Army brat stays in the game

John Holley has a different CV from most CIOs – he is also a reserve officer of the New Zealand Defence Force.

Being in the Army is a 'family tradition' for John Holley. His grandfather fought in World Wars one and two, and his father was a soldier and mechanic, and later on, a supplier, in the Army. So Holley grew up living in military bases across New Zealand. On a summer break from Massey University, where he was studying computer science, Holley worked as a driver in the Linton Army Camp in Palmerston North. After graduation, he moved to a number of IT management, sales, and consulting roles, including at the University of Auckland, the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, and most recently, the Auckland Regional Council where he was a CIO and acting General Manager Operations. Yet, Holley never really left the Army. Today, he is a reserve officer, with the rank of Lt Colonel. He joined an operational deployment to East Timor in 2002, and spends 60 to 80 days a year working with the NZ Defence Force where he is a staff officer at the Directorate of Reserve Forces and Youth Development. He spends two weeks a year teaching operational planning and leadership at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. He explains why he never really left his holiday job 28 years ago."For me it has always been about being involved in some other stuff that gives a bit of diversity. People get confused; here is John Holley the geek running around, shooting weapons. There is a bit of discontinuity for some people. But the key thing for me is the stuff I learned about leadership and management that does not really come from the IT environment. "Even as a part-time soldier or officer, every year you train staff, and are given opportunities around leadership. You are taught about strategic geopolitical theory, strategy, leadership, a whole range of things to turn you into a senior officer. When you go away and do this planning, you work in environments where you can actually make a significant difference -- good or bad -- by your actions. It is no good to say 'all I know how to do is shoot a rifle'. You need to understand strategy."When I was in East Timor, I was the planning officer for the New Zealand battalion. My job was to write the plans and I was writing those on behalf of the commanding officer and we were a multinational battalion. You can apply that framework to almost anything."I do the same thing in a different way [at ARC, now part of the Auckland Council]. It was about, what are you looking to achieve, what is the business looking to achieve? It challenges your assumptions... It is interesting going to some seminars recently there has been quite a bit of stuff around virtualisation and how you present it to the business. It is almost like they missed the mark because they start talking about consolidation of servers, everything else that comes back to IT being a cost. If you are talking about what are the services you want to enable [with virtualisation], that is a different conversation.""In the Army, you are being constantly evaluated on your leadership. You are an officer 24x7. You have what you call the 'game face'. You have to motivate and lead people."