The CIO Interview with Kevin Chase of Energy Future Holdings, by Martha Heller.

Kevin Chase, CIO, Energy Future HoldingsWhat is the most valuable project, program or innovation your IT organization has delivered in the last 12 months? 

The IBM Maximo Implementation in June of 2012 has been an incredibly valuable program for many reasons. It was a terrific example of IT and Business truly partnering on a large scale in every area to deliver the technologies, improved / streamlined processes and a trained organization to take advantage of the new efficiencies across Supply Chain, Asset & Work Mgmt, A/P, Tax, etc.  Another reason it was so valuable is that it has played a critical role in proving the value of IT to the business as we work to increase opportunities in other areas for application rationalization, streamlining processes and leveraging best-in-class solutions (less customization) that enable lower long-term IT support costs and enable more investment in new innovations.

What does your IT organization do best?

Our IT Department’s passion and commitment to enable business success and continuously improve is unparalleled with any other IT organization I’ve ever been around.  The team has an attitude of “I’ll do whatever it takes” and they have become very comfortable challenging each other in areas we can improve.  It’s become contagious as new members join the team and adapt to the culture that’s been spreading.

"Sustainability and a culture of continuous improvement are the ultimate measures of success for an organization."

What is a book you have read that has impacted your leadership style? 

A few foundational books I strongly recommend include:  Developing the Leader Within You,  and Developing the Leaders Around You, both by John Maxwell. 

Another book I just read recently that helped provide new perspective in my own growth was American Icon, by Bryce Hoffman, about Alan Mullaly and Ford’s recent transformation

Can you tell a brief story about some valuable advice you were given at some point in your career?

I’ve enjoyed reading quite a few books by great leaders and have been fortunate to have several strong mentors through my career.  One common theme of advice I’ve always believed to be core to my success and the success of any organization I was leading is the importance of investing in your people.  Grow and nurture your leadership team, enable their success, develop a deep level of mutual trust and openness in communication.  With that foundation in place, your impact on the overall organization will grow exponentially.  

What is an interview question you ask candidates whom you are considering for senior level roles? 

By the time they get to me, I know they’ve passed all the tests re: competency, experience, behavioral, communication style, etc.  I’m interested in knowing what diversity they will bring to the team.  What perspectives, leadership strengths, employee development techniques, etc. will they bring to the organization?  I also like to know how people measure success (for themselves and their teams).  If their answers focus solely on outcomes, I view that as a red flag.  Certainly, the most basic measure of success is the outcomes a leader achieves, but we should care just as much about how they accomplish the outcome.  It’s the leadership behaviors balanced with the results.  The interviews that really stand out are when I hear people talk about how much they enjoy developing other leaders.  When someone spends time telling me how important it is to develop their successors so that our people are growing through the ranks, that’s a rare discussion to have in an interview.  It demonstrates self confidence and a mature perspective that looks at team goals ahead of individual priorities.

What is one piece of advice you would give a first-time CIO? 

It’s not hard to make immediate changes and see measurable gains during the first few years as CIO in a new organization.  The hard part is building a long-lasting culture and leadership team around you that will sustain and strive for continuous improvement even after the initial gains have been realized.  Sustainability and a culture of continuous improvement are the ultimate measures of success for an organization.

What technology innovation or business trend are you personally most excited about? 

There are so many things going on right now that are easy to get excited about.  I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of where things are going in the cloud.  Software, Hardware and Service companies are completely re-thinking all aspects of their business as a result.  We’re seeing a significant improvement in speed of delivery for new business solutions in niche areas, but the potential is much greater across the enterprise as new business models for software delivery evolve.

I’m also looking forward to seeing how things evolve with converged architectures.  I appreciate the potential economies and efficiencies; however, there’s a lot more to prove over time in the real world of operations, performance, scalability, cost management, etc.

Another area of high interest, I don’t know if I’d call this a business trend yet, but I’m excited about how we have evolved our outsourcing model at EFH to the next level of maturity over the past 18 months.  We are working with several large outsourcers in the infrastructure and application space with over 75% of our headcount outsourced and approximately 65% of all outsourced personnel working off-shore.  Before 2008, we had 100% outsourced with approx. 50% offshore.  At that time, our level of service was degraded and delivery was inefficient.  Our business units were completely unsatisfied with IT’s ability to deliver on demand.  In our new outsourcing model, it’s a ‘best of breed’ model with internal employees leading as ‘Service Owners’ over each sub-tower, managing the deliverables and daily activity / priorities of each outsourced team.  This model has helped create the right balance of internal ownership, accountability and quality while also achieving an optimal cost for operations and project delivery.  With our new outsourcing model, another innovation I’m excited about that is enabling improved communications across our global IT organization is our use of the AT&T / Cisco Telepresence solution.  It has almost eliminated the need for travel and my teams literally wait in line to use the Telepresence room for the quality of communication it enables across multiple sites.

If you were not a CIO, what other profession would you have pursued?

I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed several different careers, all in IT, over the past 20 years.  I was a consultant at Accenture back in the 90s and that was enjoyable to learn a great deal from a variety of different leaders, serving a wide range of companies in the electric and gas industries on large-scale system implementations.  I was an entrepreneur running a start-up, Fortegra, with several partners, which we sold to Black & Veatch and ultimately grew that enterprise to $40m in annual revenues by the time I left in 2008.  That was extremely rewarding, given we built Fortegra from the ground up, starting back in 1999.  I became CIO at TXU in 2008 after leaving B&V, and have found the past 4 ½ years to be some of the most rewarding in my career, with the transformation we’ve lead across IT with EFH, TXU and Luminant.

Other careers outside of IT I might have pursued if I wasn’t a CIO include playing on the PGA tour if God had blessed me with a better golf game.  In all seriousness, I could see myself possibly teaching at the college level later in life because I enjoy coaching and teaching others, especially in areas of leadership and management.

About Kevin Chase and Energy Future Holdings

Kevin Chase is Senior Vice President & CIO at Energy Future Holdings.

Energy Future Holdings Corp. is a Dallas-based, privately held energy company whose portfolio of companies includes TXU Energy, Luminant and Oncor. 

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