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“Whatever your culture, you can get a kind of tunnel vision if you only work in a certain geography or role as a CIO.”
Dana Deasy, BP Group CIO
How to evolve into a Global 100 CIO
Image: Nick Ballon
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How to evolve into a Global 100 CIO

Kenny MacIver – October 2012

A mix of international and cross-industry experience is vital to reach the upper echelons of the profession, says BP CIO Dana Deasy.

It was a defining moment in the career of Dana Deasy, and one that set in motion a rise to the highest levels of the IT profession. Deasy, the CIO at oil and gas giant BP, was at the time working as IT director for Rockwell’s highest-profile division, the unit of the aerospace company that built the Space Shuttle.

Deasy’s boss – and his informal mentor – took him aside and laid down a provocative challenge: “You’re in your early 30s, you’re talented, and you can certainly aspire to be the top IT person at Rockwell. But after 13 years here you’re in danger of having a label on your forehead that reads 'aerospace IT only.’ And soon it’s going to be hard for people to consider you for jobs in other industries.” The alternative career path he spelled out was that with the right blend of career development, direction and experience, Deasy could aim higher – much higher.

It was a wake-up call for Deasy, whose career in the build-up to the top IT position at BP, went on to span industrial distribution (Invetech Co), vehicle manufacturing (General Motors), electronics and healthcare (Tyco) and electronics and electrical engineering (Siemens). For others at that crossroads, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned, he says: “It’s easy to get comfortable when you’re in the early part of your career and see it beginning to accelerate. You get respected inside your company and you get lulled into the sense that this is as good as it gets. I was just fortunate enough that the guy that hired me for my first job in management was ‘old school,’ developing me by being really tough, telling me every day what I was doing wrong.

“He’d say, ‘I’m putting you on a track and I'm going to run you around so you develop mental toughness. In this job you’re going to deal with all kinds of issues and a lot of conflict, and the sooner you develop some tactics for dealing with them, the better.’” Years later he told Deasy that the reason for that approach was he saw the right mix of skills and capabilities. “Of course, I ultimately realized he was doing it to help me, but at the time I remember going home in the evening thinking, ‘Why do I have to get the mean boss?’”
Different cultures, different thinking

Either way, being put under pressure to aim higher early on in his career has paid off handsomely for Deasy, as has the global experience he has amassed along the way.

“Getting international experience early on in your career is really key because, inevitably, as a big-company CIO you’ll need to be well-versed in how to manage an internationally dispersed workforce,” he says.

At BP, his team of more than 3,000 is concentrated in the UK and the US but ultimately extends across 50-plus countries worldwide. “In dealing with a global workforce you come face to face with all kinds of facets of different cultures, different ways of thinking and the challenges that come along with that.”

Deasy, who is originally from Southern California, says he encountered that most abruptly when he took on the Americas CIO job at Munich-headquartered Siemens in the early years of the last decade. Until that point he had only worked for US-based companies, and, by his own admission, had a limited world view. “I remember working at General Motors (GM) and people coming to see me from GM’s Asia or European operations, trying to explain to me why the IT policy or processes that we were trying to apply from the US didn’t quite fit with the things they needed to get done.

“Whatever your culture, you can get a kind of tunnel vision if you only work in a certain geography or role as a CIO. You think, ‘Come on, it’s just IT, why can’t we just do things in exactly the same way all around the world?’”

The boot shifted to the other foot when he arrived at Siemens.“I was now spending weeks of my life asking the people in Germany why we couldn’t do things differently in the US to their standard approach.” But the lessons were not just that one-size doesn’t always fit all; the international CIO’s role requires the development of a depth of cultural affinity too.

At Siemens, as well as his CIO’s job, Deasy was responsible for the company's early ebusiness initiatives. “We were getting ready to roll out a global strategy, which I was due to present to the board. So naturally, I wanted to get feedback from my colleagues around the world.”

After presenting the strategy for two hours to the US team in Atlanta he was met, as anticipated, with a barrage of challenging feedback. The next day he flew to Munich and showed the same PowerPoints, only to see his colleagues sit cross-armed and silent throughout and then declare that they couldn't possibly make any kind of decision or give any real insight without a lot more information and dialog.

“It suddenly dawned on me that I was presenting to people who simply go about their job and think about the world in very different ways,” says Deasy. “In the end I didn’t actually know which of those three groups I had on board. That experience was a really big wake-up call on learning how to think and act when engaging with different cultures.” Looking back, Deasy believes that it was precisely this combination of acquired cross-cultural sensitivity and cross-industry experience – the ability, in other words, to aim higher and think wider that helped him land the top IT job at BP.

“I’m sometimes asked what it was that made BP consider me versus other candidates and the thing I’d highlight is the combination of working for large-scale companies, international experience and also a breadth of background,” he says. “If you have learned how to work in the aerospace industry, in automotive, in high-tech, in a conglomerate environment, there is confidence you have transferable skills that will also apply in oil and gas.”

Update: Dana Deasy is due to become CIO at JPMorgan Chase in December 2013.

First published
October 2012
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About: Dana Deasy
Dana Deasy, group CIO at energy multinational BP and mentor to aspiring global IT leaders, shares his unique perspective on what it takes to reach the highest levels of business.

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