02:22 PM

Ryder CIO Plots Course

New IT chief harnesses knowledge capital

Only 90 air miles from Miami, Cuba is a world away. And from that world began a journey that would eventually lead Eduardo Vital to a leadership position running the IT department of a large company.

When Fidel Castro came to power, Vital was 9 years old, and his parents realized they needed to get out of the country. In escaping Cuba, the family began an odyssey that kept them in hiding for a year; they lived in 11 countries before settling in the United States. For young Eduardo, it was like a game: His parents pretended it was all a great adventure, and he knew nothing different, except in retrospect.

The travels instilled in him an understanding of different cultures, a sense of adventure, and an intensity that he brings to his work and his life. Vital started last month as CIO and executive VP of IT services at Ryder System Inc., a $5 billion company based in Miami, where he oversees a staff of 300.

To some extent, joining the staff marks a return home for Vital: Most of his career has been in corporate IT, working his way up the ladder at SHL Systemhouse Inc. and Air Products and Chemicals Inc. His one foray into consulting came when he joined Andersen Consulting in 1995; Ryder became his primary client in 1997.

When the opportunity to join Ryder's executive staff came his way, Vital was already intimately familiar with the company, although he still wanted to know more. Vital met with each member of the executive group to see if they could form a good team. "A big selling factor was that I saw evidence that they appreciate what I offer," he says.

Eduardo Vital

CIOs must plot business as well as technology strategy, Vital says.
Topping his agenda in support of the company's business strategy are two priorities: standardizing processes, equipment, and disciplines, and creating a global IT organization. "We want to leverage what's good and bring it under one umbrella," he says. "Harnessing knowledge capital is hard, and it's key."

Vital says he plans to spend three months gaining a more-detailed understanding of the IT issues facing Ryder and developing an action plan to deal with them. Also on his to-do list is meeting with the division heads of transportation, supply chain, human resources, finance, and other units so his department can better serve their business-technology needs.

Ryder has made IT a core competency. "IT supports what the management team is trying to do--grow the product lines and increase its number of offerings,"

he says. Ryder's products range from leasing and renting vehicles to supply-chain and logistics management services in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

Equally important is Vital's vision for the role of IT in driving overall business strategy. "I'm not sitting and plotting IT strategy; it's more business strategy," he says. "The most-effective CIOs have to think beyond the role of CIO. They sit side by side with the CEO and CFO, jointly deciding what to do."

He speaks with intensity, even fervor, about things that are important to him--his wife and three sons, and his commitment to charitable work.

Vital concedes that to be happy, he needs lots of stress. Still, he takes time to reflect on his life daily, and his conversation is peppered with words of gratitude for how fortunate he is. "You have to have a passion for life and a passion for what you do," he says. "That will help you in moments of stress."

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