Flying High: How NetJets’ CIO Reshaped IT

“It was essentially, to me, like a large application development shop that had infrastructure and support as an after thought or a necessary component to run the apps they were building. To me, when you are building a commercial grade system you architect your system in advance with all of those things in mind.” To do this, NetJets’ development relies on the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

“Getting the organization set up to where they can succeed is always the first thing I look at when I join any organization. Because you’re not going to get success in changing any of those underlying technology problems until you get alignment from the people and you get the organization working together as a group.”

To do this (perhaps his most important accomplishment since taking over as CIO), Cullop changed the way everyone in IT got paid. As they say, “Money talks and bullshit walks”. Instead of development getting a bonus for meeting their goals and ops getting a bonus for meeting their’s, the entire IT organization now needs to meet its goals. But, this only happens if the business as a whole meets its goals. This puts everyone in the same boat.

On top of this, Cullop sends out surveys three times per year to all 8,000 employees. If these do not come back satisfactory, it effects the bonuses. Suffice to say, at an average performance rating of 4.55 out of 5 means 2008’s bonuses were paid. “Either we all succeed together or we all fail together. It’s never about, ‘Well, boss, I did my part, those guys let you down.’ The business doesn’t care about that, they need IT to run so the business can function.”

But, as most managers know, money only goes so far as a motivator. Cullop also holds monthly, all-hands meetings where he calls out employees and departments that are performing well, has guest speakers come in from different areas of the business to explain what they do, and uses the time to reinforce IT mission: supporting the business. If the business succeeds, everyone succeeds. If the business fails, IT fails; regardless of how well you did you job.

This means the CIO’s job has to be about getting IT and the business seeing eye to eye and taking responsibility for what they each bring to the table. IT cannot solve business problems without direction, feedback and input form the business. Likewise, the business cannot expect IT to just deliver what it wants without taking a hard look at what is truly a must-have, a nice-to-have and a true need.

“What you want to be able to do is say how can I take what IT can do and leverage that for the things I want to do going forward,” said Cullop. “IT, to me, ultimately is just a tool to drive more value into your business. Ultimately, IT is made up of multiple skills sets and different jobs that all have to come together to deliver a great product to the business.”