It has been said that the hallmark of a good executive is the ability to create a department so effective and well run that he or she ultimately becomes redundant. While that may be a depressing thought for some, it was an approach that led to Richard Deck taking the step up into a chief information officer role in early 2007, and he hasn't looked back. This time last year, Deck was coming to the end of his tenure as chief IT architect and strategist at AGL, where he worked for a former MIS CIO of the year, Cesare Tizi (MIS is a sister publication of CIO New Zealand). Charged with the responsibility of taking a lead in developing a long-term IT strategy and solving AGL's complex billing and call centre problems, he successfully implemented a new direction that was strongly focused on outsourcing.
Rather than sit around and mark time, Deck started looking for a new challenge, and the stars aligned when Italian-based eyewear group Luxottica, which acquired OPSM in 2005, was searching for a dynamic exec to lead its information technology as it put international growth plans into action.
"I was very clear with Cesare, when I started at AGL, that I wanted him to groom me to be a CIO and he did that," Deck says. "We had a very close relationship, he obviously believed in me and knew I didn't have too far to go to become a good CIO and working with him helped to smooth the rough edges and get me ready to break out on my own."
Deck says he was immediately attracted to the role because Luxottica is No.1 in its field, and this has always been an important consideration when choosing where he wants to ply his trade.
Luxottica had clearly stated aims to develop business into China and South Africa - and the multinational responsibility allied with a young and dynamic senior executive team - appealed to Deck's ambitious nature.
Deck says the move up to a CIO role was the culmination of a career plan that had evolved over 20 years, in which he had sought to develop the management skills required of a senior business head. This included strategic planning, as well as the delivery and operational line management of IT and customer relationship divisions.
Sounding very much like the new breed of CIO, who shies away from association with a "techie" image, Deck is keen to stress his focus is on business issues. He says a simple way of summing up his attitude is that he needs to help his business colleagues drive value from their investment in technology and deliver value to their customers - the essence of good business sense.
"I am certainly business-oriented, I believe there is no other type of successful CIO," Deck says. "I see myself as a marriage between the business and the technology, and my value in the organisation is being able to put those two together."
When Deck joined Luxottica, former CIO Alan Boyle had relocated to China to oversee the deployment of Luxottica systems in a project management role. Many of the IT systems the businesses had acquired in China needed to be transferred over to the Australian systems. This led to problems of translating the Chinese applications into English and managing the change process for China-based staff who were moving over to Luxottica.
Deck had plenty of work to do from Australia to drive the initiative. He has made three trips to China this year and, when he spoke to MIS, was basking in the glow of satisfaction of a job completed. Luxottica's 120 Chinese stores are up and running.
If you add into the mix the rollout of the Australian technology environment across 70 newly acquired stores in South Africa, then it is fair to say that Deck has had a busy first year. It could be considered a baptism of fire, changing industry and being pitched into an aggressive expansion program, but he says he didn't think of the move as a big change in terms of required expertise.
He says at its essence his job at AGL revolved around energy retail and similar principles apply in eyewear retail.
"I think that a big part of making an impact in a new role is to believe in yourself and that you can do it," Deck says. "It is very exciting and it obviously brings its challenges, but you have to make sure you establish a relationship with the executives, as well as rely on other people to help you.
"One of the big lessons I learnt at AGL was to rely on the people around you to help you to achieve what you are trying to achieve. If they can see your vision and goals, they will be willing to help."
Deck's former boss is unsurprised to see his charge make a good fist of his first year at Luxottica. AGL's Tizi says the work they did together required managing cultural change and the ability to step out of the technology framework to thinking in terms of capital investment, and that Deck was already demonstrating the skills of a top CIO before he left.
"It gives me great pleasure to see Richard progress his career into a CIO role and I know that with his approach to technology, the business and people, he will grow in that success," Tizi says.
For Deck the future looks bright. He plans his career up to 10 years in advance, mapping out goals in such a way that he will be able to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. He says the idea of a stint overseas - once his children grow up - appeals.
While he sees plenty of scope for the CIO role to evolve in that time, other roles could be on the cards. "Right now I am the CIO of a well-respected international firm, which will give me a good foundation for larger companies overseas that generally have more problems and bigger problems," Deck says.
"I wouldn't limit myself to just CIO roles, I would like to make the board level positions as well, if the position is right."
* Successfully delivered a strategic solution to AGL billing platform problems.
* Played a key part in developing long-term IT strategy at AGL, based on new outsourcing relationship.
* Hired as new CIO at Luxottica.
* Roll out of Australian technology systems to 120 Chinese stores and 70 South African stores.
© Fairfax Business Media
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.