Jon Bartol: Chief Information Officer, General Motors of Canada; Top-Ranking Business Technology Leader and Authority
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., DF/NPA, MVP, CNP has an exclusive interview with Jon Bartol.
Jon commenced employment with the eGM team at General Motors of North America in Detroit in 2000. In July 2001, he was appointed Chief Information Officer for the Electro-Motive Division based out of Chicago.
Upon the sale of the Electro-Motive Division in early 2005, Jon was transferred to General Motors of Canada Limited as Chief Information Officer. He also serves as a member of the GM of Canada Strategy Board.
Prior to GM, Jon managed Data Center Operations for the Footlocker, Inc., was the Global CIO for Vickers, Inc, worked at AlliedSignal, and spent 16 years at Texas Instruments in a variety of management roles.
He holds a variety of Teaming for Excellence awards, and Quality Recognition Awards. Jon graduated from Colorado State University.
The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
Opening Comment:: Jon, we are indeed fortunate to have you do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep talent, knowledge, and experiences with our audience.
A: You're welcome, Stephen. Always a pleasure to talk with the folks at CIPS.
Q1: Where do you see GM positioned in the future?
A: I feel very good about GM - we certainly have had an interesting time over the last 12-18 months, but several significant and deliberate actions were taken to put GM back on the right course. The goal with our huge turnaround effort at GM is to change the company for the long haul, by structuring GM for sustained profitability and growth. We are working to set GM up to be competitive for years to come. On the business side, you need to look no further than our products, which continue to do very well. You probably noticed that at the Detroit Auto Show, GM's Saturn Aura and Chevrolet's Silverado were voted Best in Show by 49 US and Canadian journalists. On the I/T side, we continue to work our global model, leveraging our size and footprint, to reduce cost and enable our business partners to do the same and help drive innovation across the company.
Q2: Can you describe your current role within GM and how you will contribute to the overall corporate strategies?
A: My role, as CIO of GM of Canada, Ltd, has several objectives:
- Help enable the businesses of GMCL to sell more cars and trucks, more profitably and with a great customer experience.
- Actively participate in the globalization of the I/T function; working with all my global colleagues to implement our 3rd Generation model of I/T sourcing.
- Deliver precision technology to enable critical business solutions.
- Enhance / promote cross-functional coordination and cooperation.
- Grow / groom future leaders of the organizations.
- Aggressively support structural cost reduction.
- Continue support of our Canadian-based advanced technology research and design.
Q3: What are your top challenges and can you profile the strategies/tactics to address them?
- Project execution - We are in the implementation phase of several critical projects. Executing the plan on each one will move us closer to common global systems, eliminate additional unique systems, reduce cost, and enhance the ordering / selling process of our vehicles.
- Training - We have an aggressive plan of continuing training for our people - each person has a technical skill enhancement plan that we need to complete.
- Structural cost reduction - always a challenge, but also a never-ending focus of the I/T organization - not just internally, but how can we, I/T, help our business be more efficient, productive, and responsive.
- Globalization - Maintaining our agility to leverage GM's Globalization and take advantage of opportunities - quickly - as they arise.
- With our 3rd generation model of I/T sourcing, effectively managing our new suppliers and foster the partnership in Canada.
Q4: Taking the last question more broadly, what do you see as the main challenges for business and how should they be resolved?
- There's never a time to rest. We're working hard to turn GM around and we've made a lot of progress. However, none of our competitors have taken time off. The old saying about 'what have you done today for the business' has never been more true
- To win in today's global industry you have to work to minimize and aggressively address the downs while at the same time drive hard on the ups. For GM that means we're aggressively going after growth markets and working hard to get off defense and back on offense in North America.
- We must continuously work to bring products to the marketplace that our customer's simply 'gotta have.' We've launched some great vehicles - we must continue.
- Take every opportunity to shorten development process cycle time.
- Keep improving revenue by designing, building and selling great cars and trucks.
Q5: Can you discuss what you see as the key opportunities for GM?
- Change the public perception of GM - there is still a perception gap that impacts people's consideration of GM vehicles. It's a new company in many ways and we are building on a near-100 year legacy. We are here today with the products that excite today's consumers and we're standing behind our reliability and durability.
- Keep the focus on the products.
- Leverage our size and global opportunities.
- Continue to expand in key growth markets (ie: China, India, Russia).
Q6: Can you profile the opportunities for businesses in general?
- Talent acquisition and retention.
- Continued career growth and development.
- Globalization - take advantage of the best opportunities.
- Regardless of success, stay focused on the cost side of the equation.
Q7: You were a featured speaker and then chair at two recent CIO conferences. Can you summarize key lessons from these conferences?
A: Creativity, solutions, and innovative approaches don't reside in any one company; any one individual. We all share similar challenges. Sure, size may be a factor, but we all are working to find the right combination of activities to make our companies successful. Learning / listening to others can provide tremendous insight.
Q8: You have an impressive and long history of success. Using this extensive background, please provide your overall top predictions for IT for 2007 and beyond.
- The rapid development of technology will continue to stretch the I/T organization in its ability to adopt it for business value without sacrificing security.
- The customer experience will become more and more crucial as end consumers become more and more 'computer' savvy.
- Security will continue to put pressure on the organization - staying in front of the variety of threats is imperative.
- Mobility / Tele-commuting will continue to grow - allowing and enabling a mobile workforce will become front and center.
- Ubiquitous access.
Q9: Due to your senior leadership positions with Texas Instruments, Allied Signal, Vickers Inc., Footlocker and now GM, your insights are of great value to our audience. What are your top leadership and management tips?
- A major part of a senior manager's role is to grow people - through assignments, challenges, and / or job rotation. I think you have to learn, or have a knack to know, when to let someone work an issue, and when to delve into the detail with them. You've heard about the 5 Why's (asking Why at least five times to get to the solvable issue) - you have to practice them.
- I think there has to be a mindset of doing a job right the first time, and when there is an issue, be ruthless in getting to the absolute root cause of the problem and attacking it in a manner that it will never happen again.
- Sometimes there is too much emotion in decision making - meetings sometimes have tended to by governed by the most senior person present or dominated by the one with eloquent speech abilities. Facts and data should more often lead a discussion - a senior business manager I once reported to told me, I have my data, you bring your data and we'll talk!
- I believe in common and standard and I believe in pushing and maximizing a global footprint. However, it must be done in a manner that appreciates where the work is executed.
- a) Cleary articulate a vision, a strategy, or the end goal.
b) Get / build the right people.
c) Build trust and confidence.
d) Put a control process in place.
e) Get out of the way and let the people perform.
f) Reward / recognize.
- Remove negative emotions from people discussions. Don't have a discussion with a hot / upset head. Walk away - think about the issue or behavior, put your self in the other person's shoes - how would you want to be treated, think of alternatives / solutions, and then work with the individual.
- If there is a technical problem; a system problem, Stop - think - act. To the 'think' part, I would add 'think logically and methodically'. Take each problem step-by-step - don't jump to conclusions - I have found that this art of problem solving, if followed, more times than not will shed light on the problem.
Q10: What specific career advice would you give to business and technology professionals who are looking at continued career growth?
- Every I/T professional should have a business expertise in some part of the business - finance, marketing, business services, engineering, etc. in the corporate world, I/T exists to enable the business.
- Become a team player on the businesses' teams - participate with them in their world, talk in the language of business - not technology.
- Don't let your skill set wane - keep challenging yourself.
- Get global experience / learn another language.
- Learn how to work in a multi-cultural environment.
Q11: Looking back over your career, what stories and resulting lessons can you share that were most pivotal?
A: In thinking about that question, my mind focused on 2 events- that (a) I remember, and (b) I remember because they shaped some of my beliefs:
- Technical people, left to their devices, will bury their head and work on a problem until resolution. God love them, you've got to have that, but you need an oversight / escalation process in place so that the business doesn't become impaired while I/T is deep-diving into a problem.
- In one company where I worked, a great company, our business began to erode as the defense market was shrinking. As a result, like many companies in many industries, we had to down-size people, plants, etc. I was amazed that upon completion, and after an improved flow of contracts, we continued to operate, profitability, with fewer people. The lesson I use today is that regardless of the situation, there are always more productive, more efficient, and/or less costly ways to get work done. You might, though, have to become quite creative in finding them.
Q12: What qualities do you feel CIOs of today need to have?
- Honest, integrity, and trustworthiness.
- Good communication skills.
- Business knowledge and sensitivity.
- Global appreciation.
- Know how to leverage ideas / solutions from anywhere.
- Be good with people.
- Have a technical foundation - know how to apply technology.
- Be fact / metrics based.
- Focused on delivering tangible / measurable business value.
- Have a sense of humor!
Q13: What do you consider the top 3 risks facing the I/T organization today?
- Finding the balance between 'bleeding edge technology' and proven solutions.
- Talent pool development
- Doing I/T for the sake of I/T - creating a solution for an unknown problem
Closing Comment: Jon, we are indeed fortunate to have your share you considerable insights with our audience. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. We look forward to following your continuing contributions to the industry and within GM.
A: Thank you Stephen.