Boots the Chemist's IT director Andy Haywood is championing a big transformation programme so that the retailer can build on stong brand loyalty built up over 150 years.
Haywood is one of a growing number of CIOs who are enjoying the warm embrace of the corporation as all levels realise the importance of IT in continuing to develop the business.
“I feel that I’m in a very different place to some CIOs,” he says and he believes that his luck has been earned.
“IT professionals have not got the best track record of delivery for the business and some CIOs feel a little brow-beaten, but if you are a CIO or an executive you get what you deserve.
“CIOs must have transparency. The trust is the track record of delivery at the price you say and on time, that is what the CEO wants. Technology is not everybody’s cup of tea, so the IT team must demonstrate transparency at what it is doing.
“That then forms a virtuous circle because then the business wants to do more with IT.”
Haywood seeks transparency and inspiration from the most important people to all retailers: the customers. He joins the customer panels that Boots operates to listen to consumer opinion.
“I’ll go and sit on a panel with real customers and there are things in these that will spark an idea for me. They tell it exactly as it is.”
Haywood’s spell at Boots is his second stint with a major force in UK retailing having been an IT leader for supermarket chain Asda. During his time with Asda the company was acquired by US retail giant Wal-Mart, and it was Haywood who led the integration of the two companies in the early 2000s. Haywood is glad he had the opportunity to integrate two such major players but tellingly reveals that leading transformations is a lot easier on the soles of a CIO than an M&A.
“They are massive jobs. You are putting your life on hold. An integration is a once-in-a-lifetime thing to do. The Asda/Wal-Mart integration took three years of almost seven-day weeks. Transformation is more agreeable by a factor of 10.
“With a transformation you are creating something new and by default that is a whole lot better than you already have. With integrations the clock is always ticking and there are always compromises and occasionally it is not as good as you had before. Transformation is a meeting of minds,” he adds.
Haywood passed up an opportunity to be involved in another integration project when he chose to take a career break rather than working on the merger of Lloyds and his former employer HBOS. The two united in order to rescue HBOS during the worst of the banking crisis.
“I didn’t feel that my satisfaction would come from that. Retail is my first love and I would recommend it to people, as you get a lot of learning from it.”
Haywood had been IT boss at Asda until October 2005 and talks warmly of his time at a retailer that has been a training school for many significant business leaders.
“I wasn’t a star pupil, but I wasn’t expelled,” he jokes. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with the best people in the industry. You think UK retailing is big? Wal-Mart are world class operationally and fight and scrap over every last cent. The innovation and forward thinking of Asda, allied with an operationally focused business like Wal-Mart was a good experience.
“Retail is such a brilliant industry. You have millions of people voting with their feet. Competition is fierce so everyone has to give good service.”
Haywood has been fortunate, as a Leeds-born-and-bred Yorkshireman, in being able to develop his career up to CIO and yet remain in his heartland.
Away from the CIO “critical path” as he calls it, Haywood plays five-a-side football and devotes time to his family. He is also a keen reader with two books on the go at any one time: currently on his bedside cabinet are a biography of Winston Churchill and self-help fable The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.