an impact to a large user group or critical function of the business. The NTK covers what’s the issue, what’s the impact, who’s impacted, and have they called the HelpDesk? So, if our Shanghai network connection goes down, we might be able to mediate it thanks to an NTK before those local users wake up the next morning. The key is to not wait for the call from the users, then ‘react’, but act on the ‘alerts’ from your enterprise monitoring tools and be proactive. That’s just one operational aspect that adds to work/life balance considerably. Thanks to our NTK process, if there’s an issue I need to know about—it’s instantly there on my iPhone with the information that I need.
I get to work early, so if I don’t have anything going on after 4 PM, I try to cut out for the gym. If an issue arises that is truly important, one of my team will contact me directly via the phone. Once you earn the trust of your team and your executives to have that flexibility, you sleep pretty well.
Brian Beams joined Pharmavite, LLC (Makers of Naturemade Vitamins & SOYJOY Nutrition Bars) in June 2010. He is responsible for determining the strategic direction of the company’s IT solutions, infrastructure and technology operations, as well as the company’s customer and consumer-facing technologies. This includes enterprise solutions (supply chain, manufacturing, warehousing / transportation and corporate systems), web/ecommerce presence, telecommunications / mobile, networking, service desk, enterprise infrastructure and data center operations. He is an officer and member of the Executive Team. His IT organization supports all hardware, applications software, network, and telecom-related activities for approximately 1,200+ employees in manufacturing, marketing and sales.