For our My CIO Career series, Paschall, Chief Information & Digital Officer at JBT Corporation, describes how she builds customers’ needs into plans for her company’s IT organization and service offerings.

The evolution of Kristina Paschall’s leadership role at JBT Corporation emulates the digital transformation of businesses everywhere – to execute digital commercial strategy in addition to IT strategy.

Three years after joining JBT as vice president and CIO in 2017, she became an executive vice president and Chief Information & Digital Officer at the supplier of customized industrial and turnkey food processing equipment, solutions and services for food and beverage manufacturers.

Pascall explains that the title change reflects the role’s expanding responsibilities for creating and managing commercial digital products that serve the company’s customers. She sees her broadening responsibilities as part of a trend – a broadening of this role that requires CIOs to delve deeply into the challenges their customers face to better serve their needs. Here, she shares her insights on what the addition of “digital” means for the job, the value of serving on a nonprofit board, and how her strategy of listening intently pays off with customers and colleagues.

Mary K. Pratt: You added “digital” to your CIO title. What does that mean for the position and its responsibilities?

Kristina Paschall 216Kristina Paschall

At JBT, the addition of digital was in conjunction with me taking on responsibility for the digital capabilities that we are building into our products. We produce machines for the food industry, those machines have sensors, and the sensors send data to a platform that our customers and our internal folks can interact with.

The expectations of a leader in this function are broadening. I have a responsibility to be up to speed on evolving technology that can be used in the company but also what we as a company show to our customers and other business partners. I need to contribute to our products in addition to handling the more traditional CIO responsibilities. It is both the challenge of and the call for the IT function now.

How has this challenge and call changed the way you approach your work?

I am co-responsible for the success of the platform, which includes the creation of and the development of the platform’s features as well as its commercial success. I share that responsibility with the business. It is the first time in my career that I actually have had this responsibility.

Now that my IT team and I work on the product side, we have a revenue responsibility. We created a product, we created its name, we created the marketing around it. This means I must be even more attuned to the challenges in our businesses and in our operations and in how JBT is serving its customers. I now must understand those at a deeper level.

To do that, I lean on colleagues – JBT has many extremely talented people who have been with the company a very long time – and I try to get in their shoes.

I also must understand at a deeper level the challenges that our customers, as food processors, face. It is my responsibility, as an IT person, not to be isolated from those challenges.

How do you manage, as you say, to get in others’ shoes?

I spend time with the leaders of our divisions, listening to the challenges that they face at a business level. This is listening without looking for a solution. It is listening to understand.

This is something that I work hard to do. It requires establishing relationships, going to see them, putting on my safety goggles and walking the plant, and things like that.

Also, I have visited customers to see our company’s machines working in action. For example, I visited a chicken plant to see chicken being processed.

This allows me to learn about our customers and their particular challenges, which are different for each customer, depending on the type of food that they make. And it is different in different regions, for example, North America versus Europe.

I appreciate that there is a lot to learn, so I listen and take notes. And I have a lot of conversations around what kind of value customers could derive from our platform, values such as improved sustainability and energy usage.

My business colleagues and I then review the pipeline for opportunities for our digital product. We talk about each of the customers, what they are experiencing, and how our platform could help them meet or solve a challenge.

 

Related article:

My CIO Career: Raj Samprathi on Leading Organizations with Empathy and Authenticity

 

Why did you decide to join JBT?

The company moves very fast, and it is a high-growth company. It is very ambitious. I like all that. The strength of the leadership team and the integrity by which they do their work also appealed to me. I learned through my exploration of the opportunity, and I have seen over the years that I have been here, that they do business the right way while also being ambitious. Both of those things are very important to me.

You have degrees in finance and business. Do you feel those were more or less useful than a technology-related education, especially as you take on commercial product responsibility?

If someone wants a technical career, then I would say that a computer science degree or an information systems degree is preferred.

But I do not think a computer science degree is more valuable for this leadership role than the combination of my finance and MBA degrees. Many of the skills that I use in my job today, such as negotiation, I learned as part of my MBA.

However, to be honest, I think an accounting degree would have been better than a finance degree. Accounting is a critical business skill to have.

Has your experience serving on a nonprofit board influenced your work as CDIO?

I served on the Make-A-Wish Illinois board until this past August; I served the maximum six years allowed on the board. And, yes, it enhanced my experience here at JBT. My experience at JBT also enhanced the work I was able to do with Make-A-Wish.

I would take nuggets from my work here to Make-A-Wish, and I took what I learned at Make-A-Wish here. Make-A-Wish Illinois has a lot of strong leaders, so there were people I could learn from there.

For example, I would estimate that 80% of Make-A-Wish’s wishes are travel-related, and all of those had stopped during the pandemic. We were not bringing in as much revenue into the organization, either, during the pandemic, because we could not have the marquee events that are the largest fundraising sources for the organization. We had to get creative. We had to come up with new ways of working. The organization came up with strategies of how to pivot, so children still had their wishes granted. For me, it was a lesson in agility.

What’s the most useful tool in your tool belt?

I have to go back to a soft skill: that I care about my colleagues and the challenges that they are having. I really think I am quite attuned. I am a good listener. I must understand my colleagues and their needs to get this job done, and I think I am good at that. I have a way of connecting with them. It is something I work hard to do.

What work do you put into this area that others can replicate?

I try to leave the relationship better than it was when I started the conversation. When I am in a conversation with someone, we are looking to get an outcome that works for each of us. So I remember that the best thing for the company is for me to grow the relationship with that person and above all listen to what they are saying. It sounds simple, but I think people sometimes come with agendas to discussions. They should be coming to discussions with the goal of succeeding together.

 

 

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