Timothy Theriault has been with Northern Trust for more than two decades, and in his time with the Chicago-based bank, he has seen the financial institution lauded for its technology innovations. But, like any good leader, Theriault is quick to point out that it is the people, not the processes, that make things work.
"Technology doesn't get the blame or credit -- it's just one part of enabling what we do," Theriault says. "We have a lot of progressive thinkers throughout the company."
Theriault runs a 3,800-strong IT department that encompasses operations and technology for the bank's global and personal business for both foreign and domestic clients. This includes banking, trust and investment products. The department is split into two operating units - technology services and applications support. The former runs the IT plumbing, such as the data center and networks, while the latter oversees Northern Trust's ($44 billion in assets) banking, trust and investment capability.
Crossing the Communications Divide
To do their jobs well, Northern Trust's IT staffers must be good communicators, says Theriault, who notes that bank CIOs must be able to speak to the business functions above and beyond the supporting technology. "You need to plan and strategize, but you also have to execute and manage successfully at the same time," he explains. "It's a multidimensional role - you're working at an executive level and you're responsible for making sure you deliver. Execution is so important, especially when dealing with clients."
Theriault says the leadership at Northern Trust understands this and supports IT from the top down. "It started with our chair, who committed to spending heavily on technology," he says of the bank's strong IT tradition. "And the business units we interact with embrace technology, too."
And IT also embraces business goals, Theriault notes. He says he savors the challenge of working with his staff to understand how technology can increase business opportunities for the bank. "Our technology people make [working at Northern Trust] special," Theriault reflects.
As someone who rose through the ranks from the programmer level, Theriault was able to make the transition from techie to hybrid IT executive, melding his technology knowledge with business know-how. Although not all technology roles call for such a blend of skills, it is an idea he says he hopes to instill in his own staffers as he helps train and mentor them. In the end, however, it is the morale among the people in the trenches that can make or break a project, Theriault notes. Therefore, he lets them pursue their ideas -- to a point.
"If the team wants to win, let them," Theriault explains. "Empower your staff and let them go, but make sure you direct them. Be tough on issues, but soft on people."
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