CTO of the Year: FedEx Executive

SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - This past week witnessed another milestone in the illustrious history of InfoWorld -- the launch of the first annual CTO Forum, a conference at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Highlights of the event, which drew together over 175 chief technology officers from all walks of business, were the keynote speeches from Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems Inc., and Pekka Ala-Pietila, president of Nokia Corp.

Both executives are at the forefront of new technologies that will fundamentally change the way we do business, and it was great to listen to CTOs sort out hype from reality as we all try to maximize the real business value of the Internet.

Because this conference, along with our new supplement, CTO FirstMover, is designed to provide a sense of community to the people who are using technology to drive business goals, we thought this venue would be the perfect place to also launch our new CTO of the Year award.

Judged by a panel of editors from InfoWorld, this honor is designed to recognize CTOs who excelled at moving their organizations forward through the creative use of technology. As you can imagine, in an age marked by e-business opportunities galore, selecting a winner was no easy task.

Ultimately, the judges chose the candidate who had the most impact not just on his own company, but on a host of others as well. As the CTO of Federal Express Corp., responsible for building an IT infrastructure that delivers the goods and ultimately putting the substance behind just about every dot-com venture launched in the last two years, Robert Carter is at the center of the new Digital Economy.

In fact, the ultimate achievement for any company is to introduce a new word into the English language, which is exactly what Federal Express has done with the verb FedEx. Virtually nobody asks anyone to overnight anything anymore.

Instead, they ask people to FedEx things regardless of whether they are using Federal Express as their carrier or not.

The core competency behind FedEx, however, is not all the trucks and planes that the company owns and operates. The other carriers have those tools as well. What distinguishes Federal Express is its ability to integrate its IT infrastructure with every business partner it has, giving those customers -- regardless of size -- the ability to seamlessly leverage Federal Express as a business partner.

Given how fickle technology can be, the fact that Federal Express can provide that level of service is one of the driving engines behind, first, the rise of business-to-consumer e-commerce, and now business-to-business e-commerce.

And given the general level of e-business activity in the world, it should come as no surprise that we at InfoWorld felt compelled to offer awards to two finalists. One finalist is David Grant, who as the CTO of autobytel has helped change forever the way many of us will buy and sell cars. Although it's true that the Big Three automakers have recently gotten e-business religion, and other start-up companies have jumped into the fray, it was autobytel that fundamentally changed the business model.

The other finalist is George Setlock, CTO of Medibix Corp., a start-up Web company in the medical field. Although most of you probably never heard of Medibix, Setlock epitomizes everything you can envision in a CTO who not only sets the technical direction for his company but also plays a key role in defining the company's business goals as a founder of the company. In short, he is a true Renaissance man in this age of e-business.

After meeting everyone at last week's conference, it's apparent that successful CTOs all share common traits. Typically, they have the vision needed to see how a given technology will affect the business. They have an intimate understanding of the business their company is in. They have the leadership skills necessary to carry out entrepreneurial efforts. They have the drive and ambition needed to counter adversity. And finally, they have a passion for technology that is well-tempered by practical common sense.

At InfoWorld, we're immensely proud to be associated with this community. And although we will as always continue to serve the IT community as a whole, the emergence of the CTO as a leading voice for advancing business goals through the use of technology is a long-overdue but most welcome change.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief at InfoWorld.

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