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Continental Stays The Course Under CIO's Control

“I’d love to say [finding the right IT tools] was extremely difficult,

InformationWeek Staff

November 30, 2001

3 Min Read

Janet Wejman was quick to crawl under the table--never mind the skirt and heels--when the overhead projector shut down during an August meeting at Continental Airlines Inc.'s Houston headquarters. The dozen IT and business executives who sat in black leather chairs around the oblong mahogany table continued chatting while Wejman examined cables and plugs with an IT technician.

The CIO and senior VP emerged from under the table a few minutes later, eyebrows bent as she pondered what went wrong with the machine. The technician left to find more help, and Wejman shifted back to the topic at hand, clearly explaining a new application that calculates the profit and loss of each of the airline's 58,000 monthly flights--an application that would prove extremely crucial just one month later.

That hands-on approach is typical of Wejman. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she immediately called her counterparts at American Airlines and United Airlines to offer her condolences--and help. She spent the rest of the day on conference calls with colleagues at Continental, helping stabilize the airline and plan for when planes were allowed back in the skies. The next day, Wejman drove 19 hours from Tucson, Ariz., where she had been scheduled to speak at a conference, to Houston. She went directly to the office, the start of nearly two straight weeks of long days spent modifying applications, working with FBI agents to scour passenger lists and bolster security, and fine-tuning Web tools to communicate with customers and employees. "None of us minded, though. We were just glad to help," says Wejman.

As other airlines scurried to write new applications to deal with the crisis, Continental's IT staff was remarkably prepared. "I'd love to say it was extremely difficult, but it wasn't," Wejman says of finding the right IT tools to support the airline during the past three months.

Before the attacks, Wejman and her 1,300-person IT staff were about six months away from completing a five-year IT initiative, installing a LAN and E-mail at headquarters, extending the infrastructure to all of Continental's hubs and ticket offices, and developing a central database and Web-based applications. Now, the airline is taking a three-to six-month hiatus on new IT initiatives to conserve capital. But tools already in place, including scheduling and financial-forecasting apps and a company intranet, are helping Continental weather the storm (see "How IT Helped An Airline Recover," Nov. 19, p. 33; informationweek.com/864/continental.htm).

Wejman, who commutes to Houston from her home near Chicago each week, quit her job as assistant VP of technology for Chicago & North Western Railroad in 1995 to fulfill a dream of becoming a flight instructor. She bought Northern Aviation, a Wheeling, Ill., flight school, but a year later when she wanted to further invest in the school, her husband balked. So she returned to IT, consulting for several companies, including Continental. Four months later, then-CFO and now president Larry Kellner asked her to become CIO. "Janet's as good or better a businessperson as she is a technologist," Kellner says. "She finds the business problem first, then figures out how to make it work technically."

Wejman recently sold her flight school, but she continues to thrive at the nation's fifth-largest airline. The 925-mile commute means she still gets her air time--just not in the cockpit.

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