Walk us through your CIO path. How did you decide to pursue a career in technology, and how did you progress to your current organization?
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to take a on a diverse set of roles over the last 36 years. After leaving Auburn University, I did not start out with technology in mind, but I got there after 5 years working as an associate buyer for a department store in Washington DC.
I am not sure how many CIOs graduate with a Fashion Merchandising degree, but I bet there are very few of us.
Looking back, I would not trade the 5 years in retail for anything. As an assistant buyer, then a department manager and finally an associate buyer with P&L responsibility for a large department – this time taught me how to “run a business”. It gave me the perspective of what it means to be part of a larger enterprise and the importance of contribution to the top line while managing and controlling the bottom line. I think this foundation made a difference throughout my career and it’s even more important to the role of a CIO today.
Around the 5-year mark, I got the call to join a software company working to deliver a solution to retailers. They wanted me for my retail experience, working with the product team to “get it right” and also to be part of the “customer team”, helping to sell to and support customers on the new retail solution. Never afraid of a challenge – I dove in and found myself helping to get the retail product to market while supporting 40+ property management and construction clients on the east coast with the other application verticals.
When the company folded 2 years later – I took away two valuable learnings. One – how to spot a business model and management that is in trouble (wish I had seen it sooner) and two – a new love for the application of technology. How to use technology to help the business and how to “tweak technology” so it meets the need of an individual business.
From there I got deeper into technology by landing a role with AT&T on a large federal technology contract that led to, through nothing but coincidence, a role as a system engineer with NCR. There I grew my understanding of technology to more than just the software. I learned about hardware, networks and operating systems. I honed my listening skills to understand what the customer was looking to do and deliver solutions from the NCR portfolio of products. This part of my career taught me to look at the “pieces and parts” available to apply to the problem and to develop a solution that covered the needs of the business.
From NCR I joined Accenture in 1999. This did 3 things for me and gave me opportunity after opportunity to put them to work – 1) awakened my entrepreneurial spirit; 2) taught me what it means to “deliver” and the importance of doing it consistently and doing it well; and 3) the value and importance of being a “people developer”.
10 years at Accenture taught me the value of methodology for delivering as expected and with maximum value. It taught me that an entrepreneurial spirit is critical to pushing through the “institutional inertia” that gets in the way of so many good ideas – ones that never make it out of the gate because of the challenges that people tend to see as barriers. And, probably the most important learning I took away – people are the greatest asset for any company, any effort and any individual
In 2009 I took a call from a recruiter while working in Melbourne Australia. He wanted to talk to me about a role as a Business Relationship Manager (BRM) with an AmLaw 50 law firm in Washington DC. At the time I had begun to contemplate what I called the “last third” of my career and felt that I could take a few different paths. The path that I came back to most often was landing a role that would transition from consultant to being part of a business and put me on the path to CIO. The opportunity was a perfect transition and it would place me in a technology organization at a $1B company from which I could navigate.
In 2018 it all paid off when I took the role of CIO at Thompson Hine. When I was approached for the role, I knew it was the right fit for me. Thompson Hine is a law firm that recognizes that technology can make a difference and has proven that to its clients. What I saw in the role was a chance to help to continue the great things already started and perhaps provide vision and experience to some new things.
My journey to CIO is probably different than most. Whether from some unique intuition or just plain dumb luck – I feel that every step in my career had provided an important piece to my success. I achieved what I set out to do in 2009 in about 9 years. Others might have taken longer, and many would have made it sooner. That said, if I could go back and do it all over again? I would not change a thing.
Tell us about your company. Speak to the industry, size of the company, and the services provided to your customers.
Thompson Hine LLP is a full-service business law firm with approximately 400 lawyers in 8 offices. The firm was ranked number 1 in the category “Most innovative North American law firms: New working models” by The Financial Times and was 1 of 7 firms shortlisted for The American Lawyer’s inaugural Legal Services Innovation Award.
Thompson Hine has distinguished itself in all areas of Service Delivery Innovation in the BTI Brand Elite, where it has been recognized as one of the top 4 firms for “Value for the Dollar” and “Commitment to Help” and among the top 5 firms “making changes to improve the client experience.” The firm’s commitment to innovation is embodied in Thompson Hine SmartPaTH® – a smarter way to work – predictable, efficient and aligned with client goals.
In response to clients’ growing demands for predictability, value and transparency, Thompson Hine transformed its service delivery model with SmartPaTH®, which provides improved legal project management (with sophisticated project budgeting, budget monitoring and reporting), value‐based pricing, flexible staffing and process efficiency. SmartPaTH better aligns service delivery with clients’ goals by facilitating communication and collaboration between lawyer and client to streamline processes, contain costs and eliminate surprises.
What are the major differences on being a CIO in the legal industry versus other industries?
There are more similarities than differences. CIOs support the business by keeping the trains on time; help drive the business to take on new ways of working; and – play an integral role in creating new value and growth for the company/firm. This holds true no matter what industry you work in.
Contrasting what I experienced during my time at Accenture working with CxOs and my time in legal – a big difference is the cost of decision making.
Law firms by their very nature as partnerships are complex decision-making bodies.
Unlike corporate structures, achieving consensus on a direction and an agreement to proceed takes time and involvement of many more stakeholders. Add to this that lawyers are by training people that look for risk and want to know that all scenarios are covered and that every mitigation is in place – it’s understandable why sometimes it feels like the hurdles to change are far too challenging.
What is the most urgent item on your agenda today as a technology leader?
People are my #1 agenda – at all times. With the challenges the pandemic has presented and the social and political turmoil today, making sure the team has what it needs is priority 1.
I am forever an optimist and believe there is good on the other side of all of this and that keeping the team motivated and hopefully in the same optimistic mind is what I need to do right now.
Number 2 on my agenda is bringing analytics capabilities to the firm and generating demand for its use and the rise of the “citizen analyst”. We have taken the first small steps towards a vision where data and the tools to perform ad hoc analysis are available to all. The end game here is to further advance the firms’ decision-making abilities, leveraging the wealth of data we have, to reduce the cost of decision making and advance our capabilities from diagnostic to predictive and prescriptive levels of insight.
How do you decompress from your role as a technology executive? What do you do for fun?
I spend most of my spare time doing one of three things – playing tennis or working out at Orange Theory Fitness; enjoying good food and good wine with my husband; and doing my best to stay close to family and friends.
Please share a recommendation or testimonial on the benefits of your CIO Professional Network membership.
Having access to the CIO Professional Network has been a great help to me in my role. I can post a question to the network and I will usually get a dozen or more responses – providing me insight from a range of industries and saving me time collecting input through other channels.
Following the posts of others helps me get a sense of what other CIOs are thinking about. On more than one occasion a conversation started on the Network has led to me thinking about it from our perspective and adding it to the roadmap.