Steve was also an Executive Director of the Society for Information Management and the Executive Director of IT at Volkswagen, among numerous other stints in a long career. Steve is currently a partner at Fortium Partners, a consulting firm comprised of former C-level technology leaders.
What follows are some takeaways from the conversation. You can watch the complete interview here.
Blaine: Our listeners will recall I recently interviewed Falk Bothe, the Head of Digital Transformation at Volkswagen, a bit of a connection to your past life. I know you spent a fair bit of time at Volkswagen.
Maybe start by telling us a little bit more about Fortium Partners. What is Fortium Partners? What do they do?
Steve: Fortium Partners is a group of ex CIOs or ex C-level executives that have decided that they want to help other companies out. They offer themselves to companies to do interim CIO work, special projects, look at the due diligence for acquisitions, and basically the whole gamut of things we used to do as CIOs.
The key leverage we have in the market is that we’re one to each in all different industries. We’re not all from the same industry. In fact, most of us are from different industries so we can really lend ourselves to a lot of different organizations in helping those organizations.
Blaine: Tell us a bit more about yourself and your journey to becoming the CIO of Penske, obviously, a very well-known American brand.
Steve: I kind of surrounded the automobile industry. I started out with two OEMs, one of which American Motors, (which many of your listeners may not even know who they are) and moved to Volkswagen. I got the international experience. I had OEM experience in the U.S., OEM experience in Europe and Asia, and leveraged that into an international company that was a supplier to the automobile industry.
It was quite a run. I had a great time doing it, and then got a little dabble into a little bit of the racing on the side. But, that was more of a side job than anything else. I never raced a car, but I got to watch them race and work with the sponsors and things.
“[Digital transformation] scares executives. You’ve got to talk about their business, what their business is doing, and how you can apply digital technologies to that business to make sure that the business runs more efficiently. It is not a single transformation. You know you have to be constantly transforming.”
– Steve Pickett
Blaine: Penske didn’t let you get behind the wheel and take one around Daytona or something?
Steve: [Laughter] We couldn’t do that. A publicly traded company usually doesn’t let their officers get into danger like that.
Blaine: That’s probably a good idea!
Before we started recording, you mentioned that you thought the term “digital transformation” was being overused. Do you have a further thought on that one?
Steve: It scares executives. You walk in and you say, “We’re going to use AI and IoT to do a digital transformation.” That’s usually the end of the discussion. You’ve got to talk about their business, what their business is doing, and how you can apply digital technologies to that business to make sure that the business runs more efficiently. It is not a single transformation. You know you have to be constantly transforming.
It’s not something you do and then lay it on the shelf and forget about it. It’s something you really need to do everyday in little pieces. The term is overused as this big, massive project. I really think if you transform every day, you’re going to be a much more productive company.
Blaine: We were also talking earlier about how executing a race has become very much a data-driven, real-time business. Do you want to touch on that a little bit?
Steve: The engineers back at the shop know a lot more about what’s going on in the car than they did in the past. The engineer is watching monitors and can tell the driver, “It looks like you’ve got a problem with your right front tire. Can you drive it a little easier through the corners so you don’t damage your right front tire?”. Instant communication.
The engineer is not sitting there watching the race. He’s back in his home in North Carolina just watching monitors. It happens quite often. They’re communicating with the driver. If the driver doesn’t like the way the car is running, they can tell him different things to dial, different things to try to make the car run better.
Leveraging that knowledge and leveraging that way of doing business into the regular business – we’ve always said doing business at the speed of a 14-second pit stop, that’s the mantra of the Penske organization: with absolute quality but the speed of a pit stop. That really did occur.