Walk us through your CIO path. How did you decide to pursue a career in technology, and how did you progress to your current organization?
As a child, I was always interested in taking things apart and putting them back together. My father was an engineer at Westinghouse on heavy transformers and for a while at Boeing on the enormous F-1 main stage rocket engines on the Saturn V. As the son of an engineer, I grew up surrounded by slide rules and drafting tools. So when it came time for me to pick a college, the choice was obvious to me and Purdue University was the only place I applied. At Purdue, I “learned how to learn” and that mindset has helped me learn my way through many obstacles I’ve encountered along my career.
After graduation from Purdue, I landed an incredible job at Texas Instruments as a Manufacturing Engineer. I worked on electro-optic night vision targeting systems for the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank; F/A-18 Hornet; F-117-A Nighthawk; P-3 Orion; TOW II man portable anti-tank missile system; and Chemical Warfare Directional Detector. My manufacturing experience included printed circuit boards, cryogenics, specialty optics, fabricated parts, sub-assemblies and ballistic metals. It was an incredible experience and, today as a Chief Information Officer, how I tackle technological decision making is based almost entirely on what I learned from some very brilliant engineers when I “grew up” at Texas Instruments.
After TI, I changed industries and worked for several different companies in commercial real estate development, first as a project manager then eventually as a Vice President at Lincoln Property Company. It was at Lincoln that I developed my business acumen and broadened my understanding of the many moving parts that keep companies running. Despite this shift into business, I never could get away from my technology roots and in 1995, I switched industries again. I founded an Internet eCommerce startup, SightSound Technologies, which was the first company to sell music downloads in 1995, then the first to sell movie downloads in 1999. The entire operation was built on redundant servers in seven data centers around the country, all load-balanced and meshed together. In hindsight, it resembled a cloud-service in the very early years. Like many startups, it was years ahead of market demand and we eventually sold my patent portfolio to General Electric.
In 2006, I switched industries again and was recruited by The Walt Disney Studios to be their Chief Technology Officer at a time when they were rapidly shifting from a 100-year old chemical film process to making 3D movies with electronic cameras. During Disney’s production of Tron Legacy, we had teams working all across the west coast, from Los Angeles to Vancouver, connected by some very expensive fiber links. In typical Disney fashion, the company pushed the boundaries of technology and creativity. It was truly a magical time in my career. In a short time, the studio went through a major Digital-Business Transformation, shifting from a manual chemical film process to digital imagery supported by file-based workflows. I realized that the future of movie making would become Internet-based, before the term cloud-services was well known. At that time a new division at EMC was created to provide cloud-services and in late 2009, I joined EMC to establish a media cloud for use by the Hollywood production community. That was a short-lived effort because EMC, with a rich history selling powerful servers, quickly realized that they would be in direct competition with their largest customers. Selling servers while selling services was a difficult proposition for some of their major customers to reconcile, so EMC pulled the plug on their media cloud initiative before it could get off the ground.
Still convinced that the future of so many industries would eventually rely on cloud technologies, I decided to go back to the world of startups where I could experiment with new cloud offerings without any pre-existing constraints. After several years of first-hand experience with cloud-services, I proved to myself that this new business model was the most economical way to go and while hoards of IT professionals were wringing their hands over security concerts, I had a very different and positive experience. I realized that legions of Google and AWS cybersecurity engineers could do a better job of protecting my data than I could at a startup, or even at a company where I could hire a robust team of security engineers. I was hooked on the promise of the cloud-services business model.
Then in 2014, I was mountain biking with a friend who knew of a search for CIO at a rental car company and he asked if I was interested in interviewing. I initially said no, mainly because the rental car industry isn’t known for its customer centric mindset. I was used to companies like Texas Instruments, Lincoln Property Company, and The Walt Disney Studios that were known for their unwavering approach to customer satisfaction. A few days later, I realized that was the wrong attitude for me to take. I decided to take on a new challenge and jump into another industry, one where I had zero background, and see if my recent cloud experience and customer-first attitude could make a difference. I ended up landing the job and quickly migrated that rental car company’s information systems from on-premises and colocation datacenter operations to an entirely cloud-based company. Luckily for me, the company COO and CHRO also had a customer-first mentality and they were quickly sold on the promise of cloud-services. Together, the three of us went on to lead a Digital-Business Transformation resulting in drastic improvements to the company’s customer facing operations, all underpinned by cloud-services.
Switching industries yet again, I joined Spyglass Media Group in June 2019 as their Chief Information Officer where I am leading their Digital-Business Transformation. It started in July 2019, when we moved information systems out of data centers and on-premises operations, to a 100% “cloud-first” operating model. The initial rationale for the Digital-Business Transformation at Spyglass was to protect the company from possible disruption after an earthquake in southern California. Little did we know that our new cloud-first operation would be put to the test in March 2020, not due to an earthquake but from the disruption caused by the Coronavirus global pandemic. With a three-hour notice, the company’s offices were closed under the “California Stay Home Order.” This closure acted as a two-year “stress test” of the business continuity, resilience, and agility afforded to us by our newly established cloud-first operation. This move to cloud-services thankfully permitted the company to continue business operations with the entire staff working remotely from home and is continuing to serve as a robust technical foundation upon which we keep adding new elements to further drive our Digital-Business Transformation.
Tell us about your company. Speak to the industry, the size of the company, and the services provided to your customers.
Spyglass Media Group is a global premium content company focused on developing, producing, financing and acquiring motion pictures and television programming across all platforms for worldwide audiences. Spyglass, along with Paramount Pictures, released Scream to a global audience in January 2022. With the proliferation of ways the customer can now watch movies and television shows, it is a wonderful time to produce entertainment. Spyglass has strategic backing from Lantern Capital Partners, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Eagle Pictures and Cineworld Group.
What are your top 3-5 (ongoing) main priorities as CIO in your organization?
Right before the Coronavirus pandemic broke out, we finished migrating all of our core IT systems to cloud-services and I’m now focused on moving manual business processes to the cloud as well. Additionally, we have a strategic effort underway to move digital media assets from a variety of local digital repositories to the cloud. This migration to cloud-services will enable us to automate our downstream distribution servicing process while maintaining a secure, online digital archive of our movies and television shows.
How do you decompress from your role as a technology executive? What do you do for fun?
I live very close to the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles. It’s a mountain biker’s paradise, so every weekend I am out riding the trails. It is a great way to clear your mind and do some free thinking. Spending time immersed in such a beautiful environment full of deer, coyote, bobcats, wild parrots and even rattlesnakes, is a great way to take a break from technology. It also helps that I ride where there is no cell signal.
Can you list your top 1-3 books that you would recommend for a technology leader to have on their bookshelf?
The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
and when anyone feels exhausted from jousting at technological windmills, you can always go back to the early 1600s and find solace in…
Don Quixote: The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha
Can you share a specific quote that is a source of inspiration for you as a leader?
On the very first day of my career as a young engineer after graduating from Purdue University, while I was going through new employee orientation at Texas Instruments, I received the best advice of my career. I was told by an engineering manager, “Never be misguided by your own personal wants or needs, always put yourself in the customer’s shoes when you make your decisions.” I can confidently say that because I repeatedly adhered to her sage advice throughout my entire career, my customer centric decision making is the reason why I was able to be successful in several C-Suite roles.
Please share a recommendation or testimonial on the benefit you see as a member of this CIO Professional Network.
There are so many offerings, communities of interest, articles, and videos that are curated for today’s Chief Information Officer available through the CIO Professional Network. What is most important for me are the regularly scheduled video conference calls with fellow CIOs across the country. These video calls focus on topics that we as a group select and having firsthand and unfiltered discussions with other CIOs offers deeper insight into issues that are most relevant to me, especially in this post-pandemic era we are navigating.