If there exists such a label as "professional CIO," MassMutual's (Springfield, MA, $207 billion in assets) Christine Modie, executive vice president and chief information officer, surely fits the description. During her 20-plus-year career, Modie has held the jobif not always the exact titleat MassMutual, Travelers, Aetna, Batterymarch Financial Management and State Street Bank and Trust.
Yet for someone who has held the same responsibilities in five different organizations, Modie boasts not of how much she knows about her job but of how much she's still learning.
Executives, like actors, can play the same role throughout their careers, simply making minor adjustments here and there to fit the circumstances. Often, their performances become stale and wooden over time. However,Oscar-caliberand in this case, Elite 8 caliberplayers are constantly discovering nuances or subtleties that guard themselves and their performances against staleness.
Modie has applied her abilities as a change agent to herself, keeping on the lookout for challenges and preventing herself from falling into a rut. "If I'm in a situation where I'm feeling that I'm not out on the edgewhere I'm not pushing myself or the organizationthen I feel I'm in the wrong place. If I'm comfortable, then I'm uncomfortable."
Pushing, while at the same time striving to maintain a balance between her work and family, has been a theme throughout her career. The struggle has proved difficult at times. "There have been moments when there have been conflicts," she says, although there are none at present. "My family is the center of my universe. When I'm not at work I'm with my family." Modie spends time traveling and skiing with her family, including her 13-year-old son. And there's a large extended family that Modie, who loves to cook, frequently entertains at her home in Simsbury, CT. "On any given weekend, there might be 15 or 20 people that I'm cooking for."
Still, she faces enormous on-the-job pressures, including leading a 1,500-person IT organization, providing technology direction for the company, helping chart strategies with the heads of business units and subsidiaries, making sure her own staff is functioning at peak performance and delivering projects on time, and serving on numerous boards and committees within and outside the company. And last but not least, helping guide the company through a period of turbulence.
The seismic shifts in the industry, with the Internet as catalyst, have fundamentally changed the CIO's role. "I see myself spending more time in business discussions than technology discussions," says Modie, describing her new role as "having a seat at the table as an equal partner among the business leaders with a voice as to the direction of the company."
In the years since the Internet started becoming a factor, the biggest change to her job, says the professional CIO, has been taking an "outside-in" view of the world. "When I look at who I interact with, a good bit of it is outside the four walls."
One recent morning was spent in Lexing-ton, MA, helping chart strategy for a soon-to-be-launched e-business subsidiary, of which Modie is on the board of directors. The previous afternoon was spent in discussions with vendor organizations with which MassMutual maintains partnerships and alliances. But the biggest change, she says, "is the amount of time I spend in the field with our distribution channel and our subsidiary companies who are ultimately our distribution channel. That's the way we touch our customer."
Keeping up with all the initiatives MassMutual is undertaking to Web-enable its businesses is practically a full-time job in itself. Within the Retirement Services division alone, there's The Journey, an online retirement planning tool, and DB Online, which allows defined benefit plan participants to access personalized benefit projections. There's also an enterprise-wide customer relationship management project just getting underway.
The impact of the changes in the way financial services will be delivered are just starting to be perceived, says Modie. "It's taken insurance companies a while to understand that impact. We sell information. We're not L.L. Bean. You could say we don't have the fulfillment issues, but in the insurance business, we have bigger fulfillment issues. The process is touched by so many people."
As the designated change agent for the organization, the CIO must be capable of thinking outside the box, says Modieof being able to move from left-brained analytical reasoning to right-brained creativity. That requires "letting go of some comfortable thingsgetting to where its okay not to have all the answers. To look to the organization, look at the collective knowledge."
Learning to trust her subordinates represented a major turning point in Modie's development. "The transition from manager to leader is letting go of control of every nitty-gritty detail and entrusting those individuals whom you've anointed to do what they do. And to build a relationship so you can provide direction, guidance.