Turner Construction CIO, Warren Kudman reflects on his job search and his first 100 days as technology leader in a new industry.
Our interview with Warren Kudman, who joined Turner Construction Company as Vice President and CIO in January 2015. Kudman had no previous construction industry experience.
Heller Search: How did you hear about the CIO opportunity at Turner Construction?
Warren Kudman: The opportunity at Turner came through an existing connection with an executive recruiter. He knew me from a different job opportunity I’d interviewed for, and there was positive feedback about me. When he started working on a CIO search for Turner months later, even though I didn’t have construction industry experience, he thought my profile and personality could be a good fit. I am thankful he was willing to move beyond the industry experience because it turned out he was right about fit with Turner’s culture and needs
What was it about your professional background that was attractive to Turner Construction?
Turner has long history, over 100 years. Many employees have long tenures here, and it is uncommon for the company to hire a senior executive from the outside. They are proud of their culture, and rightfully so. They are very much focused on fit and style.
When they met me, I think they felt I would fit in well with their culture. They wanted change and they wanted someone to collaboratively build consensus for change. My style is not to bulldoze through organizations. It is important for me to work to create alignment and support for change. I think my general experience as a leader in large, global organization was also an important factor.
What were you looking for in your next CIO role?
I was looking for a company that wanted, most importantly, to create a higher level of capability in its IT organization, and improve the way it worked with the rest of the enterprise. Any company has its challenges and there are always great projects to work on and new capabilities to deliver. But I wanted the opportunity to take a group of people and make them into more valued partners, more necessary to the organization’s mission, and take IT to a different level there. That was what was most important to me.
How did you prepare for your interviews?
The construction industry was completely new to me so I had a lot to learn about the industry as well as this company. I researched what was happening in IT in construction. But, most importantly I found people – people in my family actually, who had experience working in construction – to find out what happens in the core lifecycle of building a building, and how information technology supports that effort, and how the day to day business worked. Doing that helped me to develop the right questions, at least, and gave me confidence going into the interview process.
Some recruiters and CEOs want to see a lot of industry experience. I think you can get up to speed on a new industry. I was confident that I could learn it, and my background demonstrated that I had been in different environments and could learn quickly.
How did you prepare to start your new role?
I talked to people I knew who had recently transitioned into new roles and asked them, “How did you handle your transition into a new company and position?”
It helped that I had a good handle in advance of who many of the senior leaders were at Turner and that they were very willing to help me get started I was fortunate that my boss, CFO Karen Gould and the head of HR Tom Gerlach took the time with me to help me create the right orientation plan. I also read a few books on the “first 100 days” and put that advice together with my own plan.
From day one, what are some of the concrete steps you took to learn the business and build relationships across the enterprise?
I made a point to sit down or speak with the majority of the senior leaders of the company. I asked for their honest perspective on IT, about their priorities and challenges, and then I thought about where all those things intersected.
Next I went out to our construction sites and sat down with project team members to understand how they did their jobs and how they felt about the tools and support they got from IT. I wanted the ground level view of what was working and how it could be better. Since supporting our project team is so important to our company, that is where I learned the most.
After the first 30 days I made a point to have a formal check-in with my boss. I also met with my senior leadership team at about that time to share my observations up to that point and give them a chance to respond to and challenge the ideas I had formed about where we should go as an organization. This brought them into the conversation early.
Shortly after that I shared the same information with the rest of the IT team to be as transparent as possible – to let them know what I had done in the first 30 days, what I had learned, and what I would be doing next.
Did you find any crises that needed to be dealt with right away?
Nothing was on fire, but a few things were in need of short term attention. Turner has an international business that has existed for a long time. Growing our international business is an important part of our strategy moving forward. But I found that the IT group needed to improve the support they provided our international operations. Once I understood that better, I stepped in and put more focus and emphasis on giving better support to international.
What are some of the organizational changes you made early on?
I made it a point not to go in and start shifting people and making dramatic changes to the org structure right away. But I did develop a view of how I thought the team should be structured going forward. I shared this with my team early, to explain my vision and to get their perspective and their input. We recently announced a new org structure and we have almost completed the transition to the new model.
Are there significant technical changes you have planned?
Very soon we are starting an analytics/business intelligence initiative. It is an area that has great potential to drive more timely insights and reduce the time it takes people to generate the information that Turner and its customers need.
I spent time a lot of time with my boss and other key stakeholders explaining the opportunity and the potential value. I got a lot of input from the people at the jobsites and in the office for whom getting at the information they need can sometimes be a challenge. Better than anyone, they were able to tell me how they’d benefit from this initiative, and I brought their stories back to the decision makers and stakeholders.
How do you know when your IT organization is succeeding?
I know that the IT organization is succeeding when the broader population is telling us that they are satisfied with what is being delivered.
This comes from quantitative feedback on surveys, but the anecdotal feedback is also valuable and informative. I hope to hear from both my IT team and our customers that there is a noticeable difference, a feeling that is different from what it was a year ago.
One of the ultimate indicators of success is when people at all different levels of Turner are saying, “We are thinking about doing something different, and we have to have our IT partners at the table.” That is when I know we are valued for what we do and what we can do.
What does digital transformation mean at Turner Construction?
In this industry change enabled by technology is happening very fast. There is an incredible amount of activity around virtual design – platforms and tools that allow the architects, engineers, and builders to create incredibly detailed models of the building and all of its complex components before a shovel hits the dirt. These tools are bringing a much greater degree of accuracy to the construction process. This is one way that construction is going through digital transformation.
The rapid adoption of mobile is another. So much of our core business happens out in the field. With mobile, we have the opportunity to get a lot of digital tools and IT support right to the job site in the hands of the builders themselves.
Maturing cloud technology is allowing all the different participants on a building project – the clients, general contractors, subcontractors, architects, third-party engineers and so on – to collaborate using a single platform, which enhances productivity and accuracy in the construction process. So continuing to embed those tools into how we work is a great opportunity for Turner, our clients and our partners.
If you were granted a ‘redo’ on your first 100 days, what would you do differently?
I would visit even more project sites than I did and do it sooner. I don’t think I fully appreciated the learning that would happen for me from observing what is happening in the field.
What advice do you have for anyone under consideration for a CIO job where they lack industry experience?
As an experienced IT professional, think about all the experiences and strengths you bring to the table that are not dependent on any one industry. What other talent and experiences do you bring to this prospective employer that are typically not found in their industry? As a senior leader, your experiences have tremendous value and almost certainly satisfies needs at your perspective employer that goes beyond industry experience. You should highlight these experiences and encourage the company to bring you in to compare what they find within their industry with what you have to offer.
About Warren Kudman
Warren Kudman is Vice President and CIO of Turner Construction, an international commercial design, construction and engineering services company with 8,000 employees. Prior to joining Turner, Kudman was the CIO of Sealed Air Corporation, a $7 billion global manufacturing company. He earned an MBA in finance from New York University and a BS in computer science from Lehigh University.