Vinod Nair, CIO at Milgard Manufacturing, is the latest subject in our series “How I Landed My New CIO Job.”
Heller Search: How did you hear about the CIO opportunity at Milgard?
Vinod Nair: I was not actively looking for a job when I first heard about this opportunity, but I was at a point in my career development where I was interested in my first CIO role. Many of my colleagues and professional contacts knew this. One of my friends heard about the open CIO position at Milgard on LinkedIn and forwarded me the information.
Had you shared information about your career aspirations across your network?
Not directly. For the purposes of career development, I think it is important to have a really good network, and to interact with them regularly. Then, over time it becomes apparent to them where you’d like to take your career. Gradually, these people get to know what you will do well, and what type of situations may be a good fit for you. That is what happened in my case. It is an organic process that occurs over time.
What were you looking for in your first CIO role?
I was looking for a CIO position at an organization where I could have a significant impact on how technology was being leveraged to advance the business. I was looking to be part of executive team and to have a role in all of the strategic business planning and decision making. I would not take an opportunity that did have this profile.
I have always liked the manufacturing industry, and have worked a lot in it, so it was a logical place for me. I understood what changes could have the most impact. But I did not plan to limit myself to manufacturing. That just happened naturally.
What piqued your interest in this CIO opportunity?
Milgard is part of a holding company, MASCO, which owns a lot of brands in home improvement space. I had spoken to MASCO in the past about a different job, so I was familiar with them.
MASCO brands have been some of the fastest growing in their respective markets. Their brands were highly regarded by their customers, which spoke volumes to me about the type of company Masco is. Their whole philosophy is about taking extremely good care of each and every customer. I liked that philosophy.
And what did you hear about your subsidiary, Milgard?
Doing research and talking to people, I learned that Milgard was making some major technology investments. They considered technology to be a major tool for driving the business strategy, and that made the CIO job even more attractive.
What was it about your professional background that Milgard found attractive?
I think it was my experience leading major technology-based strategic initiatives company wide, both in the backoffice, including ERP, and customer facing. Also, my industry background is mostly manufacturing, including the doors and windows niche.
In my last job, I had led a project to revamp our customer quoting tool, and a similar initiative was getting started here at Milgard as well. The customers for the system were contractors and dealers, and in most cases, the windows and doors were engineered and built to order. So, the customer quoting systems have to be intuitive and accurate so that the customer ends up with the right product,
What was the company looking for in their new CIO?
They were very interested to hire someone who knew how to work closely with the business, and to fully understand their needs. They did not want someone who only understood the technology, but rather someone who could leverage technology to help the business.
They also prioritized experience managing large teams, and they wanted to be confident that this person could come in and hit the ground running.
Did you prepare in advance for your interviews?
I am a big believer in preparing for job interviews. It is pretty simple in my mind.
My experience is what it is, and it speaks for itself. I did quite a bit of research on the company through their website and various forums - the markets, their challenges, the competition.
A lot of my preparation was aimed at building my own understanding of what they were looking for. And I would add that throughout the process, I was candid with everyone I met with about what it was I was looking for.
Any other observations about this interview process?
Due to the locations, several of the initial interviews were conducted by web conference, which worked really well, I thought. It is so much better than over the phone. It’s not as good as face to face, of course, but at least you don’t have to travel.
How did you prepare to start your new role?
I did quite a bit of planning on what I would like to accomplish during the first 30, 60 and 90 says. My boss sent me a document explaining the company’s expectations, and that gave me a great framework for what I needed to do.
Who is your boss?
The President and CEO.
What is your headcount?
In the IT organization, there are 45 people, and I am also responsible for the teams working on our ERP and customer quoting systems, including people from the business and consultants, which adds another 40 or so.
From day one, what are some of the concrete steps you took to learn the business and build relationships across the enterprise?
My boss makes a point of visiting all our locations every year, and many of his visits were scheduled, coincidentally, for my first month at Milgard, so I had the opportunity to go along with him. I was able to meet the general managers for each location, and I even went on a few customer visits.
I think it is important to set up a regular cadence for meetings with your stakeholders, and the other executives. You are always talking and exchanging emails, but these should be specific events in your calendar.
Did you find that anything that was on fire and needed to be dealt with right away?
Not really, but there was a lot going on. There were quite a few legacy systems that required support, many projects going on, a lot of change. Everyone was extremely busy.
It has been over a year since you started your role. What have you been working on?
When I arrived, the IT team was split into 2 groups. There was a team that was supporting the legacy systems, and the other half of my team was the ERP organization. The two groups were very siloed and not working together very much. We have since re-engineered the IT organization to bring the two groups together.
We modified our org structure so that the silos would go away, but it was more about changing how people worked, and showing the benefits of working together more closely. I introduced more regular IT management meetings and “all hands” meetings to reinforce the new structure.
What about projects and new technologies?
We are migrating our ERP from a 25 year old green screen system to Oracle. That project is underway and will span multiple years.
We are building a brand new customer quote system, which is very innovative. We surveyed our customers for their feedback on the old experience, we asked them to rate it compared to systems our competitors use, and then we designed the new system based on that feedback. We have focused the design on what our customers were asking for.
The new system will provide those tools and make it easier for our customers to do business with us. We are in the process of launching it now, and we have already gotten some good feedback. There is a continuous improvement process in place to incorporate that feedback.
What is a new technology that you find particularly exciting?
There are several new collaboration tools that make it easy to share documents, work on projects together. These drive productivity substantially. With our teams so spread apart -- we are on the West Coast, our parent MASCO is in Michigan, so these collaboration tools make a huge difference.
How do you know whether your IT organization is succeeding?
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. We have traditional IT metrics in place but I don’t know if those are true measures anymore because, in my mind, IT succeeds when it is able to help the business succeed.
I am measured on business metrics but the IT org is measured on IT metrics. I will be doing some work on finding the right link between IT metrics and business metrics.
What does digital transformation mean at this company?
For us it means being really focused on our customers. We have always been customer focused, but our digital transformation is all about accelerating our ability to meet their needs, and exceed their expectations. For example, the new quoting system will make it far easier for customers to do business with us, and it will differentiate us in the market.
What advice do you have for IT leaders thinking about the move to a bigger role and a bigger challenge?
When you are being considered for a role, a lot of companies look at your LinkedIn profile. It is important to have people in your network for them to see, and reach out to; people who they trust, who know your work and will recommend you as a candidate.
About Vinod Nair
Vinod Nair is the CIO and Vice President of Milgard Windows, a division of Masco Corporation (NYSE: MAS, $7B), which manufactures high-quality windows and patio doors for the home improvement and new building construction markets. Prior to Milgard, Vinod was Director of IT and E-Business at Assa Abloy, a global leader in door opening solutions. Vinod holds an MBA and MS in Information Management from Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.