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How a blend of global roles, transformational projects and cross-functional experience has shaped the career of the supply chain solutions giant’s IT leader Peter Dew.
Peter Dew is a high flyer in every sense of the word. When not piloting the IT strategy of multi-billion euro corporations, he can often be found at the controls of a Boeing 737 in his leisure time — purely in a virtual capacity, however. “I used to have a private pilot’s license. The cost of flying was too high so now I do it virtually on my PC [through the British Airways Virtual flight simulation network], which is much more cost-effective,” he jokes.
After a successful 20-year career in the industrial gases sector with British company BOC and then Germany’s Linde Group, which acquired BOC in 2006, Dew joined the Netherlands-based global group CEVA Logistics in 2008 — a private equity-owned company with more than 51,000 employees operating in more than 170 countries, formed from the merger of TNT Logistics and Eagle Global Logistics. That move to a completely different industry sector was based on Dew’s desire to take on a global CIO role where IT was more frontline than back office.
“The IT in an industrial gases company is really about the plumbing,” explains Dew. “As I started to think about the career change, I had three requirements. One was that the use of IT needed to be key to the customer value proposition. Secondly, I felt that to be a true CIO you had to work for an enterprise with sub-€15 billion in revenues — as a rule of thumb — because I felt that as organizations got bigger, although you may have a title of CIO, you became more and more of an IT director. And then my third requirement was to have an organization that had a global footprint because the one thing that BOC had given me, and Linde too, was lots of international experience.”
A core theme of Dew’s five years with CEVA is the broadening of the traditional CIO role. In 2009, in addition to the CIO day job, he also became HR director for a year. That kind of cross-functional move is still a relatively rare phenomenon for CIOs, despite the fact it is still commonplace for “non-IT” executives to take on the IT executive or CIO role.
And although Dew might fall into the category of IT specialist-turned-CIO, having started out with a computer science degree and worked up through the IT department, he has always believed that the general functional management skills — strategy, project management, profit and loss responsibility — are equally as important as being a specialist, or master, in your function, whether that be IT, HR, finance or sales.
“It was an interesting experiment for me to see if I could take some of the things that I think I had acquired — some of my skills, experiences in my global IT function — and transfer those into the leadership of an HR function. That involved developing a strategy, understanding the discretionary consolidation and virtualization program, simplifying and cutting the costs of running some 19 data centers, 2,000 servers, more than 200 applications and 30,000 PCs and laptops.
“My early days were really about formulating a strategy and then delivering on it. After all, this was 2008, not 2009 when the world economy went into meltdown,” explains Dew. “Our strategy was ambitious and gutsy. Unfortunately the world didn’t materialize in the way we envisaged it would in early 2008. So, by and large by 2011, we had delivered the strategy, albeit having taken an awful lot longer than we had originally thought. The work has been excellent but challenging in the last few years.”
One of the big projects under way internally at CEVA is a multi-year process re-engineering and transformation initiative in the freight-forwarding business, due to finish this year, that will yield a harmonized application platform and business benefits in terms of global process standardization. On the customer-facing side, it’s all about delivering transportation and housing technology to CEVA’s customers under the common brand name Matrix.
“Whilst it’s a common brand, it’s not one technology set. Some of it’s packaged, other is bespoke,” he says. “We are making good progress in the implementation of our Matrix technology across our customer base — both new and existing customers — and we believe that we’re starting to develop an edge in that area.”
Being in charge of more than 1,000 people and an IT budget greater than €100 million ($133m) is a long way from the computer science degree course at Portsmouth Polytechnic in the UK that started Dew out on this career path in 1980. Back then his reasons for choosing a career in IT were simple and he’s remarkably candid about it. “I wanted to make money and falling into IT was the quickest way of doing that.
I came from a reasonably humble family that had had some issues when I was growing up. Because of that I decided in my life I would always try to be self-sufficient and looked at the career options I thought could help me best achieve that — while also being interesting.”
From the degree course, Dew spent a couple of years as a systems analyst in the UK before answering a job ad for a position with ASEA Electric in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1983. From that, his first big career break came when he was approached to be systems development manager for the BOC subsidiary, Afrox, in Johannesburg in 1986. With a team of five people and responsibility for back office systems for sales and marketing, Dew describes it as his first step onto the management career ladder and, after five years, he was asked back to BOC’s headquarters in the UK to take over development and support for the UK business. “It was a huge job for me. There were 95 people in my organization, and, for a while, I felt totally out of my depth.”
Dew went globetrotting again in 1994, moving to Sydney to become IT director for BOC in Australia. Here he faced and overcame one of his most difficult career challenges, shutting down a failing system replacement project and starting a £25 million ($39.6m) SAP development. He looks back fondly on his time in Sydney, still the favorite of all the international cities he’s worked in, but was pulled, somewhat reluctantly, back to the UK in 1998.
Thanks to his success in Australia, Dew was asked for his thoughts on BOC’s overall IT strategy by the executive board in the UK. What he didn’t realize was that it was effectively a job interview and the board was so impressed with his ideas that Dew was propelled into the newly-created group CIO role, in charge of a £100 million ($159m) annual IT budget and 480 staff globally, reporting directly into the chief executive, Tony Isaac. “I never thought I was even being considered for it,” he admits.
After he had been eight years in that CIO role, BOC was bought by Linde Group and, when the deal was completed in September 2006, Dew was tasked with the integration of theIT infrastructure of the two organizations, in particular implementing a global SAP system — all part of the company-wide goal of achieving €250 million ($331m) of savings by 2008. Dew oversaw the initial post-merger strategy and stayed until the end of 2007.Formula for success
Dew’s management and leadership style has evolved over the years. On the back of a successful international career in global organizations, he favors an open, collaborative approach. “My view is: work collaboratively to establish the direction, which is expressed in the form of the strategy, allow people sufficient space to do what they have to do, ensure they have very clear objectives and then manage them,” he says. “I also believe in open communication — I blog every week, for example, so that people can understand what I’ve been doing. I expect to get feedback — and I do!”
To be a successful CIO in a modern global organization, Dew says, there are some key skills and career experiences that every aspirant IT manager should have. “One is to be involved in a large-scale change program. A second is to have lots of international experience. A third is to work in the development of IS&T strategy. And lastly, to spend a period of time outside the IT function. And all, if possible, within the first ten years of your career,” he says. “If we could make that compulsory, I think we’d have some phenomenal CIOs around today.”
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