When you wake up in the morning and go to work, who do you talk to? That’s the question our July Emissary of the Month, Jim Fortner, puts to CIOs looking for an edge. And after 28 years at Procter and Gamble (P&G), including stints as CTO and CIO, he’s built an impressive career by talking—talking to IT, talking to business leaders, and encouraging conversations between them to build the kind of cross-functional cohesion that businesses need to succeed in the digital age.

This month, we sat down with Jim to learn a little more about his career, his work with Emissary, and how CIOs need to change if their businesses are going to survive.

Moving Technology to the Frontlines

In our era of rampant job hopping, Jim’s 28 years at P&G might seem like a throwback,  but that impressive tenure is no coincidence—in fact, it’s something like a mission statement.

“Too many CIOs have rotated around so much that they really don’t know what they’re doing from a business standpoint.”

“To me, it’s a sign that you’re not really committed to the success of the company.” Jim added that companies typically exist within the communities they serve, and their employees have often grown up there and have a shared history with those communities. “And here you are, coming in for a few years and that’s it. The employees see through it,” he said. “You’re not winning the hearts of your staff.”

Jim’s longstanding dedication to a single organization has enabled him to gain a deep understanding of its needs and has empowered him to make informed decisions in its best interest. At P&G, his main goal was aligning business and IT teams for better strategic development and innovation. Jim assigned a technology and business leader to each of P&G’s 24 critical processes—a variety of business functions ranging from shipping and warehousing to payment, treasury, and payroll—and entrusted them with the task of transforming each one through technology.

Under Jim’s guidance, business and technology leaders—personnel who, in the past, had tended to function as though they were on different planets—came together and merged their expertise to retool their departments through digitization, 

automation, or improved analytics. Teams would compete to identify new, groundbreaking capabilities to incorporate into the business and secure seed money. Ideas that met with Jim’s approval would be subsequently rolled out in test markets to gauge the potential impact on the business.

“We needed to change the whole mindset. You’re not here to serve the business, you are the business, you’re accountable to grow the top line. I put IT leaders at every plant and distribution center.

We needed to start building an organizational construct that made CIOs accountable for the business process that they were serving to drive as much value as possible.”

Uniting IT and business has been a central theme defining much of Jim’s career. At P&G, he saw the need for IT teams to emerge from the shadows and assume a more direct role in driving business forward. He felt that success in IT was inexorably linked to the success of the business. And he also observed that the CIOs who are nimble enough to masquerade as CEOs (and vice versa) ultimately came out on top. Yet, many organizations continue to fall short.

“I think there’s a major shift that needs to occur in businesses. Technology is not just for IT—it’s for everybody.”

For example, Jim’s IT crack team held themselves accountable for the creation of new solutions, their adoption, and the overall value of any projects. They also provided reviews directly to leadership on its overall value. Therefore, if they had a project that was committed to reducing manufacturing cost by X percent, his team was on the hook for actually achieving that. They talked business results first, then technology, creating a partnership with the divisions they were servicing.

“The CIO needs to be the champion and ambassador for everybody. They need to bring the business partners along. It’s their job to show what’s out there from a digital standpoint.”

Jim also noted that this mindset applies to vendors that propose solutions, and that the best vendors are “partners” who commit to results for technical milestones.

Jim the Emissary

Since leaving P&G earlier this year, Jim has acted as a business consultant on a number of engagements, demonstrating a commitment to service that has made him a perfect fit for Emissary.

“I really like helping companies and teams win. It gives me the opportunity of moving across industries.”

“Even in technologyhelping software companies, helping system integrators, and then also helping other companies that are non-CPG—it’s been fun. You get to come in and out of different business situations and provide coaching on your point of view.”

While every client and every account presents their own unique set of challenges, there are some common themes that have emerged from Jim’s time working as an Emissary that should be of particular interest to salespeople. Sellers in general, he believes, are too often focused on product development or blinded by the glory of closing the deal that they forget how to listen and partner effectively with prospects. 

“You may know how to create product and sell generally but you don’t know how to talk to a CIO to better understand their challenges. You need to be seen as a strategic advisor to the company—come in and tell me something I don’t know, and then we’ll talk technology. If they want to be around for a while, they have to understand how to partner.”

Jim’s lengthy career has been defined by building bridges, and it’s clear to him that the roots of success lie in partnerships—for buyers and salespeople alike.

Executive Insights

Jim Fortner, former CIO and CTO at Procter and Gamble (P&G), is an expert at bridging the gap between IT and business to develop future-looking strategies. It’s an alignment he believes all organizations must make to remain relevant in the digital world. In this profile, Jim shares what CIOs need to hear before signing a contract, how building relationships the right way makes all the difference, and other insights from his 28 years of experience with P&G.