USPAACC 4th Annual Chief Technology Officers and Chief Information Officers Forum

December 21, 2020

Hello everyone.

On December 8th, we held two virtual CelebrASIAN events, with our esteemed panelists and audience joining from all over the country.

The day started with USPAACC’s 4th Annual Chief Technology Officers and Chief Information Officers Forum. Sponsored by Bank of America and T-Mobile, the theme, “Innovation and Technology in the Post Pandemic World,” I believe, was especially timely and relevant, considering the times we are in. High level, executive officers in digital, innovation, information, and technology from three important industries joined us - the finance, healthcare, and telecommunications sectors.

In finance: Chetan Kandhari, Chief Innovation and Digital Officer, Nationwide, also USPAACC CTO & CIO Council Chair; and Rich Chung, Agile Transformation CTO, Wells Fargo Bank.

In healthcare: Claus Jensen, Chief Digital Officer and Head of Technology, Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

In telecommunications: John Saw, Executive Vice President of Advanced and Emerging Technologies, T-Mobile.

New York Times best-selling author Charlene Li, of Groundswell and The Disruption Mindset, served as moderator.

The viewers climbed impressively. I was sure they were as interested and engaged as I was in the valuable information the panelists shared. Their insights on technology and innovation will last beyond today’s pandemic environment. Here is a summary of their points:

“How are CIOs/CTOs coping with the challenges of their evolving roles?”

The role of the CTO and CIO has evolved to engage the entire business and organization, no longer working in silos. They have an important seat in the executive board room. Breaking those barriers means shifting responsibilities horizontally, as well as vertically across their organization. Their role will be redefined and the pandemic has accelerated the process.

“How do you step up through the politics to have that seat at the c-suite table?”

As times have changed, so has the “story” technology leaders must tell stakeholders and agents of change. As “chief storytellers” of their organization, they must create a rallying point for what they are trying to do. What is that rallying point? It is the customer, and what you are giving them. This common purpose should be about stitching the story together for what enables the customer. For without customers, there is no business.

“What experiences have prepared you to be a leader today?”

From beautiful words like I stand on the shoulders of those who have come before me,” to laugh-out-loud stories on how NOT to tell the “whole” truth, the panel shared some of the tips, tricks, and missteps in their careers. To me, it seemed that the ability to empathize and lead effectively with care, and from the heart were consistent among them all. Yes, the leaders are indeed human, as they shared their stories and tactics for organization success - self-awareness, having empathy and humility.

To paraphrase: “…getting your team to be a group of missionaries versus mercenaries,” really stood out to me, as that’s what I believe we do here at USPAACC. Nurturing and caring for your team, is something all leaders, at any level, in any field, can do for their people and organizations. These are just some of the intrinsic motivations, like an ability to connect with your people that for these technology leaders, make it so much more about the journey, and not just the destination.

“What does it mean to be a Pan Asian American leader today?”

“Diversity has to start at the top of the organization.” This panel was not only a set of experts, but they take the responsibility to be excellent role models. As leaders, it is their job to inspire others like themselves. One panelist talked about how he stands on the shoulders of those who stood before him, in becoming the leader he is today. And as the applications of Asian Americans to the c-suite remains relatively unchanged, low, our panelists are proactive in moving the diversity and inclusion needle forward, not just for Asian Americans, but all minorities and diversity and inclusion efforts. Many of them also sit on their respective organization’s diversity and inclusion councils and boards. It was indeed an inspiration to see our panelists taking an active role and responsibility in being great role models.

“Latest trends. How do you stay on top of latest trends and what’s relevant?”

Rich: Understand the “underlying” soup-to-nuts, how everything works, and know the fundamentals. The tech out there today are just variations. The second aspect is thinking from a customer standpoint, how do we harness for customers. Pay attention to the peripheral, but focus on customer technologies first.

Chetan: There are multiple ways to innovate: through technology innovation, product innovation, or customer innovation. Empathize with what customer trends are. Customer behavior will drive companies to innovate differently. Customer-driven, trends and behaviors should drive innovation. Nationwide has a customer experience room, to keep a direct line to their customer.

John: Analyst reports, especially those that are contrarian. Keep lines of communication open, especially with employees on front lines. We go to secret shop Sprint stores. Panel discussions like this CTO/CIO Forum are also an eye-opener.

Claus: Look for the unmet need by actively listening to multiple people. First, listen to the business. Second, listen to the customers. Third, listen to the competitors and the ecosystem. Listen to a lot of different data points and sources that must be synthesized. And sometimes the best trend is the one you define.

In the last round of questions, our CTOs and CIOs talked about issues ranging from orchestrating agile to the future of work, AI, implicit bias and what the development of 5G will mean for all industries.

Their parting words, thoughts, and advice:

  • As the pandemic has caused a jolt economically, politically, and socially, we are now at a crossroads. It is time to seize the opportunity, to build a better tomorrow, one that is more collaborative, more inclusive, and resilient for all.
  • Through all negatives, do not forget the “arc of the possible.” Let’s not let this crisis go to waste. See the positive in all the disruption.
  • As we must continue to become more diverse, inclusive, resilient, and adaptive, we must remember to enjoy work! Work is meaningful and fundamental to our health and a successful life.
  • The most important thing in all of this is to connect at the human level. When you connect with others, all the other things like resiliency, inclusivity and collaboration are possible when you connect with people. We must strive to get together and make a better place for the future.

I will end this message with the most inspiring comment I heard, that was gifted to one CTO from his mentor:

“There are many things you can be good at, but you will only ever be great at the things you love to do. Find the things you love to do, and you have the potential to be a great leader.”

At USPAACC, I love what I do. That is to bring events and knowledge like this Forum, to all of you. It is my job, my passion, and my love. It is my aim that I do that effectively and in a way that connects with you. I said at the end, “Wow, you are human!” Indeed, we all are. As a leader I connect others to opportunities, yes, but in doing so I make sure to connect with the USPAACC team, to help them become the leaders of tomorrow.

In friendship,


Susan Au Allen
National President & CEO

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