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Being pushed out of your comfort zone can make your IT career

Brian Watson | Sept. 13, 2016
Vanguard CIO John Marcante was working his dream job as the head of the company’s software development team. However, things were about to change.

The first two circles are rather obvious, though often misunderstood or understated by both business and IT leaders. But Marcante makes an important point: the overlapping of technology and business smarts provides fertile ground for innovation.

[ Related: 5 ways to cultivate a culture of IT innovation ]

The third circle, laid over the first two, is leadership. It includes all the skills Marcante mentioned previously, but for Vanguard, he summarizes it as the ability to create an entrepreneurial spirit that yields the breakthroughs the company needs to stay on top and beat away the countless numbers of insurgents seeking to disrupt the financial services arena.

As a whole, too, those leadership attributes go way beyond a checklist for current or aspiring IT leaders. “They are what is expected today of every leader,” Marcante says. “Take IT out of it. Every executive at every company has to have business acumen, but they have to understand what technology can do. And technology is the primary disruptor for us today,” he added.

Vanguard, as an organization, is a longtime believer in the power of technology, evidenced by some of the executive promotions Vanguard has made in recent years. When Marcante joined the executive committee as CIO, he joined two of his predecessors, Paul Heller and Tim Buckley, who had rotated to other business-leadership roles.

In terms of disruption, Marcante notes that while Vanguard has been wildly successful, its leaders are “perpetually dissatisfied.” “We are never complacent,” he says. “It is drilled in our heads to be paranoid.”

[ Related: CIO strategy for driving IT innovation ]

Across the financial services spectrum, Marcante sees dramatically lower barriers to entry and dramatically faster speed from ideas to mass adoption. So his mandate has become, as he calls it, “delivering business value at startup speed.”

From a technology perspective, that involves a foundational level of nimble infrastructure, where he is making investments in public cloud. Moving up the stack, Marcante is looking to boost continuous development and take advantage of the cloud’s scalability and elasticity by implementing more Agile development.

But for Marcante, the challenge is less about technology. How do you create an entrepreneurial spirit inside a 40-year-old legacy? For him, it’s maybe 30 percent technology, and 70 percent culture. For that, Marcante closely studied the “Lean Enterprise” approach, traveling with McNabb, Vanguard’s current chairman, and other company leaders to meet with IT leaders and venture capital giants in Silicon Valley to learn how companies have become nimbler and more innovative. Today, he is applying those lessons inside Vanguard, combining cross-functional teams to solve business problems and find new opportunities to create business value.


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