Interview: Eddie Xu
CIO, Shell China Ltd.
Eddie has over 21 years of diverse IT experience including 15 years in IT management in Fortune 500 companies across the banking, retail, oil and chemical industries. At the start of his career, Eddie had already set his sights on the CIO position. “When I became a Software Developer in 1995, I started to think about my future career. What appealed to me was that the CIO not only fulfils an IT role but simultaneously sits on a company’s management team to design the strategy and bring something special to the company.” He considers himself to have a broad understanding of IT trends as well as the ability to leverage strategies for creating and improving a sustainable competitive advantage.
His passion for IT also shows in his qualifications. “I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Applications and a Master’s Degree in International Economics. I also have my PMP, MCSE, Java Development, ITIL and 6 Sigma Green Belt certificates.” Next to this, Eddie’s broad range of experience has allowed him to obtain retail business knowledge, successful IT operational management skills and project delivery experience.
His previous roles include APAC CIO at Lubrizol Special Chemical Ltd. China CIO at BP China Ltd. IT Director at 7-Eleven China and IT Project Manager at China Construction Bank. It took Eddie eight years before becoming a CIO in 2012.
Eddie built up a broad set of skills during his different roles and although he possesses a deep level of technical knowledge, he says, “As a CIO, the art of thinking, communicating and influencing whilst keeping your mind open to innovation are very important soft skills. People management skills are also important to lead a team to drive business value.” Eddie has strong team management and interpersonal communication skills and as for personal characteristics, he sees himself as a confident, innovative and progressive CIO with a teamwork spirit.
He has gained a good level of strategic experience in creating long-term roadmaps, as well as system architecture design and the set up of IT investment frameworks. His experience has seen him manage annual IT investments of more than USD25 million and more than 90 team members across various countries and subsidiaries. He also has a good level of analytical skills and finance knowledge. Overall, he stresses that it is not just the technical knowledge that is necessary. “The soft skills are much more important than technical skills as a CIO. The CIO should be a leader of the IT function and play a leadership role in the company.”
The best piece of advice Eddie offers to aspiring CIOs is: “Set a clear career goal, continue to improve your key capabilities and mitigate the gaps. You need to be ready when opportunity presents itself.” Eddie has had a goal-oriented mindset from the very beginning of his career, which has helped him succeed as a CIO. He also identifies proactiveness, hard work and always pursuing self-improvement as pertinent personal characteristics for a CIO.
Eddie sees himself as a team player and thinks it’s important for CIOs to collaborate with all departments and levels across the organisation. “The CEO is the most important stakeholder to enable IT as a strategic lever. Additionally, the end-to-end business process departments including marketing, finance and operations are important to leverage IT for business opportunities, cost savings and efficiency improvements.” He also agrees that strategic planning, people management and stakeholder engagement are top rated skills needed to be a good CIO.
These skills have also aided him to develop his networking skills. Eddie believes networking has definitely helped his career. “Networking can propel you to gain broader insights, mutually exchange ideas and learn from one another. Attending CIO forums and courses to systemically improve my capabilities is also helpful, and something I would recommend to those who want to be a CIO.”
When asked about diversity, Eddie agrees that there is more to be done in order to get women more involved in higher-level IT positions. “When we look at the necessary soft skills, women can perform the role very well. Fair and equal opportunities are important for all CIO candidates.”
Eddie’s impressive CV does not come without sacrifice. He has worked very hard throughout his career, which is also visible in the hours that he spends on the job. “It is definitely a challenge for a CIO to have a good work-life balance. There are two main reasons; one is that the CIO is constantly proving the value of IT and trying to convince senior management to promote the CIO into the top management team and onto the board. The other reason is IT is growing so quickly, so the CIO needs to keep up with the technical trends and think about how to apply those within the company. Both are not easy tasks.”
Eddie believes CIOs should be on the board but that it may still take a few years for businesses to visualise the value of IT before this becomes a reality for all organisations.
During his career, Eddie has also benefited from international experience. “I have worked in the US for one year and found it to be very valuable for my career development. It has given me global insight and broader ways of thinking as well as a different cultural understanding.”
This experience partly helps him to overcome some of the challenges that face him in his role as CIO. According to our survey, achieving company objectives is seen as the main professional challenge for CIOs in the next year and Eddie agrees that this is the case. “As a CIO, the key requirement is to leverage IT capabilities to support business operations and growth,” he says.
Final piece of advice
Lastly, Eddie provides some valuable advice for aspiring CIOs. “Develop a career growth plan, identify the key gaps and push for continuous improvement. Business acumen, communication skills, proactively taking ownership and hard work are key skills to becoming a good CIO.”