The Path to CIO: Connecting the Dots

“When I grow up, I want to be a CIO,” said no child...ever! Fire fighter, police officer, doctor, just about anything...but not CIO!

Path to CIO; Patty HatterEngineering was the only path that made sense to Intel Security Professional Services VP and GM, Patty Hatter. As the daughter of an engineer, she grew up knowing that engineering would open a lot of doors and possibilities; she could start in engineering and go into almost anything from there. For Patty, it was a path that would take her to Europe and back, working for some of the biggest names in IT, including McAfee and Intel.  

In addition to her role with Intel and multiple board positions, Patty is also a Fellow with the Institute of Digital Transformation. It was after one of the monthly Fellow conference calls that I reached out to her to learn more of her story and her Path to CIO.

Jeff: Patty, I like to start these interviews by asking, “I know as a little girl you did not aspire to be a CIO, no one does, tell me what did you want to be?”

Patty: (laughing) You nailed it in the intro. My dad was an engineer. It was always in the back of my mind. It was quite a normal thing for to me to study math and science. By the time I was in high school, I was set on that path.

Jeff: The step from engineering to IT seems logical, but when did you first get interested in computers?

Patty: My journey was probably a little different than some of the other leaders you have interviewed, in part because I see the role of IT as an enabler for all parts of the business. To do this, you have to understand the business, not just technology. I have had a wide variety of roles from sales, to services, and operations. I know the challenges that many of my peers are grappling with—I understand the constraints they are under. I can use my experiences to translate these business needs to the IT organization. If IT waits for the other business staff to bring them requirements, it’s just not going to happen.

I’ll tell you my baseline for an IT team that “gets it.” I want to be able to walk into a conference room and not be able to tell who is in IT and who is in the business. To achieve this level of understanding, you have to be willing to take on different types of roles. You HAVE to understand the business...the customers...the market. Technology is intertwined through all of it.

Jeff: I could not agree more! Tell me more about your path. You graduated from Carnegie Mellon in Engineering. How did you end up in CIO roles for these amazing companies?

Patty: I’d say the best way to describe it is—I took chances. After college, IPath to CIO, Patty Hatter joined Bell Labs. My first job was as a systems engineer to write requirements for new solutions we were designing. I was working closely with Marketing and Sales, and meeting with customers. I was learning how they interacted with our systems and what their needs truly were.

Our work was gaining traction across the Labs. This required me to begin presenting the work to other parts of the business.

One day, I remember walking into work. My boss pulled me aside and told me his plan for me was to send me to Europe to help build a business unit. Fast enough to make my head spin, I was on my way to the Netherlands.

I moved to Amsterdam, where I didn’t know a soul! I had no network of people to support me, so I started building one. Engineers like to build, so I started building relationships in order to carry forward the success we experienced in the US.

Within three years we had established three Bell Labs offices in Europe, a growing business and happy customers. At this time, I was ready to move back home when the EMEA President of AT&T asks me to meet him in his office in Brussels. As I was driving from Amsterdam to Brussels, I practiced my speech, “You know, I’ve been here three years and we’ve been very successful. It is time for me to head back to the States.”

About 10 minutes into this meeting I had agreed to move to London. All the way back to Amsterdam, I began to practice a new speech. The one in which I tell my new husband, “Dear, you like soccer, you love beer, honestly, you will LOVE it in London!” Luckily, he was and is a great guy and was very supportive!

We moved to London and I began to double down on what we built during my first three years in Europe to broadly scale the organization.

One thing I learned while working in Europe is different geographies have different cultures, obviously, but the 80/20 rule applies globally. 80% of the challenges businesses face are the same globally, the other 20% are unique to the region and the culture.

This experience...of being put into a position with a blank piece of, even more than that...being in a position where you have to make the pencil, then make the paper, THEN begin to write a plan... is what really shaped me into the leader I am today.

Jeff: I’m beginning to get a picture here. You really were an engineer. You were building business units and obviously became quite good at it! You said earlier, technology was a tool. I assume technology played an important role in those business units you helped to build. How did that experience help to shape your view of IT?

Patty: You are exactly right, Jeff. IT was critical to our success. I really saw and continue to see IT as an enabler. Everyone in IT needs to view themselves in that an enabler. To do this you have to learn different skills, you have to take advantage of opportunities, even if risky. Those will be the ones that teach you the most.

In 2004, I joined Cisco. They were just trying to emerge from Y2K. Prior to 2000, the biggest sin you could commit there was not keeping up with the growth. Then the bubble burst. The slower pace of growth meant we had to have more scrutiny on profitability. So, I said to myself, “OK, Patty, let’s put the pieces together beginning with the business groups.” The question was “Where does IT fit in?”

How do you pick up the pieces during a time of much slower growth? I found the magic was to connect the dots in the business processes. I needed IT to be an enabler—and it worked.

In 2010, I joined McAfee as the head of operations. The company had grown through acquisition with very little integration. In the short term, organizations can handle a lot of complexity, but in the long term it starts to weigh you down.

That first year, I focused on connecting the dots across the business functions. This provided the biggest bang for the buck. But IT was problematic. There was really no connection between it and the rest of the business. Broken relationships and broken trust were common themes.

After the first year, I become the CIO as well. It was then that my prior experience from Europe paid off. I was able to help IT rebuild relationships, build connections, and get on the path to moving the needle.  

Jeff: How were you able to do that?

Patty: The secret sauce was building trust and connecting the dots. I was able to say to the business heads, “You KNOW me. You KNOW I will always tell you what is going on!”

That first year was crazy. We had an agreed upon roadmap, but it was super aggressive, probably the most aggressive I had ever seen.

The roadmap included an overhaul of the order processing platform, implementation of a new CRM system, an emergency upgrade of our ERP system, and a refresh of our external portal.

The IT organization also underwent a significant restructuring during this time. I started the year with six direct reports. By year’s end, I had three, and only one was from the original six.

As we implemented our new strategy and began to get wins, you could feel the whole organization get more confident. The whole company began to say, “This IS a new IT team. We CAN trust them.” The fighting stopped and we began to collaborate.

Jeff: Patty, you’ve had some amazing experiences along your Path to CIO. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to become a CIO? Any additional advice for a young woman looking to start down her path?

Patty: Great questions! If I could sum it up, I would say broaden your experience. Interact with the business. If you aren’t doing that you will have a problem excelling in the roll.

Path to CIO, Patty HatterYou have to understand what is important to your company's customers. I don’t mean your internal customers, I mean those that buy your company’s products and services. You have to know how they interact with your company and its products. Even beyond that you have to know the influences in the industry and the market. You are not going to be able to do that without an external perspective.

Second, you have always stay up on the latest trends. Where is transformation taking place? This is not tech for tech's sake, this is understanding the trends, understanding your business, and developing a sense for which trends would benefit your business. Connect the dots! Use the external focus I mentioned earlier to figure out which technology brings the biggest bank for the buck to your business.

My advice to women...find your voice...take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to you...don’t second guess yourself. Too many of us worry so much we talk ourselves out of taking the chance. Quit asking yourself, “Oh, am I qualified?” Instead, have faith in yourself. Know there probably are gaps and it’s ok. Identify them, lay out a plan to address them.

For any new role, look at the bigger picture. Synthesize your world view and apply it to that roll. You have to always think bigger than your current role.

Don’t second guess yourself! Go for it!

Jeff: Great advice from a great leader! Patty, thank you so much for sitting down with me today. I look forward to sharing insights and learning as Institute Fellows.


Patty Hatter’s Path to CIO was through learning how to connect the dots, by looking at the broader landscape and understanding the power of relationships. Find more insights from Patty on Digital Era, the official blog of the Institute for Digital Transformation and follow her on Twitter.

The series, “The Path CIO” explores the careers of CIOs from around the globe in a variety of industries. Each month we will feature the story of their journeys and answer the question, “How DID you become a CIO?” (If you have held the role of CIO and are interested in telling your story, please reach out to me via the links in my profile!)

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Jeff Ton

About Jeff Ton

Throughout his career in business, Jeffrey Ton has developed and fine tuned his leadership skills to become a business focused leader who drives results. Extending the role of the CIO to encompass a strategic view of the business, he identifies innovative approaches to achieve the business objectives by leveraging technology where and when appropriate. Adept at building and leading teams, both in-line and cross-organizational, he has been a catalyst for change across the businesses he has served. Ton has industry expertise in information technology, non-profits, commercial real estate development, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, supply chain, green/clean technologies, finance, insurance and consulting. Expertise: • Strategic Planning – Business & Technology • Organization & Management Reengineering • Merger & Acquisition Integration • Divestiture Decoupling • Business & IT Alignment • Enterprise Architecture Strategy • C-level Relationships • International Staff Management & Acquisition • Global Enterprise Implementations • Fiscal Management • Governance & Risk Management • Business Process Optimization • Vendor Relationship Management • Outsourcing(Offshore/Near-shore) & In-sourcing • Technology Portfolio Management • Regulatory and Compliance Management • P&L Management Specialties: Architecture, infrastructure, applications, application development, telecom, e-Business strategy, web development, knowledge management, integration, EDI, SAP, business intelligence, outsourcing, insourcing, contract negotiation, commercial real estate development, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, supply chain, green/clean technologies, finance, insurance and consulting, keynote speaker on leadership, green and other topics, LEED AP BD+C. Read his blog on, Intel's IT Peer Network and LinkedIn.