InformationWeek's 2014 Chief of the Year shares what being a cancer survivor taught her, why she dislikes rock-star CIOs, and more.

Rob Preston, VP & Editor in Chief, InformationWeek

December 1, 2014

4 Min Read
Cathy Bessant

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On not coming up through the technology ranks:
"If I was a classically trained technologist, I would be great at Cobol. And I probably would have come up through the technology side of the company during that period of time when technology and the business really were separate, when technology was thought of as the black box, when the budgets weren't integrated and understood. All kinds of preparation can work for sitting in the kind of job that I sit in today. But now, five years later, I look at the alternative and I feel very fortunate to have come at it from this direction."

On the reality that IT is hard:
"The thing I know now that I didn't know five years ago is that technology is a space where everybody thinks they're an expert. But until you really dive in, until you live it, it is impossible to understand. A business person will say to you, 'Why can't we just do this?' And I don't like being in the business of saying, 'Well, let me tell you why we can't,' but five years ago I would have said, 'Flip the switch, people. Get me what I need!' But I love that it's not that simple."

On her distaste for "rock-star CIOs":
"I believe technology is part of the journey. It's not the destination. The destination is great things for clients and customers and for shareholders and employees. Technologists who think that what they do is the destination miss the point of being in business. The belief that a charismatic technologist can drive a level of investment into a black box over a period of time just doesn't prove out over time. Most people in my chair who are like that, four-and-a-half years later they're gone."

On the value of consistency:
"Sometimes sticking to your knitting takes more courage than just doing the outlandish."

On her pet peeves:
Whiners. Perpetual victims. People who make excuses. "You have to win with the cards you're dealt," Bessant says. No excuses. There's no substitute for performance, a standard she says she holds herself accountable to as well.

[ Read the related feature story, IT Chief Of The Year: Bank Of America's Cathy Bessant. ]

On why talent trumps all:
"Code does not write itself. Architecture doesn't just happen. It's a people business. Quality of development is equal to the quality of the people."

On digital disruption:
Mostly because of the high barriers to entry in financial services -- the need to comply with myriad regulations, scale to a substantial size, invest heavily in information security -- Bessant says she's not preoccupied with some digital startup eating Bank of America's lunch. "Don't get me wrong. It's something I worry about," she says. "No one sitting where I sit should rest easy on the subject of disruption. But we need to be smart about where we lead the market, where we'll be a fast follower, and where we'll lag."

On surviving cancer and juggling work-home life:
"I have always had good integration between my work and my life. I knew when I was 7 years old that I wanted to be someone's mom. I never really knew I wanted to be a banker. I have a very clear perspective and have always been simply driven to have work and a life that work together -- not perfect on any given day, but that work together over time. That's not what cancer brought me. What being a cancer survivor taught me is perspective not on what's important, but what isn't."

[ Read the related feature story, IT Chief Of The Year: Bank Of America's Cathy Bessant. ]

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About the Author(s)

Rob Preston

VP & Editor in Chief, InformationWeek

Rob Preston currently serves as VP and editor in chief of InformationWeek, where he oversees the editorial content and direction of its various website, digital magazine, Webcast, live and virtual event, and other products. Rob has 25 years of experience in high-tech publishing and media, during which time he has been a senior-level editor at CommunicationsWeek, CommunicationsWeek International, InternetWeek, and Network Computing. Rob has a B.A. in journalism from St. Bonaventure University and an M.A. in economics from Binghamton University.

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