Dana Corp.: Ready, Set, CIO

By Kim S. Nash Print this article Print

The first global chief information officer of the $9.1 billion auto parts supplier attacked his job as if it was a critical technology project. Here's how Bruce Carver spent his first 100 days.

Bruce Carver stood before a dozen technology managers seated around a polished conference table at Dana Corp., a $9.1 billion automobile parts maker. As the group's new boss and Dana's first chief information officer, he was about to launch a PowerPoint presentation he calls the "World of Bruce." In the course of three hours and 11 slides that morning last September, Carver talked about his expectations.

Nearly every slide was a riff on the same themes: I'm direct. You can challenge my ideas—or anyone else's. But all decisions must be based on facts, not feeling.View the PDF -- Turn off pop-up blockers!

"You have to have an opinion on every aspect of our business," he said. "You can't succeed if the whole group doesn't."

He saw his managers look at each other and realized they hadn't expected that. Dana had long been decentralized, where people with the same titles in different divisions made different salaries—and technology decisions—depending on how well their business units did.

The first 100 days are critical for any new leader. Come in dictatorial, and you lose staff goodwill, making goals harder to achieve. Too contemplative, and you are seen as wishy-washy.

With 30 months being the average life of a CIO, the first three set the tone for the entire period, says Jonathan Poe, an analyst at Meta Group in Stamford, Conn. Early fumbles, such as a CIO thinking he alone can fix a technology department, are almost impossible to recover from, Poe says. Rather than cooperation, he points out, "The most you'll get is executive lip service."

Dana recruited Carver from PepsiCo, where he led technology for an $8.5 billion food and beverage unit in Chicago. Dana chief executive Mike Burns decided he needed a global CIO to streamline decentralized, inefficient groups of technology people and systems. Carver wasn't apt to get such an opportunity to mold corporate strategy at Pepsi, which runs computer systems as a service to its operating units out of a Dallas facility.

At Dana, Carver knew he had to build a launch pad for change. By the end of the first 100 days, he intended to create a single companywide technology organization out of the 709 technology managers and staff in more than 240 factories, engineering facilities and other offices worldwide.

He also had to figure out how much the company spent on technology each year. Dana had never tallied it before. Spending was hidden in two major division budgets and many marketing, accounting and other functional budgets. Carver's team would have to create a single budget and devise metrics to regulate it.

He also wanted to cut the number of technology suppliers. This would lower prices by increasing volume with each one, and lower maintenance costs, because there would be fewer types of software or hardware in place. But first he had to figure out how many vendors Dana already dealt with.

To underpin this, Carver had to establish Dana's technical direction, to help his people select software, hardware and networking gear and determine how to migrate to them.

Eventually, he wants to cut technology spending by 20%, once he gets a handle on budgets and technical direction.

Initially, Carver refrained from holding formal meetings where he'd be expected to map out his plans. He didn't want to jeopardize his credibility by hinting at ideas that could change if Burns and other top officers didn't approve.

Carver traveled to key factories and offices in the U.S. and Europe, to let staff question him face-to-face. He sought to instill confidence by telling stories about consolidations he'd done at Pepsi and Reynolds and Reynolds, which makes software for the auto industry. He told his staff they would have the power to make most decisions, such as which systems to tear down and how to build new ones, after studying the facts.

Carver's "World of Bruce" presentation on Sept. 14 was one of many tools he plied to make his mark in his first days at Dana.

As his PowerPoint hummed, Carver walked about, looking into the eyes watching him. "I'm not a white knight with all the answers," he told the group. They, not he, would shape plans. They, not he, would carry out change.

Then Carver brought it home: There was a lot of work to do. He had made commitments to the CEO. Now he wanted their commitment, even as he reorganized personnel and the leadership of technology operations.

"You have one opportunity to say whether you're on board," he would tell staff. "If you're not on board, you can have a graceful transition or an ungraceful one."

Baseline senior writer Kim S. Nash spent a day each month at Dana during Carver's first 100 days. Here's how he worked it.

This article was originally published on 2005-02-01
Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.
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