NextGen CIO: Business skills are key for aspiring CIOs

ZDNet caught up with Pierre Matthee, CIO at General Motors Korea and one of five mentors on the NextGen CIO program. He shared some pointers on the key skills that aspiring CIOs should accumulate, and also about his own development path to the CIO role.
Written by ZDNet Australia team , Contributor

Pierre Matthee, CIO at General Motors Korea, and one of five mentors on the NextGen CIO program, says that the key skills for a CIO are business skills.

(Credit: GM Korea)

"Firstly, you must be an effective communicator. You must also have business acumen, particularly a good understanding of the business and industry sector you work in. You need to understand from a strategic level how IT can impact the business. Thirdly, you must know how to be an effective team player. That means acting sometimes as a team leader, other times as an effective team member. Teamwork is very important, as you are heavily dependent on your colleagues to be successful at work."

IT is absolutely strategic to the design, engineering, and manufacturing areas of General Motors. Every minute of their day is supported by IT, whether it's CAD systems or virtual-reality capabilities.

Technology has become very important to the sales and marketing groups. The auto world is evolving, with a lot of vehicles now sold online, and social environments have become more important in marketing. Matthee said that this has been a big change in the past 10 years.

GM Korea manufactures and exports to around 150 countries, and the logistics, supply chain, and manufacturing teams view IT as a critical capability to achieve efficiency and cost-effective quality.

On his path to becoming a CIO, Matthee said he had a general plan to get into an IT leadership role, but didn't initially target the CIO role. In his early career, he spent time in consulting roles for IT vendors NEC and HP. While working in these roles with senior IT leaders as clients, he made a conscious decision to position for a CIO role.

As part of his career-development plan, he therefore decided to take up a role at consulting firm Deloitte to develop his business skills, consulting experience, and network. During this time, Matthee worked on assignments at client General Motors, and demonstrated his capabilities as a commercially focused IT leader. This led to his recruitment by GM Holden as strategic IT sourcing manager, with a brief to transition GM Holden away from a single-source IT supplier. Matthee successfully completed this large assignment, and feels that it was key to demonstrating to GM Holden that he was the right guy to take up the CIO role when it became available.

Matthee did not have formal mentors, but is indebted to informal mentoring spanning a 25-year period from Duncan MacCallum, who currently consults for IT companies in Australia and sits on IT company boards. "We worked together at NEC, and I have kept in close touch with him ever since," said Matthee. "Duncan has been an immense source of support and guidance. And while there were benefits to both parties in the relationship, I have been by far the major beneficiary."

While GM Holden is quite a small cog in the overall General Motors machine, Matthee said it was a very good learning ground, as it is a "full-service" entity encompassing design, engineering, manufacturing, and sales. It was a great environment for him to become familiar with all of the key aspects of the auto business, and it gave him the chance to show that he could operate successfully across the different parts of the business. With that experience under his belt, he was ready to take up the CIO role at GM Holden Korea when the opportunity arose.

That was a big step up in terms of scale. GM has eight manufacturing plants in Korea, compared to GM Holden, which has two manufacturing plants: one in Adelaide and one in Melbourne. In addition, Matthee's role includes responsibility for supporting operations in Vietnam and Uzbekistan, the latter being a legacy of prior owner Daewoo's partnership with the Uzbeki government.

Asked about the advice he'd give aspiring CIOs, Matthee says they must demonstrate they can make a contribution.

"One of the key things is to make sure you're visible to the business leadership in positive, quantifiable ways. You need to demonstrate you have the key attributes for leadership, and give the business leadership confidence they can trust you. You need to demonstrate leadership and show you have ideas for how IT can support the business — and that varies from company to company.

"You have to demonstrate strong presence of person. You can't sit in the corner, unnoticed in meetings. You have to sell yourself, yet not oversell yourself. In senior leadership meetings, you need to show you can influence the outcome of the topic being reviewed without necessarily having control over the final outcome. That shows an ability to lead by influence. It shows an ability to lead 'from behind,' it demonstrates you're being a team player.

"Business leaders look for people who are confident of holding the mantle of IT leadership, who can instil confidence in their ability. This is a challenge, because a lot of IT people are not so great with soft skills."

Away from his work, Matthee finds relaxation in physical exercise. He does a lot of running, tackling a couple of marathons a year, and was due to run a half-marathon on the weekend following our interview.

"Running is key to balancing my physical and mental state," said Matthee. "It's a form of meditation; there's no mobile phone."

Matthee also enjoys walking in the mountains surrounding his current home in Seoul, a contrast to his prior leisure pursuits while in Melbourne, which were more focused around beach activities.

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