Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Mark Ricketts | Emphasise leadership and technology

Published:Sunday | March 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Larry Quinlan

The current standoff between so many public-sector workers and Government, the extent to which negotiations have dragged, and promises made and not kept is a failure of leadership.

Hopefully, effective leadership on both sides will produce a resolution soon. Too many lives are being affected for this to drag on, and increasingly, it is going to become a political football with a hardening of ideological and partisan positions.

"Leadership is not evident unless there are people following you. You actually have to exercise leadership in a way that people have to believe in the message you deliver and the direction you are going is worthy of their followership," said Larry Quinlan.

His message could have been aimed at our country's political leaders, or the young girl in high school who wants to make a difference, or a schoolteacher, or university president. Yet again, it could be for individuals running a company or divisional heads of a corporation.

Inspired and effective leadership, if fully grasped and implemented across the island, could be a major driver in the country's growth and development.


Guided by vision


Continuing his thoughts on leadership, Quinlan said you have to see a vision. "People don't wake up every morning thinking, what is Larry Quinlan's vision today, and, how might I buy into it?" By extension, a similar line of reasoning could be put to a number of different leaders, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, Gleaner Managing Director Christopher Barnes, UWI Principal Archie McDonald, and many others throughout the country.

In Quinlan's words, "We have to reach out and communicate and articulate the vision in a way that inspires people, and they want to do those things that are right. In my organisation, there are thousands of people in IT, and I have to create an impetus for doing things better and for doing better things. You can't fire everybody. Your only option is to create a better environment, a better organisation, and a better way to serve people."

Larry Quinlan is a tech heavyweight and guru. He is the global chief information officer (CIO) and a principal in Deloitte, a company that employs 270,000 people in more than 100 countries, including here in the Caribbean.

He is quoted in major publications such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, sits on Deloitte's US Executive and Global committee, and chairs the Global CIO council.

It was uplifting when he said, "One of the challenges of Deloitte is [that] we are very big, and my role is to provide technology for over a quarter-million people in over 100 countries."

His audience could only fathom, no, speculate about the scale of what he was talking about when he said, "We have 45,000 servers around the world and 300 work stations, and there are 223 million messages a month."

It was interesting when he gave this talk titled, 'The challenges of IT leadership in today's competitive business environment' at a public forum at UWI's Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM). The school had just won in London, England, the Global Innovation Award for Business Schools. Though the timing was coincidental, Quinlan's visit and lecture could be regarded as a special treat for MSBM for its international academic achievement.


Experience, knowledge


What made Quinlan's presentation special was his experience, knowledge, and positioning in technology - an esoteric area that's all the rage for turning around companies and countries. His ideas could be incorporated in schools; could excite parents reading this column about the wider possibilities for educational pursuits for their children; and could widen students' interests and curiosity.

They could also deepen our business culture that had no say in the Industrial Revolution, missed out on the consumer and digital revolutions, and is now taking some tentative steps to get up to speed.

It is great to see some of the high schools, as well as the Ministry of Education, placing greater emphasis on technology, including robotics, and students being exposed to international competitions.

It would be fantastic if Quinlan, in outlining his role as a CIO, could expand the interests, opportunities, and horizons for those pursuing professional careers in technology, including those excited about the high-impact role and leadership demands of a CIO.

Next week in Quinlan's easy-to-understand way of speaking, readers will be given insight into the transformative effects of moving to the cloud and why this can't be overemphasised as an area of study.

With the proliferation of disruptive new technologies (blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, analytics, Debt Ops, API) we will look at the CIO's role in helping governments and businesses determine where they are going to spend money. As he says, "You can't spend money on everything."

What makes Quinlan's ideas special for those who desire to dream big is his life story, which he introduced this way: "How does a skinny kid from the tiny island of St Kitts, population 35,000, who followed his two brothers to UWI after getting a scholarship from the College of the Virgin Islands, end up being the global CIO" of a multinational financial powerhouse?

Adding interest to his story, he recalled how his father would regale his kids with stories of when he was a boy how he walked 20 miles to school, and as expected, he had no shoes. Larry's real joy, however, was when his father, who never finished high school but became a fairly successful businessman, decided in his late 50s to pursue studies to accomplish his lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer.

"He kept at it, eventually enrolling at Cave Hill in Barbados, then came here to the law faculty at Mona to complete his dream. He practised law successfully until he passed away."

Education is the emphasis here and UWI a common thread where, as Quinlan noted, personal dreams are launched and aspirations fulfilled.

If we are to transform Jamaica, we have to stop finding excuses and start a technology, finance, English, and engineering revolution, and the media has to play an integral part in this, and, so, too, parents and our educational institutions. There must be a difference in emphasis, direction, language, discourse, and culture.

What Quinlan is saying is that his story can be anybody's story. If he can make it to the top of the technology world, so can many others.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer living in California.

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