Jason Millett

Westpac New Zealand

cio-nz-jason-millett.pngLike many CIOs Jason Millett, Interim CIO of Westpac New Zealand, didn’t initially set his sights on the top IT job. In fact, the first 15 years of his career were spent in the Royal Australian Navy in a range of functional and operational roles.

By the end of his time in the Navy, Jason was delivering complex technology-enabled business projects, but then found himself at a career crossroads. Like other successful CIOs, he came to the conclusion that what he really wanted was a job where he could bring to bear both his business knowledge and technical acumen.

Jason didn’t think he’d find his niche in the role of CIO though, and was even initially sceptical of the position. As he explains, “During the last 10 to 15 years, the CIO function was dominated by people who had an infrastructure perspective. I found it frustrating that they’d miss the opportunity that technology can bring a business.”

It wasn’t until he completed a national rollout for a Big 4 bank that he was appointed to the executive team and exposed to a CIO who believed that technology could deliver business outcomes. Seeing such a CIO in action inspired Jason to work towards the position himself.

Underlying everything Jason does as CIO is this firm belief in the use of technology to deliver business outcomes. It’s why he’s such a passionate advocate of aligning IT with the business strategy. “I don’t believe in technology strategy. There’s only one strategy and that’s the business strategy. Your alignment with the business’s strategy and with what the business demands and needs is most important.”

As evidence of this, Jason has just delivered a technology road map for the business and driven a major restructure in IT to ensure the team is capable of achieving business needs.

Along with a core focus on delivering business outcomes, Jason says any aspiring CIO must also possess financial acumen. “You (the IT department) need to be seen as a value-adder, not a cost centre. You need to ask, ‘What is the business outcome? What is the strategic imperative? Where is revenue generated? Where is customer value being added?’

“Without financial or commercial skills, a CIO can’t deliver the best technology solutions to meet the business outcomes,” he says.

Business intelligence

Jason says any aspiring CIO should also learn to know why you are doing what you are doing. New graduates to Jason’s team are put on rotation out to the wider business. As Jason says, “Whether it’s to a branch or a call centre, they need to go into the business to understand the context of what the business does in order to be able to come up with the best technology solutions to deliver business outcomes.”

Jason reminds such graduates, as well as his whole team, that they provide services to everyone. As he says, “No one department is more important than another. As CIO you need to understand what the business drivers are as an end-to-end proposition. It starts with the customer and goes through to the back-end operations that convert customer conversation to revenue. IT is a provider of services to all.”

Ask questions

Jason says successful CIOs need to constantly learn. He tells any aspiring CIO not to be afraid of what you don’t know. “Embrace what you don’t know in a manner that leads you to actively seek the answer,” he says.

“Don’t take things for granted. There’s no such thing as a dumb question. If you aren’t sure, don’t assume. Be business smart and technology savvy. For example, your infrastructure team might be stretching the truth about what they plan to implement, or your architect might tell you we don’t have an architectural road map for that particular functionality. Ask them why or why not, and how you can help them get to that.

“By asking questions you learn to understand how your environment works and then you can relate technology support to business outcomes.”

Leadership skills

Like any accomplished CIO, Jason says leadership skills are critical to success in the role. “As CIO you employ people with technical skills, and then you need to get the best out of them. Your team will have a range of vertical skills but the horizontal, or your dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s, has to be your own leadership skills.”

As you would expect, after 15 years in the military Jason knows how to lead people. Of that time, he says: “I learnt the value of being transparent, open and honest, while providing clear direction and an absolute understanding of what I expect from the team every day – and then how to create the environment they need to deliver that.”

There’s no doubt that Jason’s leadership skills are cemented in respect. “It’s very important to be respectful. As leader, you need to be interested and inquiring to work out what makes your staff tick and what gets them out of bed in the morning to put in high quality work.

“You also need to be accessible. If you walk the floor and engage your people on a personal yet professional basis, you learn so much more about what’s happening in your environment.”

For aspiring CIOs, Jason says it’s also important to be able to work with people who are smarter than you. “It’s about working with people with the capability to deliver the broader outcomes,” he explains.

A passion for people

For Jason, working with IT people is the best thing about being a CIO. “For me, it’s about the people. It’s about working with a diverse range of people who have a hugely broad skill set, and motivating them and getting them to be the best team they can to enable business outcomes and win business performance.

“Technology can be innovative, clever and fun, but without the people who are motivated to give their all and do their best it’s a bland job.”

Learn to be tenacious

Tenacity is an important personal characteristic for a successful CIO, says Jason. “There are days when you just need to keep on driving through. As leader, you can’t show signs of weakness. People are looking for leadership, so you need to be consistent and honest. You also need to be resilient.”

Jason’s path to success

Many CIOs do not start their career in IT, and Jason falls into this category. After transitioning out of the Navy in 1997, Jason became a Management Consultant with a global consulting firm. Working in their project management practice, he was quickly promoted and delivered a number of assignments, ranging from project management through to support for the City of Sydney’s Olympics preparations.

He was then headhunted to join a Big 4 bank as Program Director to integrate the systems and programs that underpinned a merger. Following this, he held various positions within the bank, including rolling out an integrated banking platform across multiple sites and training people to adopt this integrated piece of technology.

He joined Westpac in 2008 as General Manager of Strategy for Consumer Financial Services. After the post merger integration with St George, Jason became CIO and GM of Strategy and Execution for the Project Operations division and was accountable for all product-based systems as well as the delivery of strategy. After 18 months he became Transformation Director and was responsible for a major cost reduction program across mortgages and business banking.

Jason then spent some time away from the bank. He returned to management consulting, then joined Billabong Group as Global Group Executive – Technology, eCommerce and Transformation. He was responsible for the technology that enabled the distribution of the retail supply chain, distribution at the Billabong Group, and the operation of the ecommerce business globally. He also ran the program management function.

He returned to Westpac in early 2014 to complete a portfolio and program review of a $65 million program of work. He then stepped in as interim CIO of Westpac New Zealand.

“IT is a massive task,” he says. “There are lots of challenges and transformation is one of those.”

Unsurprisingly then, Jason says his biggest professional challenge for the next 12 months will be bringing together and executing the reforms that he initiated upon rejoining the bank.

Jason holds a Bachelor of Arts, an MBA and is a qualified Company Director. He has completed short programs at MIT in the US.

A male dominated profession

CIOs are typically men in their 40s to mid-50s. While Jason conforms to this mould, he thinks that more needs to be done to create opportunities for people to progress – both men and women. “You need your best people to progress,” he says. “There’s an imbalance (of genders in IT) and we’re still wearing that male dominated label because of where we’ve come from as an industry. We need to give everyone, regardless of gender, the opportunity to excel. If you’ve got people with business acumen, capability and potential, you get your best team on the paddock.”

The work-life balance challenge

Like many CIOs, Jason finds work-life balance a challenge to achieve. He says, “It’s hard to get the balance right because in a digital environment you are always in operation 24-7. You need your organisational paradigm right, and there are lots of things you need to do to get balance. It’s about fixing structure, introducing capability around continuous delivery, working out how you improve your testing and coding, knowing how you define source and then how you consume services from your technology partners. Once you get all that right, you can think about work-life balance!”

Enjoy your career

In his final piece of advice, Jason says aspiring CIOs should have a good time in the role. “Make sure you enjoy yourself. You’ll be successful, engaged and accessible. And in the process you’ll earn street and management credibility by understanding why you are doing what you are doing,” he concludes.