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Thomas Bayer, Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer for S&P Global, recently delivered an inspirational keynote address to the Arlington, Va., cohort of McIntire’s M.S. in MIT Program. The former CIO for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), responsible for spearheading the “Working Smarter” initiative to improve the agency’s operational efficiency, provided students with a fresh, firsthand account about “The Job of the C-Level Executive.”
In addition to his current work at S&P, Bayer is also Executive Vice President and CIO of CSBS, a national nonprofit organization of banking regulators. He has held positions at GSI Commerce, Brand Informatics, Citibank, Capital One, Inteliguard, and Sprint. With such deep knowledge of information technology and finance, his wide-ranging background offered McIntire students an invaluable learning opportunity. The session is indicative of the strength of the M.S. in MIT Program, which continues to innovate by highlighting real-world, real-time corporate dynamics and granting access to the influential players that shape them.
We spoke to Bayer about the major issues he has faced throughout his career and the strategies he employs to continue meeting challenges in today’s evolving business landscape.
Why do you believe blending the role of a technologist with other roles in business is “the wave of the future”?
In business today, employees are asked to be specialists in their respective areas, such as technology, operations, marketing, and so forth. To become an effective manager, you must also understand the underlying mission and vision of the business. It is far more efficient to have someone who is capable of understanding the business case and journey map for the business process as well as the program or operation.
It is much harder now than it was for me growing up, because I just had to be a great technologist who was expected to develop the technology and then execute on it. You can’t be the ultimate technologist like you used to; it certainly is very helpful, but you also have to be good at interacting with people, managing people, and understanding how to write a strategic plan. It takes foresight; determination; and the understanding that the job is about technology, negotiation, and ultimately, staying focused on what the customer wants.
What role does leadership play in the relationship between technology and finance?
I’ve always been a big believer that without technology, you couldn't advance financial services. So my whole life has been a hybrid of working as a banker and as a technologist. And I always wanted to lead people and be the head of an organization.
Business and technology enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Technology for technology's sake is a recipe for limited adoption. Business without automated workflow, data analytics, and an extraordinary user interface will face challenges to adoption, efficiency, and scalability. It is very difficult to have a global business without effectively utilizing innovative technology.
I used to say that my job at Citibank was IT janitorial services: I would go in and fix things. A lot of those things were broken because people didn’t have the leadership and the foresight in order to execute and to make significant changes. As an effective leader, you have to be a realist and understand that your job is building technology for a business purpose that is valuable to an end user: the customer.
What have you learned from your varied career experiences?
Data inform our decisions. We must train ourselves to interpret the data properly. This includes understanding our bias, bias in machine learning, first-mover advantage, gut feelings, and other factors in determining the proper course of action. The best way to understand our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities is to get feedback and guidance from mentors, managers, customers, and friends. It is also important to gain a historical perspective, which is difficult to achieve with a limited data set. Many “black swan” events could be discovered and avoided if you reach out to others for their perspectives.
I learned that it’s very important to establish great relationships, because my whole life has been one of risk—taking big risks. You also have to be resilient. Success has many fathers, and then one disaster comes along and suddenly you’re an orphan: Everyone knows who was in charge of the disastrous programs and projects. So you have to be able to establish those relationships, because it’s what will save you and allow you to be innovative and be a challenger of change, and let you grow and adapt in your career.
What you need to be successful is integrity, innovation to deliver against the concepts being developed, trust, and communication. How do you do that? You have to love where you work and what you do to make the product and the company successful.