Editor's Note: George Photakis (above) is answering your questions this week at IT Martini on LinkedIn. 

George Photakis: Lead With the Truth
By Terreece Clarke, February 7th, 2012

"A CIO is a change agent at heart," George Photakis, Vice President and Chief Information Officer of The Anchor Hocking Company and Oneida Limited said. “Next to the CEO, the CIO is probably the one person that really has to understand how the company actually operates and understand all the processes of the company on a daily basis. A good CIO is a change agent downward and upward in an organization."

Photakis has more than 23 years of C-Suite experience and has been a CIO of Fortune 500 companies for 10 years. Anchor Hocking, a glassware manufacturer, brought Photakis onboard in 2007 when they needed to bring previously outsourced processes back in-house.

As change agents and truth seekers, CIOs don't make many new friends in the process. Photakis said he gives new hires and people he works with one of his favorite books - "Who Moved My Cheese" by Spencer Johnson.

"We [CIOs] are generally seen as the bad guys," he said. "As an agent of change, at times the CIO has to be the bad guy, at times the CIO has to make the difficult decisions to achieve the company goals. At times I have to tell people I'm going move your cheese. Find your cheese or else you may find out you're going to get hungry."

Leading with the Truth

Photakis said a CEO, vice president of logistics and vice president of sales will come to a CIO separately with what they believe are separate issues. In reality, Photakis said, they are talking about the same problem from their own frame of reference. It is the CIO's responsibility to see the overall picture and solve the issue across the board.

After 35 years in the business, Photakis said it’s uncovering the truth that enables him to solve for these issues. "A leader should never be afraid to speak truth to power. Truth is truth."

To better solve for 'one truth', Photakis is using the inspiration of 2010 CIO of the Year Filippo Passerini of Procter and Gamble and setting out to declare one company-wide way to measure what is working across all departments - instead of each department having its own set of numbers.

"I consider myself an above level leader, not a manager," he said. “People do what a manager tells them to do, but people will naturally follow a leader because they know they can be [more] successful by following that leader than if they did not."

Retail & Manufacturing Challenges

In November of 2011 the parent company of Anchor Hocking Corporation acquired Oneida Limited - one of the country's oldest tabletop manufacturers. Photakis has recently taken on a new role as Vice President and CIO of Oneida Limited in addition to his continued role as VP and CIO at Anchor Hocking.

Photakis said his top challenges include maintaining each company’s very strong brands.

"Companies have never been in the situation with social media, the internet and e-commerce," Photakis said. "A CIO is a Chief Innovation Officer as well, driving innovation into an organization. They have to look at it and say 'we have to change the way we look at our business and understand the way our customers want to look at our businesses."

These changes to the distribution cycle, in addition to the recession, high unemployment and high transportation costs, have created ‘the perfect storm’ for the retail and manufacturing industries.

"Customers are making pointed decisions. They are weighing the option of going to the store, using gas, time to find one particular item versus buying it online."

Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

The CIO role has dramatically changed from appointed IT person to true business peer. Savvy CIOs are becoming entrepreneurial and driving business in many ways, including expense reduction, Photakis said.

"For example if a business is operating at a 25 percent margin, if you're looking to improve profit or EBITDA, for every $1 you spend a salesperson has to sell $4 in product," he said. "Doesn't it make more sense to save a buck?

A CIO is also custodian of the information that enables critical business making, Photakis said. "No manager is going to make the wrong decision with the correct information. They make the right decision based on the wrong information. It is critical a CIO provides correct and credible information."

Closing Thoughts

Photakis is taking his 35 years of experience and putting it in print for other IT pros. "Confessions of an Old Dog CIO" [title pending] is Photakis' effort to debunk popular IT and business myths such as, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

"Bull..." Photakis said. "The small stuff turns into big stuff when you ignore it. Every company is the Titanic waiting to sink. A big ship doesn't turn on a dime. The question is, do you have good enough info to see the iceberg far enough in advance? If you can see the problem and make adjustments you can avoid hitting the iceberg. There are always warning signs - white caps - if you wait until you're right in front of it it's too late."

Photakis is on the lookout for those warning signs, but sometimes it takes deeper analysis than simply serving up a requested report.

"I try to give what they ask for, but I strive to give them what they need," he said. "The [CIO] has visibility to almost every channel and vertical in the company,” he said. “They want data; [the] CIO provides information.”

And what’s the knee jerk reaction to this crusade for the truth?

"If you want to make friends as a CIO, get a dog," Photakis said.