US DNA CIO Interview Rajesh

Interview with Rajesh Nagarjan, CIO at Celanese
DNA of a CIO

Was IT senior leadership always your goal?
It was my career aspiration. I believe IT is a critical part of finding and leveraging business opportunities. My strengths are being able to apply technology to help enable respective business priorities – supporting better productivity, enabling goals, and helping develop new business models. I’ve always been in IT, and this path felt the most rewarding to me.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Working with the business and helping and enabling their objectives. In this position I am able to dialogue with the right folks in the business and I’m now leading a function that can really play a value-added role. That’s the most exciting part.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How did you overcome this?
The biggest challenge was to get out of my comfort zone and do something really different, to stretch myself. A few years ago I moved into a supply chain role that required me to make some big decisions with a potentially big monetary or financial impact. I had never done that in IT. Moving into supply chain was likely jumping in cold water, but it was necessary to prepare me for this role.

What technical skills are integral to the role?
You need the tech at the start of your career but at this stage it’s people first, then process, then tech. You need the right processes to enable tech. Then you realize you need the right people. At this point the tech has been passed back to my team so now I have to help them be successful. What do they need?

Developing that ability to empower my team to succeed took me a while. When I moved to a function where I wasn’t the expert I needed people smarter than me to make it happen. Four years in supply chain gave me that missing skill set.

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
You need to understand the business better than the technology. What are their key pain points, what do they need to be successful? Then you figure out where technology can help that. You can understand the technology, but if you can’t apply it then what’s the point? You have to understand business structure, models, leadership, and down to the processes, what numbers are they going to hit, how are they performing.

What is the one thing you have to have to be a CIO in your opinion?
The business acumen and skill set to figure out where to apply the right technology. Anyone can learn a new technology, but how do you know where the right technology is?

In your opinion, how important is networking?
Internal and external networking are both important. Internal networking is how I was able to achieve this career. For external networking I think there are three buckets that you can categorize your connections in. One is peers in your industry. They are facing the same problems as you so you can share stories and solutions. Second are peers in industries that are ahead of yours. Some industries are naturally at the forefront of technology and change. You can learn from their mistakes and successes, and get a glimpse of what might be next for your organization. Finally you should be connected key service providers, vendors, and software providers who know the products they’re offering are aligned with your business.

Is there anything you would have differently looking back at your career path?
I joined this company in 1992, but I left briefly to become an independent contractor. At the time I thought I needed that experience to succeed, but in practice it was a poor fit and I lost four or five years of development. When I came back I found my career path again, but if I hadn’t left then I’d have made it here sooner. I would suggest that ambitious IT professionals look not just at what their peers are doing or what employers want today, but at their long term potential and plan. You don’t need the same experience as everyone else, you need the right experience for your ambitions. Make sure your career moves support your end goal.

How are you advancing your career?
I’m trying to enhance my network in those three buckets so that I can figure out what my next move will be. I’d like to enhance my experience by managing a broader and global shared services, or get into an industry where IT is more of an enabler instead of a service.