My Favorite Boss

FRAMINGHAM (07/06/2000) - I am a seasoned journalist, but I am still wet behind the ears when it comes to URLs, HTML and technical architecture. I have just learned to utter dotcom without feeling pretentious.

Recently, I joined a startup called CountryWatch.com, based in Houston. Its mission is to provide socioeconomic and geopolitical information on all 191 recognized countries in the world. As a career ink-stained wretch, I was champing at the bit to tackle the challenge of managing the researching, writing and editing of the twice-yearly updates on all country reviews.

But when I got here I realized I wasn't in Kansas anymore. My newsroom has no walls, my reporters are invisible, and my work has to fit into a frenetic schema of other company needs. I assessed the situation. I felt just like Keanu Reeves staring blankly at Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix.

I was lacking the tools and knowledge I needed to do my job. I was frustrated, confused and suffering from the "I'm a big phony" syndrome. Great, I thought, I'm 36, I'm at the height of my career, and I can't hack it in the new new way of things. I started pining for my Royal typewriter, my stenographer's pad, my Waterman. I hungered for ink and newsrooms.

Enter the Beth-A-Nator. Beth Schneckenburger is the CIO of CountryWatch.com.

She came from an IT background working with American Express and NASA. Her rsum is an impressive array of CIO credentials. Beth knows things.

She started a week after I did; we all sighed with relief. Most of us could make neither hide nor hair out of the technology. We didn't know how to get our content to our audiences. Beth did.

On her first day she held a PowerPoint presentation, graphically displaying our shortcomings but also illustrating how to best use our creativity and smarts.

It was painful but worthwhile. She also asked us to think about our jobs, our needs and how we envisioned the system working.

If I can once again borrow from The Matrix, Beth offered us a red pill and a blue pill. If we took the red one and disregarded her offer, we would return to ignorant bliss. If we took the blue pill our eyes would be opened, and nothing would ever be the same. We took the blue pill.

But there was an interesting company mind-set that developed from Beth's original presentation. Many felt stupid and hopeless. Luckily, Beth's strength--and perhaps the greatest asset of any CIO--is her ability to sense our frustration.

On Day 2, Beth created the "buzzword zone" and instructed me to let her know if she lost me in IT-ese. Beth took time to explain what she needed from me and why. By knowing what I needed to do my job, Beth could do hers.

She invited me to vendor meetings, asked for my input and sent me interesting URLs. Often, she came into the department we lovingly call "The Right Brain Emporium" just to say hello. She joked about our proclivities for things creative. When the technical demands of the business became overbearing, Beth said she would take care of it; she became The Beth-A-Nator.

What is most striking about Beth is not that she has adapted her approach to meet our vocabulary and vision; Beth has performed her duties so subtly, that I in turn have become more technologically savvy.

Now, I can sing from the same song sheet as those on the shore of the new economy. Undoubtedly, there will be more tsunamis ahead, but I know that the Beth-A-Nator will show me how to surf.

Looking for a platform for your ideas? Send them to platform@cio.com. Wm.

Anthony Connolly is the managing editor of Houston-based CountryWatch.com.

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