Whirlpool CIO moves 69,000 global employees to Google Apps

Mary K. Pratt

Whirlpool CIO Mike Heim is taking IT, and all the other business units, in a new direction. Heim is moving the company, with its 69,000 global employees, to Google Apps. He says the move could transform how Whirlpool employees get work done by increasing real-time collaboration. Indeed, he sees the potential for IT-driven transformation in other areas, too. Here Heim, who joined Whirlpool in May 2012 after 33 years at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, shares his ideas on leading IT through change.

What was the biggest challenge of moving to a new company for the first time? I spent most of my career in IT, but I had two significant cross-functional assignments, and I think those are important for anyone in IT. I spent three and a half years in finance and then three and a half years in the engineering function. There's nothing like being outside of your home function to see what you need to do differently. For me, those are important elements from a career development standpoint. And for me personally to work in engineering, where I wasn't an expert, I had to find other ways to lead. So the biggest challenge was learning the business, and it was one of the biggest rewards, too, to see if what you've learned can apply somewhere else.

On the flip side, what did you see as the biggest opportunity in moving to a new company? What was really exciting -- and you didn't have this in pharma -- is this is a consumer-focused business, so one of the things I've had the most fun with is being an advocate for our products and our brands. In pharma, the customer was a bit diffused. Here we have a consumer, a user, and they have opinions, and the fact we can connect and engage with them is an interesting element.

Did that change your IT strategies? The biggest mindset shift is this is much more of an outside-in business. You're not looking for unmet medical needs. Here it's really about your competitive position, product leadership, speed to market, much more rapid cycle times, engaging the consumers and understanding their needs.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as the new CIO? I found that this is a global business, but it's run very regionally. And the IT operating model that was in place when I arrived, it was very central and it wasn't as responsive as it needed to be. So aligning the IT model to the business model so we're appropriately responsive was the biggest challenge. The way I approached that, I went out and met people in the regions and looked at our products in showrooms and factories. The products are very different in different regions, so we needed more agile operations than we could drive with a highly centralized IT model. So we're creating a much more business-focused IT model.

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