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The Grill: Cynthia Nustad creates a culture of transparency

Mary K. Pratt | Sept. 10, 2013
This CIO builds executive trust by combining honesty with accountability

Every year, the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium names four finalists to its CIO Leadership Award. This year's list includes Cynthia Nustad, senior vice president and CIO at Health Management Systems, which provides government-funded, commercial and private entities with cost-containment services for their healthcare payments. Like all good leaders, Nustad credits her team for the recognition. "I have a true sense of team, and I love when accolades go out to my group," she says. But Nustad also brings to the job her talent, insights and strategies -- gained from 17 years of IT experience. Here, she shares some of her ideas on what works in IT.

Cynthia Nustad
Family: Lives with her partner, two kids (ages 6 and 8) and two cats.
What's on your iPod? "Most music I listen to tends to be from Pandora or music services because I like the variety."
What's your next career step? "I'm very business-facing. I would love to see more CIOs, including myself, on public boards."
Do you have any hobbies? "Gardening, kid and family time, and pretty much all things UCLA."
What's on your reading list? "My book list tends to be on innovation and inventions."Hometown: Ventura, Calif.

You started in your position in 2011. What was your strategy for getting up to speed? In a high-growth business, when the company is growing more than 20%, my priority first and foremost was to ensure my business partners and I were aligned with where the company was going so I could bend my technology team toward that. Because when you're as high-growth as we are, you get in, you hang on, and you want to make sure that your most precious resources are tied to the most precious clients and activities.

How did you make sure you were aligned? I had frequent meetings. I was outwardly facing with both my internal and external clients, and I had members of the technology team out with the business as we were creating new products or installing new clients.

How do you ensure that meetings produce results? One of the biggest things that my team is focused on now is honesty and accountability. My team will share where things aren't quite right, and they're making sure we're set up with them in those conversations. Then people can decide what's the best solution moving forward.

What has been your biggest challenge during your first two years? Building out the talent on the team. To overcome that, I work to ensure that we have depth on the recruiting side, in the personnel onboarding and training side, and knowing what to look for in the next hire. We do a lot of reflection on the types of candidates who are successful in our organization and therefore the types of candidates we want to go source.


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