Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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1/7/2009
06:43 AM
Bob Evans
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Borders CIO Survives C-Level Flux But Now Reports To HR

The good news: Borders CIO Susan Harwood still has her job. The bad news: Her CEO, CFO, and CMO colleagues were all replaced Sunday, and Harwood no longer reports to the CEO; now it's to the newly named CAO, who until three days ago ran HR. What the heck's going on here?

The good news: Borders CIO Susan Harwood still has her job. The bad news: Her CEO, CFO, and CMO colleagues were all replaced Sunday, and Harwood no longer reports to the CEO; now it's to the newly named CAO, who until three days ago ran HR. What the heck's going on here?Oh, what a difference 18 months can make. When Borders announced the hiring of Harwood in August 2007, her organizational linkage with then-CEO George Jones could not have been made more clear: It said so right in the second sentence of the press release (and the first sentence was very short).

At that time, Borders said Harwood's responsibilities would include "overall vision, strategic direction, and tactical delivery of all information technology systems and solutions to support the company's business operations," plus oversight for emerging technologies and heavy involvement in technology strategy for Borders.com, which was under development.

Under the new structure -- brought about by financial and operational challenges that have battered the company's stock price and might result in its stock being delisted -- Harwood reports to newly named chief administrative officer Dan Smith, who had been executive VP of human resources. In a press release put our yesterday, IT and the CIO role were barely mentioned; Borders simply said new CAO Smith "also takes on leadership of the company's information technology group, which is headed by Chief Information Officer Susan Harwood, who remains with the company." Well, who knows -- maybe the former executive VP of HR will be a terrific business technology visionary.

Looking back at the time Harwood was hired, it's ironic -- or perhaps a sign of the company's deep misunderstanding of IT's proper role in Borders' overall strategy -- that she was brought in to replace Rick Vanzura, whose way-cool title was "chief strategy officer and executive VP of emerging business and technology." I've heard only good things about Vanzura, but I've gotta ask: Just who in the wide, wide world of bookselling came up with that ridiculous title? For all its frothiness, that $100 title did Vanzura little good when it came time to do that thing that is so essential to CIOs: move from strategy to execution. As InformationWeek wrote at the time:

Borders CEO George Jones said: "Now that the strategic plan is set and its initiatives are being executed within the individual units, Rick and I agree that this is a logical time for him to transition away from his strategic duties."

Vanzura's now with Panera Bread as executive VP and co-COO.

Moral of the story? Take the head of HR out to lunch -- and resist titles with 12 or more words.

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