The 2013 IT Leadership Awards: Profiles in leadership and management
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Our SearchCIO-Midmarket 2013 IT Leadership Awards recognize the contributions and innovations of IT professionals within midmarket companies. We sent out a call for nominations of individuals who have excelled in six categories, including cultural innovation, technological advancement, business value, green IT, IT engagement and customer experience.
CIO Robert Simora has transformed IT and realized significant cost savings for Railinc by introducing a new vendor management process, infrastructure improvement program and the use of open source technology. Simora's vendor-management process alone has returned $8.5 million to Railinc since January, with almost half coming from a new data center contract. Simora led the RFO (request for offer), negotiating a contract that will improve financial transparency, IT service levels and vendor accountability.
Simora is recognized as a finalist in the SearchCIO-Midmarket 2013 IT Leadership Awards for more than just his vendor-management program. This finalist's exceptional leadership is driving entrepreneurship and collaboration deep into the company while fostering a playful culture of innovation. Learn more about Simora's plan for success in this Q&A.
Official job title: CIO
Number of years in IT: 19 years
Revenue: $55 million
Number of employees in the company: 284
Number of employees in IT: 172
Educational background: MBA, Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2010–2011); BS, information management systems and finance, Fordham University (1990–1994)
From the nomination
Rob is well-noted for driving leadership, entrepreneurship and teamwork deep into the company. He launched Railinc's Innovation Challenge to give IT employees a platform for expressing creativity and business insights for the benefit of the company. He fosters fun and creativity, introducing the IT Olympics -- an all-day event that engages Railinc's IT professionals in friendly competition, teamwork and a fun atmosphere. Rob's peers and staff at all levels of the company respect and trust him. He is highly sought after for counsel in all facets of the business.
First job: My parents ran a pharmacy when I was a kid. My job was dusting shelves and helping my parents with anything and everything that needed to be done to keep the store clean. Their entrepreneurial spirit taught me early what a good work ethic meant.
LinkedIn: Robert Simora
Twitter Handle: @rsimora
What's the best advice you've ever received? We should listen twice as much as we speak.
In the movie of your life, who would play your character? My friends all say I look like Kevin James, so I would indulge them and let him play my character.
If you could have just one superpower, what would it be and why? That's easy --absolutely, no question -- flying. It would be a great timesaver, and I would no longer have to pay for gas and sit in traffic. Plus, it would just be cool.
What's your favorite app on your smartphone or tablet device? It's almost old school at this point: I'd be lost without the email app on my iPhone. By far the most-used app I have, and it keeps me productive wherever I am. Texting is a close second.
Where do you fall in the iPhone versus Android debate? I've owned both and to me there is no comparison to how well Apple does its user interfaces and creates a seamless overall experience across apps and devices.
Describe the best technology decision you ever made: My best decision was probably my first -- purchasing a Commodore 64. It's what got me interested in computers at an early age.
Was there ever a technology that you thought was a gimmick but now couldn't live without? I wasn't too interested in the Nest, which is a learning thermostat with an iPod like interface. I got one as a gift and it's an amazing piece of technology that lets you control your thermostat remotely, and it learns over a period of time your preferences. It paid for itself the first trip I went on and forgot to set the thermostat before we left, and I could do it from the car!
From the judging panel
Simora's wholistic efforts (focusing on infrastructure, vendors, customer alignment, DR processes, open source technology) strongly showcase his leadership skills, exceptional people skills, broad business view and, of course, sound knowledge of technology and its application.
What's the biggest challenge you face in IT today? The explosion of mobile devices and BYOD in general has challenged a lot of IT policies. I'm all in favor of the movement, but it's tough to stay ahead of it.
Which role/internal partner do you rely upon the most? I have a great relationship with all of my internal partners, but I spend the most time with the head of our business units. If IT isn't aligned with the business, then we are just wasting money and not working efficiently.
What's your prediction for the next big technology? Some of the components are there already, but perfecting the self-healing data center will be huge. No one can afford any downtime to their customers.
What's your favorite nonmonetary benefit or perk of your job? I love watching my employees develop and grow in their positions, but the real payoff comes when they solve problems before they become a problem for customers, and I don't have to get involved.
What is the biggest problem you see with corporate cultures today? Some companies haven't let or encouraged their cultures to change or embrace the new way employees work and innovate. This is stifling creativity and opportunities to innovate. If we can break the grip of what we've known and embrace a little more of the unknown in this regard, I think it will deliver a positive return ten-fold.
What are "rookie mistakes" that you see in up-and-coming IT leaders? Not escalating an issue soon enough. By the time many issues are reported it's very difficult to mitigate the impact and/or get the initiative back on schedule. We don't need heroes -- when in doubt, escalate.
Describe your leadership style: Hire good people around you and manage by objectives. Spend the most time with your top performers, communicate often on expectations and provide continuous feedback. This approach has worked for me time and again.
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