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Developing blended executives

Martha Heller | June 23, 2014
Marc Franciosa, CIO of Praxair, finds creative ways to grow his own.

To address this, Franciosa knew he needed to develop blended executives who understood both IT and some major aspect of "the business."  Rather than build a formal rotational program, he looked for singular opportunities to cultivate a blended skillset.

Move a business function under IT
Franciosa had an IT leader who was very effective in one of Praxair's largest regional businesses.  He knew that this leader had the capacity to learn more about the business, especially finance, so he considered rotating her into finance and then bringing her back into IT.  But he found a better strategy. "We actually moved our finance function (for this same large regional business) under her in IT," he says, "Now, in addition to her work in IT, she is responsible for accounts payable, treasury, and tax for the regional businesses she knows so well."

Franciosa admits that moving a finance function into the IT organization is out-of-the box, "But we now have an executive who has a deep understanding of two major areas of our business," he says.

Bring business people into IT
Another example of "opportunistic blending" involved Praxair's pricing team.  "We've had someone in the pricing function who had been in the role for many years and had deep knowledge of how we priced all of our products and services," he says. "He was not a technology person, and was comfortable with our legacy pricing systems, but he did not know our new ERP."

So, Franciosa moved this pricing person into the IT organization where he is now leading the pricing work-stream for Praxair's global ERP implementation.  "In learning the new platform, he also learned a new way to do pricing," says Franciosa. "His ERP work has made him much stronger in his functional area." In addition, the ERP work allowed this executive to learn business functions beyond pricing including credit collections, product hierarchy, and more. "By moving this person from the business into IT, we have broadened his business knowledge and built out his technology acumen."

Likewise, Franciosa moved someone with distribution expertise into the IT organization. "Our distribution expert knew all of the processes but he didn't know the technology," says Franciosa. "He is now in IT and has made a huge impact on automating the way we track cylinders, which is a major part of our business.  And the best part is that he's technology agnostic: If one business wants RFID, and another wants bar codes, he doesn't care. He guides the group towards what is best for the process."

Stick to your guns
When seizing on opportunities to develop blended executives, Franciosa has some advice: "People will tell you why it can't be done," he says. "They will tell you: 'You can't expect a business person to become a technologist.' or 'You're going to take an IT person and teach them collections?'  You have to have a little bit of courage when making these changes."


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