Daimler Trucks CIO: Pivotal student experience shaped leadership style

Daimler Trucks CIO: Pivotal student experience shaped leadership style

Date: Jun 17, 2014

Brilliant ideas can wither and die without good leadership. Take it from Dieter Haban, CIO at Daimler Trucks North America. Twenty-five years ago, Haban was a postdoctoral student at University of California, Berkley's International Computer Science Institute, after completing his doctorate at the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany. There, Haban began envisioning where the future of audio and video was headed but couldn't find the support necessary from his sponsors to test out some of his more forward-thinking approaches.

SearchCIO's Nicole Laskowski sat down with Haban at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, where he was honored as one of five finalists for the 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award. In this video excerpt, Haban recalls how his innovative idea was snuffed out and talks about how that experience has influenced his CIO leadership style at a business undergoing major change.

Talk about the work you did at UC Berkeley and how that experience influenced your leadership style.

Dieter Haban: I have always liked research because I've always liked to do new things -- to be a visionary, [to think about] what's happening next. I was in research for some time, and I got an invitation from UC Berkeley to spend some time there. I said, 'Yeah! Great! Let's go!' Especially in California! One interesting research [project] there was working on real-time audio and real-time video of large computer networks.

When was this? What year?

Haban: Oh, '88, '89, so very early. …There was one interesting experience I had that's guided me through what I do today. … I gave a speech to [my] sponsors, and I explained to them what could be done with real-time video and audio. At the time, we didn't have a lot of computing power working on parallel systems, and also the networks were not like they are today with 4G download speed.

I explained to them what we could do in the future with real-time video and audio. I was kind of explaining the digital jukebox -- like what Pandora and what YouTube are doing. And they said, 'Oh, it's not possible. That's impossible. We don't have big enough computers and not more than two or three people can access a computer at the same time, and the network speed is not enough.' So this was kind of an interesting experience because I couldn't convince them. Otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here right now in front of you. I'd be somewhere on my own island.

So the point for me was I wanted to do something. And the lesson learned was that good ideas need good, supportive leadership and [the right] environment. So you listen to ideas; OK, maybe it's not possible today, but maybe it's possible tomorrow. This experience also helped me work with my own people, because you have visionary people and people who are game-changers that perfect a process. And you have people who you have to stop and say, 'Wait, wait, wait. You have so many ideas, let's focus.'

So you have people who have ideas and you have to listen to them because they drive the change forward -- they're hard to control, but they're people you need as well as the other people.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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