Dave Hoag, Chief Information Officer for OCC (Options Clearing Corporation), found a passion for technology in his childhood that has stayed with him his entire life. Programming was a hobby for him from an early age. That hobby developed into a college major, and that college major launched a career that’s led him to be the technology leader for the world’s largest equity derivatives clearing organization.
Dave has a broad range of experience in various industries, both as a consultant and in-house, but he found his calling in financial services. While Dave has already built up an impressive list of accomplishments, he sees even bigger things on the horizon.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Dave and talk about his journey, what made him the leader that he is today, and why following your passion will lead to your ultimate success.
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?
My first real exposure to technology was in 1980, when I was 11 years old. I was at my uncle’s house, and he had an Apple II. He started teaching me BASIC, and in a couple of hours, I had built a little program where we could use controllers to “fire” something across the screen. I was instantly hooked.
Once I got to junior high, the fascination continued. The school had brought in a new set of computers, and nobody knew how to set them up, so I volunteered. My buddy and I would sit in the computer lab for hours programming just to see what we could get the machine to do. This passion stayed with me throughout high school and into college.
Halfway through college I realized, “Wait a second. You can actually get a job programming.” So, I ended up switching into a Computer Science Engineering program. After graduating in 1991, I had the opportunity to work for Digital Equipment out of Massachusetts for two years before going into consulting.
Once I started consulting, I bounced around between different industries and roles for a few years until 2001, when I decided to shift into more strategic IT consulting. During that time, I was working directly with several CIOs, and I realized that their job seemed pretty cool. I wanted to do that job.
I went to my consulting partner and said, “Hey, I want to be a CIO someday.” He told me that I would never get there from my current seat – that I had to pick an industry and work my way up. So, I thought back to all of my previous clients and industries. I identified financial services as the industry that I had enjoyed the most, largely because it is effectively a big applied technology industry.
With financial services as my focus, I started at CME Group, working my way up from managing an architecture group of two people in 2003 to being part of massive, hundred-million-dollar integration projects in 2007. By 2014, however, I had had enough of corporate politics, so I decided to try startups.
I was involved in startups for two and a half years. It was a fun, great experience, and it got me back to using technology hands-on again. This time was a great enabler for the role that I have now because I realized that everyone in a startup is focused on the business itself and not just being good at executing a function. There’s no opportunity for anyone to have a different mindset. When I joined OCC in 2017 as CIO, I brought that philosophy with me.
Would you consider yourself a CIO, a CTO, or a hybrid? Why? What are the essential differences?
I’d say that I’m probably a better CIO than a CTO, but I may be a little bit of a hybrid. A traditional CIO might be more about how the IT organization runs and serves the business, and a CTO focuses more on how to use technology to transform and drive our business internally and externally.
What initiatives have you overseen to date in your time with your organization? What’s on the horizon?
The original initiative was really getting everyone aligned with industry best practices. We had to figure out how to transform our company to be great at what we do in a way that also meets, and can demonstrate, compliance with regulator expectations. So, the first year I was here, I really focused on strengthening our governance practices, our execution capabilities, and our ability to align and demonstrate compliance with best practices.
How do you foresee your organization being different in two years, and how do you see yourself shaping that change?
We’re working on a major IT overhaul – Project Renaissance, and it’s a really big focus for us. There are two parts to it. There’s building out the technology, and I have all the confidence in the world with the team that I have, along with the partners we’re working with to deliver. We have smart people and strong domain experience, so we’ll get through that.
The more interesting challenge to me is the cultural renaissance that needs to accompany these changes. Let’s use Agile delivery as an example. Agile delivery can’t be an IT only change, right? We need active business engagement. We need a completely different structure of how business and IT interface with each other. So, the cultural elements of this are where I will probably spend the vast majority of my time and energy.
Share your thoughts on the availability of IT talent. What strategies do you employ, and what’s different in your organization?
Good talent is certainly hard to find. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a seller’s market right now and the talent knows that, but to that end, I think that we’re doing exciting work, and people want to be a part of that.
What new or disruptive technology issues or emerging trends do you think will impact your industry in the future?
My favorite one to talk about is blockchain. I think it’s great when you have large distributed trust networks across which transaction processing must be coordinated. Organic foods, for instance, where you have different suppliers feeding into the end distribution to grocery stores – those handoffs occur, and they don’t really know each other outside of their one sales channel. That is an example of an untrusted network needing traceability, but I don’t think that is a direct disruptor to OCC’s core business.
Blockchain has the potential to change the way companies provide value for risk management. It also has the potential to create an almost perfect and irrefutable record of every transaction that has occurred. We are working internally to adopt what we call “use cases” where we can try to see into discrete parts of our business where distributive ledger principles potentially could be applied that could be beneficial to how OCC operates as a clearing entity, or how our clearing member firms would benefit from any efficiencies.
What personal traits and attributes are essential for today’s CIO versus 10 to 20 years ago?
Today, you need to be a business leader. You need to be talking to the board. You have to take complex messages and communicate them in terms that resonate with different stakeholders.
I’d also say – and it’s one thing that took me some time to figure out – is that it’s not about your team, meaning the people who report to you. It’s about your peers. You’re all in it together to make the company successful. Looking left and right like that is something that I don’t think CIOs thought about in the past.
What advice would you give for someone who aspires to be a CIO?
There are a couple of things. The first is you’ve got to learn to delegate. For CIOs, the job is complex and messy one day, and the next day you’re talking about $200 million projects. The scope of problems that you have to deal with is so large, that you’ve got to be able to rely on people.
And that leads me to my second point, which is it is really a people job. Building the team and making your team effective is one of your most critical missions.
How do you decompress from the challenges of being a CIO? What do you do for fun?
For me, it’s twofold. I have two boys and they’re involved in a lot of activities. I love being a part of that, either with them in terms of coaching or just going and watching them play.
Secondly, I’m a big fan of golf. As a 50-year-old, I can still go out and compete in the sport. I’m not a great golfer, but the great thing about the handicap system is that it makes us all equal. I find that it’s a wonderful sport for constant self-improvement. I can go out and have fun, enjoy time with friends, and feel accomplished in the process.
Who have been your biggest influences, and why?
I’d say my first, biggest influence is my mother, actually. My mother was a single mom who had never worked before. When my parents separated and she got a job as a secretary, she told the owner that she could do the job the salespeople were doing, so he gave her a shot. Within ten years, she’s running the Chicago branch of a large, multi-million-dollar consulting firm. A lot of people in similar situations would not have had that level of success. I observed her really drive to better the situation for her family through hard work and commitment, and that’s why she’s probably my biggest influence.
Additionally, there have been countless leaders that I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from throughout my career. In my first job at Digital Equipment, the guy I worked for ended up leaving for another job, and my boss’s boss asked me to fill in in the interim. Six months later, he told me that I was doing a great job and that he wanted me to stay in the role permanently. I was very junior in my career at the time, so that really helped me create a lot of confidence in myself when it came to stepping into these kinds of leadership roles. He deserves a lot of credit.
Which books have you gifted the most over your career?
Oh boy … there are so many good books out there! Grit by Angela Duckworth is a great one. I also really enjoyed Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham. A recent book that I’ve been giving people is From Project to Product by Mik Kersten, which talks about delivery transformation.
If you weren’t doing the job that you have today, what would be your dream job?
I really do love financial services. So, it would be in trading or something similar. Maybe I would have been an economist. I really do believe in markets and the way the U.S. has it structured and set up. I think that it’s great for the economy – not just for the U.S. – but globally. And I think it has done a lot to facilitate the betterment of mankind.
What would you want our readers to know about you that we haven’t asked?
I would say to follow your passion first. Don’t go into technology because you think it pays well or whatever. I got into this field because I loved it. My successes and my career weren’t borne of some drive or motivation to just be a CIO. It was because I love what I do. Every day when I come to work, I am excited.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had hard days. There are days where it’s frustrating. There are days when it’s challenging. But that’s the way it is with anything that you truly love.
If you follow that philosophy – to follow your passion first, you will love the work that you do no matter where you end up going. It will be great for you.