February 18, 2009
Sears offers the latest evidence of a CIO moving into a business-unit role outside technology, tapping CIO Karen Austin to lead one of the company's business line leadership roles that are central to its turnaround strategy.Austin will become president of Sear's home electronics business (here's the press release). Sears is betting on these business unit leaders -- there are presidents for home services, Lands' End, pharmacy, etc. -- to find how each can set the retailer apart in a brutally competitive retail environment.
Austin has shown she isn't afraid to stir the pot. When she became Sears CIO -- in the wake of the merger with Kmart, where Austin was CIO -- she quickly nixed a 10-year, $1.6 billion outsourcing deal with CSC. The deal was less than a year old, but Austin killed it, saying it wasn't meeting performance targets. That prompted a spate of negotiations with CSC as the outsourcer fought to get paid for $80 million in investments it made to support the deal. Sears' new CIO Timothy Kasbe comes to the company after a stint as CIO of India's Reliance Retail Ltd. (RRL), which Sears says has opened 978 stores and 79 distribution centers in the past two years, from supermarkets to convenience stores. (Read this blog post for an account of Kasbe's experience during last year's terror attack in Mumbai.) Moves like Austin's making, from IT to a business unit role, look increasingly common at the CIO level. But we're also seeing business tech pros at all levels blurring the lines between conventional business and IT lines. Let us know your experience managing your own and others' career paths, particularly the challenges in balancing business and technology skills.
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