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From CIO to a business leader

Divina Paredes | May 9, 2011
It is "miserably wrong" for people not to view the CIO as someone who can readily transition to a general management role.

Toll United serves the Northland region, but as he explains, it is a different model from Toll's general freight business. Their operations include fuel deliveries, harvest crews cutting down trees in the forests, logging trucks, relocations for companies and delivery for retail products in the Far North. The company has an international pack operation in Auckland where they transport product from Kaitaia and then pack it into 12-metre containers, and then transport the containers to the port for shipping to China and other countries across the region. There is no single competitor, said Collings. "There are different competitors for each one of those businesses."

Deliberate steps

He was confident he could handle the redoubtable task, having taken deliberate steps to become a general business leader and move on from pure ICT leadership roles. This began, he said, when he started his MBA, which he completed in 1999 while working full-time as CIO of Mainfreight.

"Instead of being a technologist, I was focused on business-solving problems, and so if I could make IT assist the solving of the business issue, I did and people inside the business started to see me differently. They no longer saw me as the gadget guy, as can you fix my computer guy. They saw me as this guy who is 'look, we have got this problem can you assist or do you have any ideas?' And it is not necessarily an IT project."

"The disappointment is it has taken a decade for me to grow those skills and start getting noticed and demonstrate capability, and it involved two or three jobs along the way."

But if there is one thing he would have done more when he was CIO, it was spending more time on harnessing his finance skills and with the finance team. "Much like you fix business problems inside an operation with IT, I believe you can do it with finance as well by understanding what their drivers are, understanding what their metrics are, what are their KPIs."

Giving back

An area that Collings has not held back on, even during his pre-CIO days, was involvement in mentoring young professionals within and outside IT, or for colleagues wishing to advance to other positions or sectors. "I have never done them for profit because I get just as much from them," he said, and at one time he was mentoring four individuals. "I am a firm believer [that] if someone else has traversed the road, at least they can share that information with you. People need to fall over and bloody their nose because you learn better. But it doesn't alter the fact that we could give them a map, as opposed to just letting them loose."

 

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