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Lee: Outstanding CIOs rare and invaluable

Sheila Lam | Feb. 15, 2013
King Lee talks about Six Sigma implementation and being a CIO.

CWHK: You started your career in IT, but later went into manufacturing and general business management. Can you tell us about that journey?

KL: I started my career with IT. But as I was developing IT systems for different business functions, I was often questioned by my colleagues about my knowledge in operations, particularly in manufacturing or warehousing management.

So I took a few courses to learn about logistics and the supply chain. In those classes, I met many industry practitioners and learned from them. I brought their experiences back to the company and my colleagues were impressed.

Shortly after that, my managing director back at Unilever asked me to run two factories in Australia. He said: "You've been preaching so much [that] I want to see you do it." That was how I went from IT into manufacturing for a couple years.

When Unilever wanted to enter the Chinese ice-cream market in 1993, I volunteered to join. I went there together with ten other colleagues. We were sent there without any support and had to build everything from scratch.

We found a joint-venture partner and a manufacturing plant, then built a factory, all in a record time of 11 months. We strategized to hit the market over the weekend and instantly became the market leader. We spent less than four years there--built the business, trained a team, then left.

CWHK: You have established a strong track record in general business management--what brought you back to IT?

KL: In the early years of my IT career, I always wanted to be a CEO--it was part of the reason I joined GE. However, soon after I joined GE, I decided not to pursue that role. Maybe the more you know, the less you are attracted to it.

We have good IT leaders that are CEOs at GE today. But the truth is that I realized my passion is bridging technologies with businesses. I see myself adding more value to the company by doing that than by running a business.

As a CEO, I'd be bound by a specific industry and business. Now [as a CIO] I get to work in different industries, landscapes, and markets.

And I'm excited to try my hand in different technologies. Vendors come to me and show me the latest. I get to combine different technologies and systems to enable our business, which really excites me.

To me, being an outstanding CIO is also more difficult. If you look at the world, it's becoming more technology-savvy.

Future business leaders need to understand technology. In Asia Pacific, we're not there yet. There are still a big gap between business management and technology.


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