Roy Dunbar - InformationWeek
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David Ewalt
David Ewalt

Roy Dunbar

A lack of IT experience didn't keep Eli Lilly's former CIO from changing the way the company uses technology

Sit at Roy Dunbar's desk and dead ahead of you, in the center of your field of vision, is a large painting of a ship. It's an old galleon, sails billowing in the wind, sailors tending their stations. Look closely and you'll notice the boat is about to plunge over the edge of the world. Look closer and you'll see the captain and his mates escaping the disaster in a tiny skiff.

The irreverent painting, titled "I Told You So," isn't the sort of thing you'd expect to find in the executive offices of Eli Lilly and Co., a 126-year-old global pharmaceutical business with revenue of $11.1 billion in 2002. But then, Roy Dunbar isn't the kind of guy you'd expect to be its CIO. Dunbar, 42, trained to be a pharmacist. Born in Jamaica and raised in the United Kingdom, he studies comparative religion, meditates daily, and has met the Dalai Lama twice. Before his appointment as CIO four years ago, he had business-management experience but--shockingly--knew almost nothing about technology.

Yet somehow, this thoughtful, erudite gentleman revitalized the way the company uses technology so efficiently that last month he received a major promotion, to president of intercontinental operations, responsible for Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Mexico, Brazil, the Andes, and Central America. The story of Dunbar's tenure as CIO is one of adaptability and creative thinking.

Lilly is an old-line company that slowly came to recognize the value of business technology. When Dunbar's predecessor, Tom Trainer, came on board in 1994 as Lilly's first CIO, he found a mess: 17 different IT organizations supported the company's operations. Lilly mostly used Apple computers and barely took advantage of tools widely accepted at other businesses. "IT had been sort of a subsidiary back-office function that reported up to finance," Dunbar says. "It had never really been viewed, in and of itself, as an important discipline."

Trainer updated the company's practices and installed modern systems and software, including standardizing on Microsoft Windows on the company's desktops. In 1999, when Trainer left to become head of global IT for Citigroup, Lilly's management team felt confident the company had made great progress. But there was plenty of work still to be done. The technology, while first-rate, was too isolated, and executives wanted to better align IT with the goals of the company.

Charlie Golden -- Photo by

Technology has helped Lilly's bottom line, CFO Golden says.

Charlie Golden
"We had gone through quite a change in our perspective and strategy in IT," CFO Charlie Golden says. "It was important to try to sort through what would it take to continue to change, but also to make IT a more integral part of our strategy." Lilly management had to decide whether to tap someone from inside or outside the IT organization. Ultimately, they decided they needed an individual with broad experience in sales and marketing and with knowledge of how the business works outside IT.

And it was a bright new star in the organization, brought to Lilly corporate from a management job in South America, who fit the bill. Dunbar had been with Lilly for less than a decade but already had an impressive resumé.

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