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1/24/2003
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Influencer Visions: A Question Of Balance

If companies work hard and tap their talented people, Robert Rubin says, they can achieve success this year.

Maturity changes our burning priorities, and age dampens our youthful expectations. Likewise, time alters what industries view as their strategic imperatives for coping with the future. Information technology, so recently seen as the engine of productivity in this country, has gone through nearly three years of a deepening downturn that has resulted in layoffs and major trauma for the participants. As we enter 2003, we utter the same sentiments as when we began 2002: "Surely, things have to be better this year."

It was only three years ago that retaining key personnel ranked as one of the greatest worries voiced by CIOs. Now, a lot of good people are having trouble getting jobs, and CIOs fret over whether there's enough money in the budget to keep the business operational until profits improve. Many people, including me, believe it'll be a long time before we see anything like the heady days of 1999 and 2000, when money flowed at the mere mention of the words "innovation" and "competitive advantage."

I don't know whether a year from now we'll be in the midst of a grand recovery or, against all our fervent desires, mired in an ugly economic double dip. I do know, though, that we'll face problems and, as in the past, conquer them if we work hard enough and use the talented people around us. Hopefully, as we do so, we won't lose sight of the qualities that made the IT organization a place where exciting and meaningful work is done and where individuals are promoted and compensated based on merit.

In my years in this industry, I've found the IT organization, more than other groups in a company, to be a technical meritocracy. We cared little about the color of someone's skin or a person's gender. What counted was the ability to get the job done. In every company for which I've worked, the IT department had the best balance of diversity--and innovation--around the place. The individuals in IT had their problems with each other, and sometimes the politics stank, but on the whole people worked together as a team, excited by the technology and the opportunity to make a difference for the enterprise.

I just hope that as we face the future, and the hard decisions we'll have to make in 2003, we don't lose that wonder and freshness that has brought us so far, so fast.

Robert Rubin is the former CIO of Elf Atochem.

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Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Industry Influencers

Randolph Blazer, chairman and CEO of BearingPoint Bradford Brown, chairman of the National Center for Technology & Law at George Mason University School of Law
Bob Evans, Editor-in-Chief of InformationWeek Jim Hatch, formerly CIO at Pactiv
Robert Rubin, former CIO of Elf Atochem William Schaff, chief investment officer at Bay Isle Financial LLC

Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at informationweek.com/forum/informationweek

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