The CIO at B&H Photo Video, a leading New York-based retailer explains the varied leadership styles he uses to bring fresh value to the IT-business relationship.

Everyone in New York City knows B&H Photo Video, its flagship store on 9th Avenue in Manhattan, its online customer service. All one needs to do is check out the glowing online reviews to understand why, when Hiren Patel learned that the retailer was seeking a new CIO, he pursued the position with a sense of excitement.

“I was very familiar with the brand, what they do and how they do things. The company is almost like a North Star in the industry. Everybody wants to be like B&H now,” said Patel, who joined B&H Photo Video as its chief information officer in June 2022.

In this interview for the My CIO Career series, conducted in February 2024, Patel talks about how he has sought to build on his company’s strengths. He discusses how he approaches eliminating functional silos, strengthening the IT-business relationship and developing an IT strategy that drives growth while also delivering a superlative customer experience.

Mary K. Pratt: How did you approach unifying the IT team?

Hiren Patel 216Hiren Patel: New technology and data are important, of course, but I believe a CIO needs a unified IT team that can work with business as one team to succeed.

In the past year I worked on unifying IT by creating one delivery process and building out IT’s business relationship arm so IT can get in the business’ shoes, really understand business needs, and know the pain points that the business has.

That is not about technology. And it is not about the business telling IT what to do so IT can do it. It is about creating a partnership between business and IT as well as bringing thought leadership to the partnership.

It is really a mindset shift, and as we move forward, it has allowed IT to deliver more value for the business.

It was almost like creating a new operating model for IT.

How did you approach your other objectives?

I focused on delivering on the promises IT made and creating processes that increased the level of transparency between business, IT and governance.

Everybody wants everything all the time, but IT cannot promise to deliver on too many things.

We cannot have a backlog of 500 projects.

So when I first started the role in June 2022, I sought to understand the lay of the land, determine what was not working, and determine what processes we needed to change and fine-tune to get the whole delivery process going, create the transparency and build that business credibility.

That was why first understanding the organizational processes was so important. We could work together to determine the top priorities so IT can focus on successfully delivering on those priorities, thereby building credibility for delivering on its commitments.

And by working together, the business has transparency on IT processes and knows that while it may not get everything it wants, it does get its priority projects, as IT promised.

I also heard from business a desire to do more with our data so we can serve customers better and grow our business.

The question for me, then, as CIO, was how to provide the right set of trusted data at the right time to the right people.

To address that, I created an overall technology and data strategy for the organization where, by employing the right technology, we are unlocking data in ways that will drive growth and support our best-in-class customer experience.

What brought you to this position?

B&H is a name that everybody in the New York tri-state area knows. So I was very familiar with the brand, what they do and how they do things. The company is almost like a North Star in the industry.

So when the executive firm reached out to me saying there is an opportunity at B&H, I said that I was absolutely interested in the position. It was very intriguing to me to have an opportunity to work for a company so focused on the customer.

I learned, after speaking to the company’s executive leadership, that the customer surrounds everything the company does. The company believes that we do not just transact with a customer, but we build a customer for life.

I also learned that the company has deep-rooted values, including honesty and integrity.

Learning about all that made me think about how I could make a difference in the organization and where I could impact the customer experience.

How do you decide if a role is right for you?

I like to understand what the business problems or fundamental issues are, and whether those are organizational or technological or transformational issues, so I know what I will need to succeed in the role.

That then paves the way for me to consider whether the position is something I want to get into, whether I have the required skills and expertise to solve those problems, and whether I am the right person for the job.

I do not run away from challenges, but I consider whether I have the experiences needed to tackle the challenges that I would face.

Not every job is the right fit, and I do not want to walk into something and then realize six months later it is not the right fit.

Earlier in your career, you were a consultant and held leadership positions in application development at companies in the media and retail industries. When and why did you want to become a CIO?

I came to a point where I had to decide which side of the equation within technology I wanted to pursue: Did I want to go deep down on the technical side of things and become an individual contributor or did I want to go on the leadership side of it?

Technology is in my DNA, and that is never going to go away.

But I enjoy more the leadership side of IT. I enjoy leading teams and mentoring people.

I started on the CIO path when I was the director of application development at Dow Jones, where I was fortunate enough to have been selected by the IT leadership team to attend the Regional Leadership Forum program from the Society for Information Management.

It opened my eyes to what it takes to be a good, strong leader and what the CIO career path looks like.

I learned a lot during the program. That confirmed for me that the CIO career was the one I wanted to pursue because I like to build the business relationship, I like to understand the business side of things, and I like to solve complex business problems by applying the right technology solutions.

 

Related article:

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How did you make the move into the CIO position?

I was at Dow Jones when I determined that the CIO position was really where I wanted to eventually be and to start this journey to the C-level.

After that, I worked as the director of enterprise application services at Tiffany & Co, where I was building out the enterprise shared services organization for applications globally. I learned a lot there, and I had very good leaders over time, whom I observed and learned from. And I was able to have conversations with my direct leader about where I wanted to be and asked for advice on how I could get there. We had multiple conversations about whether I was ready or not, and when I was not ready, about what I needed to do to build my skills.

Eventually an opportunity came by to lead the IT team at Adorama, an electronics retailer, as CIO. I was CIO there from 2017 to 2019. I then became CIO at Rag & Bone, a clothing and accessory company, before becoming CIO at B&H.

What is your leadership style?

For the longest time I thought one leadership style is good enough for a leader. But over time I realized that a good leader applies different leadership styles to solve different challenges or address different situations.

So I have two styles that I generally use as I move forward. I prefer to have a supportive leadership style, where I am supporting the team and being more collaborative.

I want to take the team along for a journey, although at some point as the leader I am the one to make decisions. That is the type of leadership style I actually embrace and I enjoy.

The other style that I truly enjoy is a servant-leadership style, where I am removing any obstacles so that my team can continue to execute and be successful.

How would you sum up your experience as a CIO?

Being a CIO has been an exciting and rewarding journey for me.

There are many ups and downs, and this career path is never easy. To be a CIO, you need to have the right mindset and be open to learning new things every day. You must be open to feedback and continue to adjust as you learn new things and as you get new challenges and problems. That is how you become better every single day.

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