“When I grow up, I want to be a CIO,” said no child ever. Fireman, policeman, doctor, just about anything but CIO. As a young girl growing up in Michigan, Ginny Davis loved animals. Growing up, she wanted to be a veterinarian or a nurse like her mom. How this Midwestern girl grew up to be CIO of the multinational corporation, Technicolor, takes us on a Path to CIO that takes us through Michigan, London, and Paris, finally landing in Hollywood.
Ginny and I first met in Paris at a small restaurant, the Brasserie Jean Baptiste, of all places. We both worked in IT for Thomson (now, Technicolor). We were there for one of the first global IT leadership meetings after Thomson had acquired Technicolor. Our team was debriefing after a long day of meetings. While our paths to CIO diverged a few years later, we have remained in touch. When I started this series, I knew I wanted to feature Ginny in a post describing the pathway to CIO.
Jeff: So, Ginny, I guess we will always have Paris! When did you get bit by the computer bug?
Ginny: Way to start a career interview with a Humphrey Bogart quote, and a bad pun about a computer bug! I think, for me, my love for computers started in the 8th grade. My parents bought me my first computer, a Commodore 64. This was more than something to play games on, you could actually program it! I fell in love with writing code.
Jeff: For those keep track, this is now five out of five CIOs who got their start on a Commodore 64 — mindboggling. 8th grade? Did you know then you wanted to pursue computers as a career?
Ginny: Yeah, I think so. I remember throughout high school wanting to learn more and more about them. After graduating from high school, I thought I had the whole summer off to lay in the sun, hang out with my friends and get ready for college. Then my uncle stepped in. He told my parents he could get me an interview at the bank. All of a sudden, they reneged on the “promise” of a summer off and sent me off to the interview.
I got the job. There I was working 5 - 9 in the operations department at the bank. Spending my evenings with a 3090!
I quickly moved into the role of Unix Sys Admin. It ended up being a great break for me. I was able to work full-time at the bank and attend school full-time. Eventually, I moved into app dev. I stayed with the bank for six years after graduation. It really was foundational for my career.
Jeff: When did you get your first taste of management and how did that come about?
Ginny: I wanted to code. I didn’t really want to move into management. I liked developing applications. I loved solving business problems through code. I was still with the bank when, basically, my boss said, “Do it!”.
I didn’t really like it at first, but over time I took on more and more responsibility, more and more people, and ultimately multiple departments.
I guess like a lot of mentors and coaches, he saw something in me I had not recognised in myself yet.
Jeff: Was there a moment in your career that you knew you wanted to be a CIO?
Ginny: I don’t really recall ever really thinking, “Gee, I’d like to be CIO.” I don’t even really remember when I first heard of the title “Chief Information Officer”. I would guess it was ‘95 or ‘96 as we all headed into Y2K.
I was very happy doing what I was doing. At the time, our company was going through a great deal of change. Honestly, when I was called into the CEO’s office, I thought I was being summonsed for a far different reason and instead, he offered me the CIO position.
Jeff: Ginny, you are in the midst of a very successful career, what have you learned about yourself that surprised you?
Ginny: (laughing) I was never a big risk taker. Never really big on change. I drink the same brand of bottled water, eat at the same restaurants, order the same meal — you know, if it works, why change?
Over my career, I have become more open to change, more open to taking risks. I was really skeptical that I could ever be comfortable with it. I really surprised myself. I didn’t think I had it in me, I really had to dig deep.
Jeff: IT has traditionally been a male-dominated industry and career path. You, undoubtedly, faced challenges and obstacles that others may not have had to face. What were some of those challenges and what advice would you give to a young woman as she contemplates a career in IT?
Ginny: Jeff, you know, when we prepped for this interview and you mentioned this topic, I really had to stop and think about it. I cannot honestly think of a time when I faced a challenge just because I was a woman.
As I moved through my career, I had a track record of success and a track record of making sacrifices. I moved around the world, always working on the hardest projects, always willing to pull the all-nighters when the project demanded it.
Maybe it would have been different at a different company, maybe I would have run into some of the stereotypical challenges.
With that said, there is a real need to encourage more women to pursue tech careers, there is a need for more diversity. To that end, I do spend a lot of time coaching girls through STEM programs and the Big Sisters organization. I encourage them to enter and stay in STEM study areas.
One of the girls I have worked with recently was only one of three girls in the program at her school. That can make you feel like an outsider. My advice to them is to build a network of students that share your interests, a network of male and females. You are not alone, you a not a white elephant.
Throughout Ginny’s career, she has sought out the toughest problems and the biggest challenges. Today, Ginny is not only the head of IT for a company with 29,000 employees, she was asked to head up Global Security in the aftermath of the Sony hack, as well. The digital transformation she has helped to lead will serve as a roadmap for many organizations wanting to do the same.
“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”
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 below!)
Jeffrey Ton is the Executive Vice President of Product and Service Development for Bluelock. He is responsible for driving the company’s product strategy and service vision and strategy. Jeff focuses on the evolving IT landscape and the changing needs of our customers, together with the Bluelock team, ensures our products and services meet our client's needs and drives value in their organizations now and in the future.
Jeff blogs on a variety of platforms:
Business related topics: LinkedIn
IT and the role of the CIO: Intel's IT Peer Network
Life, Family, Love, Leadership and History: Rivers of Thought
Leadership and Leadership Development: People Development Magazine