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Advice for Aspiring Technology Leaders

What lessons and encouragement have shaped BS&T's Elite 8 executives? The 2011 honorees discuss their most profound influences and offer advice for aspiring technology leaders.

Related: Meet Bank Systems & Technology's 2011 Elite 8 Honorees

One of the key lessons Ghan Desai of Team Capital Bank has learned came from a former boss, who told Desai, "Business is empirical, not cerebral." "He always ran the company based on results," Desai recalls of his former employer. "People would have all kinds of ideas, but at the end of the day, he would always bring them back down to results. That has been my philosophy in my career: Focus on what is important to the business and what is strategic to the business, and then focus on results."

Meanwhile, Richard Ferrara of Woodforest National Bank says the best advice he ever got was "from my Dad, who said, 'Whatever you decide to do, always be the best at it.'" Ferrara advises aspiring CIOs and CTOs to "be sure to listen, be open and encourage thinking outside the box." He adds, "There are a lot of good people out there with good ideas. I'm not a big believer in 'Just because another bank's doing it, we have to do it that way, too.' We have to do things the best way possible for our organization."

The importance of understanding what's best for the organization was impressed on Bank of New York Mellon's John Fiore back when he was a management consultant. "You need to be able to adapt to the environment you find yourself in," he notes, adding, "In doing the work -- doing the analysis, gathering the data -- draw your conclusions based on the facts. And based on those facts, [determine] the right thing to do" for the organization and clients.

Capital One's Rob Alexander sounds a similar theme. Rather than creating a long-term career strategy, "I've tended to be more focused on doing well and contributing and trying to have the biggest impact I can for the company in the job I'm in," he says. "I've [also] been willing to take some risks. ... It was at key points in my career the willingness to take risks, do something different, that stretched me and gave me the opportunity to impact the company and drive business value."

For Lincoln Trust's Helen Cousins, the most memorable advice came at the beginning of her career. "I started in a small international bank right out of high school," she recalls. "One of the senior managers took me under his wing and encouraged me to go to college full time in the evenings. He told me to learn about all areas of the bank and volunteer to help out when people were on vacation. He also taught me to never be afraid to take on a new position, even though I had no previous experience in the area. ... When I left that job I had a good understanding of all departments in an international bank."

Cousins advises other executives to always "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em." "I learned very early on in my career that you need to look at your end goal and understand that, in order to win the war, you aren't going to win all the battles," she says. "You need to quickly determine what battles are important to your end goal and which ones just take away your focus."

For Commonwealth Bank of Australia's Michael Harte, "The most important thing is to be extremely cost conscious -- to ensure that you can prove the value of each and every investment … and to ensure that you're flexible in that you can change a project's investment as you need to." He also stresses the need to "be increasingly adaptive by delivering products and service as the business needs -- and as the customer requirements -- change."

According to Standard Chartered's Aman Narain, "To be decisive is really important, because it instills confidence in people and it delivers results. Being decisive is one of the most important things about a leader."

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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