CIO at The American University of Paris

Can you please provide a little introduction about yourself

I have the enviable position of CIO for an American liberal arts college in France – The American University of Paris. It combines the best of both countries and the challenges of both, as well.

What has your journey to your position been like? What path have you taken?

My path has been anything but direct. I started out in the Humanities, training to be an academic, and I realized that what I enjoyed more than my specific area of research was the readily available contact I had with communities of curious, intelligent, methodical people in search of new approaches and better answers. After earning my doctorate, I went back to school to learn more about higher education administration and fell in love with business intelligence. I found myself coordinating the activities of people involved in data management and analysis, eventually landing in the CIO role. I have held the role in a few institutions, but the initial excitement of using information technology management to provide the ingredients of business intelligence for decision support has been the most consistent and persistent element among them.

Has it always been your vision to reach the position you’re at? Was your current role part of your vision to become a tech leader?

My vision was to be involved in a community of curious, intelligent, methodical people who could bring out the best in me and whom I could help in return. Team building, strategy development, and data management led me to the role I have, but my vision keeps changing as new challenges emerge. There is so much more to learn and so much more to explore.

CIO Guest interview 1

Have you had a role model or mentor that has helped you on your journey?

Every new opportunity has brought with it role models and mentors, but the earliest have stayed with me the longest and continue to make the biggest difference. People from Belmont University (Nashville, TN) like William E. Troutt (ret’d), Martha Kelley (University of TN), Susan Williams (ret’d), and Scott Hummer (Klokare) taught me how to take my academic training and shape it to address practical, evidence-based problems. They taught me methods, perspectives, frameworks, and leadership. I could not have asked for a better start than the one they offered me, and I am grateful every day for the way their guidance continues to shape my approach to the CIO role.

How do you see the role of the technology leader evolving over the next 5 years?

Taking a cue from Simon Wardley, the landscape and the climate are changing rapidly. The role of the technology leader will gravitate further toward assisting the business in making sense of these changes in order to take advantage of them at the right time – too early, and costs will mount; too late, and the opportunity will be missed. The I in CIO may stand for information, but it may also stand for integration, interoperability, and initiative – all of which have some relationship to technology but are not synonymous with it.

What skills do you think leaders of the future will need in order to thrive?

Business skills. Partnership skills. Leadership skills. The future of organizations does not need better technologists to be their leaders but better business partners with leadership abilities. This perspective will sound completely logical to one reader and completely illogical to another. While many organizations seeking a CIO frame the role in terms of technological expertise, few appear to value a leader specifically for technological expertise.

How do you keep current with new skills, technologies and personal development?

Nothing substitutes for curiosity, but there are so many articles to read, videos to watch, and conversations to join. For me, the quickest way to keep current is to ask vendors to bring me up to speed. I start the request by stating that I know nothing, and I let them go from there. Moreover, bringing staff to these presentations has proved to be a valuable way to provide professional development and team building at the same time while affording an opportunity to assess how current the team is.

What do you see as the next leap in technology that will impact your business or industry in particular?

Tools that make good use of artificial intelligence and automation have the potential to extend the staffing we have and perhaps even improve on the functions they provide with manual tools and processes. The winners will be those who are willing to release their deep and lengthy investments in the legacy tools and do so quickly.

"Listen. Learn. Respect. Above all, never believe that you must have all the answers or be the most intelligent person in the conversation."
If you were mentoring a leader of the future, what advice or guidance would you give to help them on their way?

Listen. Learn. Respect. Above all, never believe that you must have all the answers or be the most intelligent person in the conversation. As Simon Sinek says, if something is complicated – and isn’t everything we’re working on complicated – ask questions. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or even looking stupid, you’re brave. The courage to ask questions serves leaders better than pretending to have the answers or even having all the answers. Asking questions brings along everyone else in the discussion.

Is there anything in particular that you would still like to achieve in your career or what is the next step on your journey?

The next step is, as John Wooden would say, to make this day my masterpiece. I take each day as it comes, one day at a time, and I’m happy to encounter its surprises.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I don’t know how to phrase this so that it sounds less flippant or cliché, but it has to do with diminishing fear. The anger, the divisiveness, the friction, and the fractiousness of the world both feeds on fear and multiplies it.

A big thank you to Robert (Bob) Johnson from The American University of Paris for sharing his journey to date.

If you would like to gain more perspective from Tech Leaders and CIOs you can read some of our other interviews here.

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The CIO Circle Editor
Post by The CIO Circle Editor
March 16, 2023