March 28, 2017

Think IT Member Profile: Mike Papp

Our incredibly talented and dedicated members are the heart and soul of Think IT, and we would like to introduce you to one of these amazing individuals. This week’s feature is Mike Papp, Director of IT at DecoPac Inc. Learn more about how he began a career in IT, and how his experiences have shaped his deep understanding of building relationships with business partners.

Where did you start your career and what experiences led you to the industry?Mike Papp

My first full time IT role was with Ernst & Young LLP.  I was only there about 18 months, but it gave me the opportunity to work with many technologies, at several different companies, in several different industries in a short period of time. To be completely honest, I went into college without any idea of what I wanted to be. Having come from a working-class background, I was looking for a profession with strong hiring and a high rate of employment. In the decade leading up to Y2K, IT was hot and everyone was landing jobs before graduating college. So, I determined that was the career field for me. It ended up being a good choice!

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing IT Leaders/CIOs as a profession right now?

The IT industry has many expectations placed upon its leaders, from understanding security to staying relevant with the technology. All of those make our job extremely challenging. However, I believe that the biggest challenge facing IT leaders is understanding and responding to the business. Too many times, I’ve seen my teams in technology looking single dimensionally at the tasks presented to them.

I continuously remind them that their job is not simply that of a programmer, or network analyst, or security professional…they are in their role to help drive business success. And that means understanding the business implications of everything they do. I lead a team at a midsize company today that has a large shipping and customer service component. As such, I continuously press my team to get out to the warehouse and customer service to see what is happening, understand the struggles, and then go back to their desk with aim towards executing their IT specialty while focusing on addressing the concerns they just witnessed.

How can IT Leaders get business partners to think differently about the importance of IT?

My approach has been to be completely engaged with the business needs and demonstrate that I have taken the time to understand their business. How WE approach the business has everything to do with how they approach IT’s importance. If we come to the table demonstrating that we understand their business, actively participate in business-specific strategy and dialogue, and give ideas regarding how we can help, they will begin to think differently about IT’s role.

For example, I’m currently struggling a bit to get my team invited to our company’s “Customer Specific Strategy” sessions. In this case, my goal is to represent the voice of technology even as we are discussing how to better drive customer sales. The fact is that historically our IT team has seen itself as only a responder to technology needs and not necessarily a thought leader in addressing business outcomes using technology. As we are demonstrating that we have become that thought leader, we are slowly getting asked to the table. Early on, though, it has meant actively seeking out opportunities to offer up our perspective and even graciously inserting our team into the situation. As we hold the course, our partners will see us as their strategic partner and actively seek us out for feedback…and ultimately the business will find more success.

What tips can you share to develop the next generation of IT leaders?

Actively seek out multiple different roles in your journey to IT leadership. I attribute many of my successes as an IT leader to the many different roles I executed over my career including developer, project manager, business analyst, and support manager. Every one of these experiences has helped me understand what problems my team might be facing and given me the ability to better support them. By far, the most helpful roles I held were when I left IT to take on stints in the business. These aided my understanding of their needs but also helped me recognize the frustrations they might be having of IT. By understanding those frustrations, I’ve been able to come back to IT and better understand their perspective, and ultimately drive more success.

Tell us a little bit about your specialties and passions within IT. What's been your favorite project you've worked on over the years? What about your position in the industry gets you really excited?

For years, I considered myself a “Jack of all trades in IT…but master of none.” Much of this stemmed from having many different roles over the years. I spent the majority of my career at Target Corporation, which gave me many opportunities to try different things. As I moved into leadership, it became the expectation that I move around and experience different parts of the organization. I soon came to realize that this understanding of many parts of the business and IT was, in fact, my specialty.

This realization became most prominent as I interviewed for my current position as Director of IT at DecoPac Inc. As we spoke of all the technical and business hurdles that the organization was addressing, I found myself understanding their concerns. Moreover, I had experiences in my past that would help me face the concerns head on. Whether we were talking about the business need, the infrastructure concern, the team building opportunities, or the strategic needs of IT as a whole, I had experiences in my tool belt that would help me support DecoPac.

Today, I love my position because I get to lead a team that touches every part of the organization. It is not at all uncommon for me to engage with every major part of the organization inside of a single day. From a technology point of view, we are continuously challenged. In any given day, you can find us developing legacy applications in RPG on an AS400, designing the newest CRM tool in a package based cloud implementation, or building out a new phone system architecture. These are just a few efforts that are taking place, and a big part of what makes my days tremendously exciting and rewarding.

Tell us about your personal brand.

I’m all about engagement, excitement, and accountability. Work should be fun and I treat it like I would a hobby. This means I look forward to coming to the office and look for ways to extend that excitement to my team by keeping things up beat.

I also believe I should do what I say I’m going to do and if something gets in the way, I communicate early and often. I run my team and organization as if it were a business whose success depends daily on what I bring to the table, and I expect the same of my team. I delegate authority where ever possible because I believe people bring their best when they are working at something they fully own and for which they are accountable. That means I avoid handing out ‘tasks’ whenever I can and ask my team to fully own their work. In this way, they can “own their business” and feel the pride associated with accomplishing the goal, and not simply doing what they are asked. 

What has been your most valuable experience as a Think IT member thus far?

Think IT has helped me realize that I need to expand my horizons beyond my immediate network. Having worked a majority of my career with Target, I tended to confine myself to a bubble in the past.  After all, Target was big enough to have expertise in every area you could imagine. But at the same time, Think IT helped me realize that there were many perspectives beyond that from which I could gain.

Now that I’m at a smaller organization, I’ve realized I really need a broad network to lean on.  I am often forced to look to the outside to get input I need to make strategic decisions because we just don’t have the critical mass internally to see the plethora of options when it comes to the complex world of IT. I’m thankful to Think IT for supporting that network and providing the forum to support strategic thought.

What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?

I usually get home from work around 6:00 PM and head downstairs to my home workout room if it’s cold or rainy outside. I balance the better part of an hour between my treadmill and the weight bench while watching some sort of reality TV. I’m a complete reality TV junky and anything related to Alaska tops the list! After that, it’s dinner with the family and likely running my kids to and from their evening activities. With my kids getting older they are starting to drive themselves, which leaves a bit more leisure time these days.

Take a look at our other member profiles here!

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Posted by: Rachael Gaffney

Tags:  member profile, Think IT Members, IT Professionals, Personal Brand

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