Having responsibility for all of a corporation's technical investments seems challenging enough. Now imagine that the company consists of 550 offices spread over 130 countries, it's "fairly decentralized," and all IT resources report to you. Not only do inconsistencies among regional infrastructures threaten to impede connectivity, but cultural differences can contribute to difficulties as well.
It doesn't end there for June Drewry, executive vice president and chief information officer, Aon Corp. (Chicago), becauseunlike the technological support that she has given throughout most of her insurance career to products that usually stay unchanged for yearsthe services offered by Aon (which include risk management, insurance brokerage and reinsurance and human capital consulting services) are changing constantly.
Looking back at the 25 years she spent working with carriers and the past two years of working for a broker, Drewry says she does not prefer one over the other. She does acknowledge, however that working for a broker is very different. "At a point in my carrier career I wasn't sure that I was learning anything new," she says. Joining Aon "gave me the opportunity to stay in the industry, use my knowledge and contacts and learn new things. I feel a bit on the edge. I have to learn things five minutes before I use them," Drewry adds.
One of the lessons learned at Aon is that client advocacy, and the technology required to support advising, consulting, negotiating and other B2B transactions in the brokering business, is very different from her experiences working with mostly personal-lines carriers. "There is just a wealth of activity and even more need for data warehousing and data knowledge, because that is what you are selling. It is such a relationship business," she says.
A mathematics major who didn't like the "one or two" computer classes that she took in college, Drewry joined Prudential (Newark, NJ) as a management trainee after her graduation from Caldwell College (Caldwell, NJ) in 1971. "I cut my teeth on technology in the insurance industry," says Drewry. "It is interesting because, having chosen this field, I can't imagine being in any other."
Throughout her career Drewry has worked at Mutual Benefit Life (Newark, NJ), Aetna (Hartford) and Lincoln National (Fort Wayne, IN). "I took a short stint out of the insurance industry for three years in manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, and I hated it," according to Drewry. "I worked with some small sales support systems. Frankly, I was a lost soul not being in the thick of a situation where, if our systems didn't run that night, then, my goodness, things stopped," Drewry adds.
When Disaster Struck
Drewry's ability to work under pressure was tested recently after the attack on the World Trade Center (WTC). Although in the past Aon has had short business interruptions, Drewry had never had to enact a disaster recovery plan. Aon occupied floors 92 and 98-105 of Two WTC. With the knowledge that 200 Aon employees were missing, Drewrywho was in London during the attackworked with her team and another command center in the US to execute its IT disaster recovery.
"Since everyone was working 21 hours a day, the time difference didn't make a difference," says Drewry. Although the WTC location was not a major IT center for Aon, it was a hub for the company's New York, New Jersey and Connecticut businesses. Drewry and her team had day-to-day processing up and running at other locations within 24 hours.
She is very proud of the fact that her IT team at Aonwhose Gaelic name means onenessknows it is a team and acts as one. "I get calls from Rotterdam and London as often as I get calls from people two floors above and below me," she says.
Drewrywho emphasizes that her membership on Aon's executive committee puts her among the ranks of business leaders within the companytakes a lot of pride in the way that Aon's business community views her and her team. "We have gained a tremendous amount of respect with the business community," Drewry says. "I know that I am being treated as a peer and I find that just incredibly rewarding."
Such respect may have been gained as a result of the successful completion of projects such as the defining of Aon's global infrastructure. Drewry has spent much of the past year connecting independent pieces of the organization and consolidating systems of the different pieces that the company has acquired. "We have made an awful lot of changes to transform the company from more independent pieces to a much more centralized back office-processing organization," Drewry explains. Although defining a corporation's global infrastructure seems like a daunting task, something that Drewry refers to as mind-boggling, it was just the kind of experience that she was looking for when she joined Aon. "I wanted an experience with a global company and, boy, did I get one.
"When you are in different parts of the world, you have different infrastructures that have nothing to do with your company, but are regional or country infrastructures that you need to deal with," Drewry says. "So a single solution does not work when you are a global company providing a global product."
Drewry believes in thinking in terms of basics when supporting business objectives and ever-changing products at Aon. "If the business trend is to move services into new areas, you don't want to be constantly throwing stuff out and rebuilding it," says Drewry. "The pace of change in the business world today is so high that you are forced to take more time architecting and designing so that you can handle that pace in the future. It is counterintuitive because you want to knee-jerk react and hurry up and build something."
Executive Vice President and Chief Information OfficerAon Corp.
IT BUDGET: Approximately $650 million
Size Of IT Staff: Around 2,300
Interests/Hobbies: "I love to travel, thank God. I am pretty good at lying on the beach and reading books. I enjoy tennis. I enjoy my family."
Key Quote: "I wanted an experience with a global company and, boy, did I get one."