This edition of "How I Landed My CIO Job" features Mark Sherwood, who joined Nuance Communications as SVP & CIO in July 2018.
Steve Rovniak: Have you spent your entire career in IT?
Mark Sherwood: No. In fact, early on, I assumed I would be pursuing a career in cancer research. I got my undergraduate degree in Chemistry from University of California, Irvine, and I was dead set on becoming a research scientist. I did cancer research for four years. Then, as I got more involved with software and IT while doing research, I gradually became more interested in technology, and my career started turning in a different direction.
Where did you work before you joined Nuance?
I was VP of Information Technology at Symantec, the cyber security software company, for about four years, reporting to the CIO. Prior to that, I was at Cisco for nearly 18 years in multiple senior IT and engineering roles. When I left there in 2014, my title was Senior Director of Business Intelligence and Analytics.
What did you know about Nuance when you first heard of the CIO opportunity?
I knew about the company, and was familiar with Dragon software. I am a big fan of voice automation in cars, but at the time, I had no idea that it was Nuance’s technology behind it.
At the time, were you eager for your first CIO role?
Yes, I think so, but it wasn’t about the title per se. It was about the responsibilities. I wanted the broader view into the entire IT organization. When you own just a portion of it, you don’t always get to see the whole picture and so it is more challenging when making decisions that affect the whole organization.
What else piqued your interest?
One word: Transformation. If a company is looking to just “keep lids on pots” and reduce costs, there are people better at that than I am. That won’t fire me up. The idea of a transformation and what the company was becoming, the future vision, and the new leadership are what sold me on the opportunity. Our CEO Mark Benjamin has been here just three or four months longer than I have and has already made tremendous progress in evolving the company.
What was Nuance looking for in their new CIO?
Security is always critical nowadays, so my background at Symantec stood out. Beyond that, I would say they wanted someone who could create, develop, and deploy a new technology strategy, particularly around the hosting environment. We host for our customers as well as our internal clients. Nuance has done 100 acquisitions in the last 10 years, and the result was a bunch of different strategies and activities around hosting. They needed one concerted hosting strategy across all of it.
Nuance Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: NUAN) is the pioneer and leader in conversational AI innovations that bring intelligence to everyday work and life. The company delivers solutions that understand, analyze and respond to human language to increase productivity and amplify human intelligence. With decades of domain and artificial intelligence expertise, Nuance works with thousands of organizations – in global industries that include healthcare, telecommunications, automotive, financial services, and retail – to create stronger relationships and better experiences for their customers and workforce.
What was your job interview strategy?
I hesitate to call it a strategy. When interviewing, honesty is the best policy, and I am comfortable with what I think I bring, and where I can continue to grow professionally.
When you interview for a job, it is mostly about you, of course, but part of is also you interviewing them. Is this a good fit for both of us? If you pretend to be something you are not, it will eventually show through or backfire.
Where were you looking to grow professionally?
While I had had a lot of experience with information security, I had never owned it. I had had peer relationships with CISOs. I was attracted to having the responsibility for security for the first time.
Was there a particularly memorable question or exchange that took place during your interviews?
My first face-to-face interview was with Mark Benjamin, our CEO, who was relatively new in the role. In fact, it was his first day actually working from our headquarters. Even at that early point, listening to Mark present his vision for where he wanted to take the company – the transformation he wanted to lead, and that I could play a big part in – pulled me right in.
How did you prepare to start your new role?
Before my start date, I continued to build my relationships with the HR Business Partners to understand the scope of the team, the various job titles, and recent performance reviews. That gave me a head start, and I got to feel like I already knew these people a little by the time I came in. I knew my leadership team pretty well on day one.
I also worked with a member of the communications team to craft my messaging and develop a communications plan to introduce myself to the team, share a little bit about myself, and what my goals are so that everyone could get to know me – not just as their boss, but as a human being. I’ve found that the more we can latch on to the human side, the better. It’s an important aspect of building a strong culture and team.
Who do you report to at Nuance?
Mark Benjamin, CEO.
What is the headcount in IT?
There are approximately 450 people in our Global Technology Solutions organization, which includes IT, security, and hosting.
“Global Technology Solutions” is the new name for our CIO organization. At an offsite, my leadership team and I spent time talking about how we wanted to be seen, what our motivation was, after which we decided that Global Technology Solutions would be our new moniker. We have just recently started to brand ourselves as GTS.
What steps did you take in the beginning to learn the business and build relationships?
By luck, my first week coincided with our quarterly business review, which is a two-and-a-half day event with all the company’s leadership: sales leaders, division leaders, finance team, and so on. I got introduced to about 100 people, and then it was about 20 hours of drinking from a firehose— learning about the different businesses, our strengths, challenges, issues, and future focus. If you are ever invited to something like that, clear you calendar and go, and be part of the business. The worst thing for CIOs to do is to get entrenched in the technology. Learn about your internal and external customers, and give yourself the ability to step back and ask “how can we help?”
Did you find that anything that was "on fire" and needed to be dealt with right away?
No. The basic blocking and tackling of IT had been handled quite well here. With those basics under control, the question was “How can we do more?”
I think of IT management as a pyramid. Running the business is the base, because that is where, typically, the most time is spent. The middle of the pyramid is changing the business; and at the top point is a focused effort on growth. I always aim to flip the pyramid over, so that the wide part is at the top, and you are spending the most time on growing. In fact, it’s my goal for GTS to be seen as a true value center. Keeping the lights on is not something you can parade around. Your goal is to provide value back to the company in the form of growth.
How is the transformation that CEO Mark Benjamin spoke of at your first interview going?
We are transforming almost everything about the business and who we are as a company. We recently sold off our imaging division and are now in the process of spinning off the auto division. We are doubling down on our healthcare and enterprise businesses, and focusing on what we think we can do best, and on where we think we can thrive in the market. Additionally, we are making investments back into our company and are working to build a stronger culture and innovative environment where our talented employees can do their best work. It’s a new chapter for Nuance.
Since starting last July, what have you been working on, and what has gotten done so far?
On the organization side, I would say that the alignment of IT, security, and hosting into GTS is a big accomplishment. The team looks quite different from when I arrived. We also have created clear lines of responsibility and ownership, including strengthening our CTO organization and focusing that team on R&D and the applications. They are no longer responsible for designing infrastructure. That is now GTS’s job.
In this market, how do you attract and retain top IT talent?
It’s a group effort. Part of it is how Nuance showcases itself. Part of it is about the passion that the people feel here. We recently rolled out our new company purpose: “Intelligence Makes Us More.” This statement is all about the power of using our collective knowledge to enhance our solutions, drive better outcomes for our customers and, ultimately, revolutionize the industries for which we innovate.
When you have that North Star, there is this feeling of a higher calling that can help attract people. People learn about your company and say, “Wow, I want to be involved in that!” If you are appealing to people’s emotions, there is value.
Candidates also have to see that we are continuing to push towards the latest technology. Fortunately, AI is a big part of what we do here, and we can showcase that, along with our big move toward the cloud, and containers. The other important piece of the equation is retention, particularly in a competitive industry like IT, so keeping your team connected to the value they provide is critical.
What new consumer technology do you find exciting personally?
I love Marvel comics and movies, especially the AI computer that the character Tony Stark has built, called J.A.R.V.I.S, which stands for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System. In real life I love virtual assistants in the car and at home, and I love technology that understands colloquialisms and doesn’t require you to phrase things in a certain way. So I guess I landed at the right company!
What is your favorite place to travel on business?
About Mark Sherwood
Mark Sherwood, Senior Vice President and CIO of Nuance Communications, leads the Global Technology Solutions group , which drives the effective use of Information Technology, Security and Hosting to support agility and productivity across Nuance’s businesses. With a strategic focus on supporting the company’s global customer base and delivering superior outcomes, Mark oversees infrastructure operations, core data services, business systems, SaaS delivery, information security and internal and external hosting, while continually driving new innovation and a cloud-first strategy. Prior to joining Nuance, he served as the Vice President of IT at Symantec, and held numerous leadership roles at Cisco Systems. He earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Irvine; and holds an MBA from California State Polytechnic University.