One great find

No doubt about it, Bank of America's Craig Hinkley, architect of a 180,000-phone VOIP network, likes to gamble on big projects involving new technologies.

Taking chances for the big payoff is typical of Hinkley, who was born in the southern Australian seaside city of Warrnampool, Victoria. Eight years ago, for example, he moved 7,500 miles to San Francisco, taking a chance on an IT consulting job he had been hired for over the phone. Hinkley's wife, whom he had met in college, dreamed of living closer to her native Vancouver, Canada, and he felt he was well prepared to tackle a U.S. IT job. In Australia, he had worked for a mining company that spun off the IT staff into a network consulting firm; did pre- and post-sales engineering and project management for two years with UB Networks (now part of Alcatel); and earned Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert certification.

"I landed in San Francisco with a wife, a 16-month-old and 10 suitcases. It was one of the most exhilarating times of my life," Hinkley says, recalling the 10 days he had to find an apartment, buy a car and get set up before starting work.

And what a job -- Hinkley's first assignment was consulting with Bank of America on its LAN and WAN infrastructures. The IT executives there quickly realized he had more to offer. "I'd sit in meetings, and they'd start talking about different technologies, like DNS and firewalls," Hinkley says. "I'd provide decent input, and they'd look at me and say, 'Aren't you the router/switch guy?'"He was, but not for long.

After consulting full time for the bank for three years, he took on an assignment to build a national IP backbone to support the newly expanded company, which had grown from a merger with Nation's Bank. The backbone was the first generation of what became the bank's optical core network, which now spans 14 cities. Bank of America also offered -- and he accepted -- a full-time job.

Hinkley followed up the IP backbone project with another doozy -- a 2001 multibillion-dollar deal outsourcing network services to Electronic Data Systems. From that project, he says, he learned how to make decisions by breaking the business into functional components. "How do you drive an apples-to-apples comparison that allows you to make strategic decisions about what's best short- and long-term from financial to business practices to technology enablement?" he says.

With the understanding he gained from working on the outsourcing project, he broke the current VOIP initiative into infrastructure and application components, giving datacom and telecom staffs a clear idea of how they would contribute to bringing the plan to fruition. A leader must give his team a clear picture of where they are going and the steps it will take to reach the goal, he says.

"That gets people comfortable and excited so they can become more supportive of it," says Hinkley, who is senior vice president and manager of strategy, architecture and security for enterprise access and desktop services. "If they can see it can actually be achieved, people are more willing to buy into it. . . . I'm not just someone who paints you a picture of the future and can't tell you how to get there."

Perhaps this has helped with Bank of America's VOIP rollout, which calls for replacing more than 450 PBXs and voice-mail systems with Cisco VOIP gear. The bank started installing the new system this year in banking centers and enterprise locations; the rollout is scheduled to continue in phases through the end of 2007.

Hinkley certainly doesn't just lay down rules, says Nilesh Jadv, the company's senior vice president of network architecture. "He hears everyone's views and everyone feels he has contributed to the end goal," Jadv says.

Plus he makes it fun. "He can joke around and still crisply get his point across. He is very energetic," Jadv adds.

Hinkley has a valuable mix of technical and verbal skills, the origins of which stretch back to his high school days, when he competed on the debating team, acted in school musicals and was captain of the school's Australian-rules football team. He won a prize for top scholastic performance among the boys in his senior class.

His high school activities prepared him well to capture one of 50 slots in the competitive computer science and business program at Melbourne's Swinburne University. The competition included a review of his public school academic record and an interview, and resulted in an $8,000 per year stipend to cover living expenses.

During his college days and early in his career, he earned extra money playing on the Port Melbourne Football Club. "I loved that sport. It's full-body contact, you've got to be fit, you've got to be agile. It was a way to vent frustration and aggression," he says.

Now Hinkley relaxes by hiking, golfing and playing with his two children, for whom he has high hopes. "I want my children to grow up healthy and perhaps attend an Ivy League school or two," he says. And why not? As Hinkley says, "I'm living the American dream."

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