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Welcome to Driving Change where we go for a drive with leading technology executives and dig deep into their beliefs, habits, routines, and influences.

Today we take a ride with Tom Butterfield CIO of TCF Financial and discuss a variety of topics from his role as CIO, evolution vs. transformation, recruiting tech talent, and advice for up and coming tech leaders.

For more episodes of Driving Change and our other tech shows visit Lead by Change.

Produced and Hosted by Jeff Martin

Empowered by Collective Genius

Thank you to Mountain Mudd Espresso Cafe

Brilliant Music by: The Heisman

The Interview:

Jeff Martin: You know I think actually some people just honk at me because I’m driving a Prius. I’m going in the speed limit.

Tom Butterfield: They ride up your bumper honking at you, appreciating your Prius. That’s what they’re really doing.

Jeff Martin: Do you think that’s what they’re doing?

Tom Butterfield: No.

Jeff Martin: Welcome to Driving Change where we go for a drive with leading technology executives, and dig deep into their beliefs, habits, routines, and influences. On this episode, we visit with Tom Butterfield, CIO of TCF Financial, and talk about his role as CIO, evolution versus transformation, recruiting tech talent, and advice for up-and-coming tech leaders.

Tom Butterfield: Hey, Jeff! How are you?

Jeff Martin: Good! How are you doing?

Tom Butterfield: I’m doing well. Good to see you.

Jeff Martin: Good to see you.

Tom Butterfield: I’m excited for a little Jeff Martin Car Karaoke.

Jeff Martin: So let’s start with your current role, currently the CIO of TCF Financial.

Tom Butterfield: TCF Financial, yes.

Jeff Martin: Okay. What is your role there as CIO?

Tom Butterfield: Well, I’ve been there about a year and TCF Financial is a $20 billion bank but it is a combination of a bank, which is a regional bank, and a national – it’s a lending business, specialty lending businesses. Basically, my job is enterprise CIO. I manage all the technology across all the different lines of businesses, which is the core bank side, as well as the many disparate lending businesses that we’ve built or acquired over the years.

Jeff Martin: Okay. How do you define the role of the CIO?

Tom Butterfield: That’s a great question. I mean the core part of it obviously is accountability for the technology, both the infrastructure that’s in place and the operations, and the successful stability of what’s there. But I think more than ever before, the role of CIO is as much about strategy and how technology enables the business goals and help set not only enablement of existing goals, but new directions and new possibilities that are out there.

Jeff Martin: You’re a tech leader at Deluxe and at Target.

Tom Butterfield: Yeah.

Jeff Martin: And now at TCF.

Tom Butterfield: Right.

Jeff Martin: How have you seen the role of the CIO or tech leadership in general kind of change over that 12 years?

Tom Butterfield: Yeah, it’s a great question. I’ll drop from I think examples beyond what I’ve been part of and what I’ve seen.

Jeff Martin: Sure.

Tom Butterfield: I actually think the role of the CIO evolves as the capability of the particular CIO allows him to evolve, I can say it that way. There are plenty of CEOs that I know and I’ve talked with that don’t see the role of CIO rather than what they experienced and what they see it to be. A costing manager might be a good example of that.

Jeff Martin: Yeah, yeah.

Tom Butterfield: Somebody who leads a many million dollar IT organization for the purpose of minimizing the cost structure is a different CIO than somebody who’s there as a strategist to help the business understand what can be done.
Jeff Martin: A maintenance CIO-

Tom Butterfield: Uh-huh.

Jeff Martin: Versus –

Tom Butterfield: Strategist.

Jeff Martin: Strategy, vision, any [unintelligible 0:03:41].

Tom Butterfield: I think more and more, so the evolution from my time with Deluxe to United Health for a period of time and Ingenix to Target to TCF, you see more examples of CIOs that are playing that strategy role. You see more expectation. Technology itself, consumer technology I think is driving so much into business strategy that you get that as a forcing function almost. But I still think it’s more of a reactive, an opportunistic thing. I think it’s less than the majority of business CEOs and business executives whose first inclination is to go to strategy-thinking technologists as their CIO.
I think more often the reflexive reaction is to get my call center later, to get somebody who’s run a big data operation group. Large team management is the key for all CIO but think more and more companies are flipping on their expectation that way.

Jeff Martin: What makes a tech leader a great tech leader versus someone that’s just competent in what they do?

Tom Butterfield: I think what makes a great tech leader a great leader is the same kind of thing that would make a great HR or finance leader a great leader. There is a point of inflection I think in a leader career with a little bit of what got you here won’t get you there, specific premises of Peter principle. Oftentimes being very good at your discipline puts you into an authority role but being good at leading people, understanding how to set priorities, understanding what your role is as a leader that’s uniquely different from what it was as a technologist is what will make you a good CIO.

Jeff Martin: Looking back at your career, looking at like transformations in IT and technology, there’s always a lot of transformation going on.

Tom Butterfield: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff Martin: What would you say –

Tom Butterfield: I quit using that term, by the way.

Jeff Martin: So what is the word that you use?

Tom Butterfield: I don’t know. It’s journey now maybe more than anything else.

Jeff Martin: Journey?

Tom Butterfield: Transformation has such profoundness to it that I think over commits because it is always a continuous journey. It’s always about evolving and shaping.

Jeff Martin: What would you say was one of the largest evolutions you went through?

Tom Butterfield: You now it would be hard not to – well I’m at [unintelligible 0:06:00] the work we’re doing at TCF and a lot of what we’re doing here is focused on leapfrogging. I hate to use that term, but we do use that term. I think there is some truth to it, but leapfrogging from a technology capability, from a sophistication point of view, and really leveraging technology to win in business, not looking at it as cost, but it’s [unintelligible 0:06:23]. There’s a whole lot of steep cliff ahead.
The one that probably was one of the biggest one that I was a part of front to back and still again in the journey was the Target evolution. I started there so I was there 8 years, so a couple of years ago was when I left. I started there 10 years ago. Like many IT organizations, I think it was a bit of a project-centric mindset, so I always talk to folks if IT fundamentally breaks down into three major disciplines: plan, build, and run. Many, many IT shops are build-run shops where the plan is not front and center. The plan looks like things like not only technology strategies and reference architectures for futures data architectures, but also that alignment of technology portfolio investment with business strategy.
Much of the transformation that we all kind of held hands and did together at Target was building a muscle around planning, building an intentionality muscle, understanding how we want to invest our dollars every year, a new functionality point of view, having a multiyear view of where we wanted to take technology. It was highly derived from a multiyear view of where the business wanted to take capabilities.

Jeff Martin: Looking at the big journey, what challenge kind of gave you some enlightenment that’s made a difference in how you do work today?

Tom Butterfield: Many, and I think that there are some that I would call inside IT and some that are about relationships and partnerships. So there’s an awful lot of the journey of effectiveness, whether that’s transformation or whether that’s in a strategy that’s an everyday execution strategy. It is about engendering the team to be on the same, generating followers, getting everybody to be on the same page about the common goals we have.
When you’re doing transformation, easily that’s the harder thing to do because you have people working under paradigms that you’re trying to say don’t apply anymore, so you have a lot of convincing to do. You know for me, probably some of my biggest learnings are how important it is to get the people aspects, the hearts and the minds aligned even before you get the strategies and the technologies and the processes aligned.

Jeff Martin: Yeah. What’s like one specific tactic that you use to get alignment?

Tom Butterfield: Earlier in my leadership, I used to do a lot of telling. I used to do a lot of, “Here’s the strategy. Here’s what we are going to do.” It’s not as effective as if you ask people to give you the strategy, so you build a good team. You build up a good team. You basically say here’s the direction I want to go. I actually have more behind that than what I would let on. But you’re engaging people’s heads into the problem and letting them define the problem. You have to be willing to accept something that’s directly not as quiet and precise as where you would have gone yourself, but you get more buy-in that way, so that’s a big one, I think, just getting everybody into problem-solvers in their journey.

Jeff Martin: That makes a lot of sense. Nobody wants to do something that someone just tells them to do, right?

Tom Butterfield: Well, it’s amazing.

Jeff Martin: But if you could be part of this solution and figure it out together.

Tom Butterfield: Yeah. There are folks who are most comfortable, “Just tell me what to do.” I mean encounter that every once in a while.

Jeff Martin: Yeah.

Tom Butterfield: Just tell me what to do. I think frankly you got the wrong folks when you’re doing like that.

Jeff Martin: So talking about talent and people, how do you find and recruit technologists? There is basically 0 percent unemployment.

Tom Butterfield: I know.

Jeff Martin: There’s not enough of these technologists out there, and when you’re really looking for great technologists.

Tom Butterfield: Yeah.

Jeff Martin: I mean you narrow down the people even more.

Tom Butterfield: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff Martin: What are some of the best ways that you found how to build great talent?

Tom Butterfield: You know, I think in this field more than anything, there’s an awful lot about the network and the people that you know and about the experiences that you had together. We talk a lot with the crew that I’m bringing in and the folks that I’ve inherited in TCF about shared experiences and the value of shared experiences.
I think what happens is there is a lot of self-selection that goes on in the IT world. Most of the technologists that likely what they’re doing, they’re excited by what they’re doing. They want to take pride in the work that they’re doing rather than just kind of check in on an 8 o’clock to 5 o’clock gig. They want to work with people who have the same mindset, and they want to work in an organization that appreciates the work they do.
I still think that there’s many corporate IT functions as not out there where the respect isn’t as great as you would like it to be. It [unintelligible 0:11:29] get quite as much attention and appreciation for the work that they’re doing. There’s a lot of self-selecting that I think goes on, so how do I recruit. We go back and we connect with folks that we’ve had a lot of success with in the past, talk about the direction we’re going, talk about the strategies, the skills that we need, kind of set a primer out to time to pump a little bit the exciting work to come and many of them –

Jeff Martin: I think the key part of what’s that work, what’s that look like to get them excited about it, right?

Tom Butterfield: Well, if you –

Jeff Martin: Tell that story because that’s the value to them.

Tom Butterfield: Agreed, and because they have a shared experience, people have the trust that it’s not just a story. People have a trust that this is a take two of something. We’re going to do something again, that it’s not the first time that we’ve done this.

Jeff Martin: What is either an aha moment or a piece of advice that you receive that’s been very helpful for you?

Tom Butterfield: So if I go throughout my journey, that’s not necessarily, it’s more common about leadership and not necessarily about IT leadership. But I share often when I’m in panels inside a company with emerging leaders, some of my own learning stories. One of the more meaningful ones for me was early in my career when I had first been promoted to a leader of leader roles, kind of a director role, I remember a situation where I was in an elevator with other people in the elevator, but having a conversation with somebody. I didn’t know anybody else in the elevator and I was basically telling this person how I didn’t agree with what was going on in the last meeting. About an hour later, my boss calls me to his room. He says, “I understand you don’t agree with what we’re doing.”

Jeff Martin: No.

Tom Butterfield: Yeah, and there was a couple of different learnings that came from that. One of them when you do get into a leadership role, it’s an enterprise role, an enterprise leader role, people know who you are when you don’t know who they are. It sounds like a silly thing to say at this point in my career, but at that point in my career, that never happened to me before. People that I knew and people that knew me where the people I had meet. And so, there is this notion of kind of influence as a leader and your accountability as a leader for what you say and that’s the other half of that equation as you realize through an example like that that you have an obligation, you have an obligation to lead for the whole. We talked about that when I talk with up-and-coming leaders is job is it’s your job. We’ve asked you to run this fast. We’ve asked you to optimize this function and sometimes optimizing this function for the betterment of the organization is to sub-optimize this, so that the rest of the organization runs better, more efficiently, more effectively whatever. The really good enterprise leaders are the ones that give back, the ones that kind of step out of their own role.

Jeff Martin: Excellent! Let’s grab a coffee.

Tom Butterfield: Perfect!

Jeff Martin: Now that you’re a CIO –

Tom Butterfield: Yeah.

Jeff Martin: What were some of the things that you would encourage other people to do if they kind of strive to become – they didn’t go in that direction. What are some of the things that you did right?
Tom Butterfield: I think this notion of kind of embracing everybody to a common cause and letting everybody have value in the solution set is something you can do even before you become a CIO. It not only trains you for that thinking but it engenders you to other people as you get into higher levels of leadership. I think I get that reasonably okay. I think it didn’t always work out early in my career that way a lot more competition oriented and inclusion oriented. But you know over time, you realize inclusion gets you a lot more progress than competition.

Jeff Martin: Are there any media outlets that you reference, magazines, things like that that you reference to kind of stay on top of your role in technology?

Tom Butterfield: No, I’m not nearly as good at this as I know I need to be, and I think that there’s a couple of these forces that demand from our time that are hard to balance – networking, staying connected is one; staying fresh and current on technology is one; and then executing and the accountabilities we got in our job. Those three alone are more than 100 percent of a person’s time, and I notoriously focus o the last of those three and usually don’t do as much service to myself on the networking or on the educating.
I do think external conferences are a great way to get immersed, to get yourself in the pool for a few days, come back out. I use Gartner periodically, symposium because you just got a nice broad swath there. You get to understand and then you pick and choose. You figure out what topic that smells like what’s going on in my organization, feels like it’s the right thing to be diving into, and go after.
Beyond that honestly, I use focus on my team. I mean I hire people who are smarter than me, that are more knowledgeable than me, and I use them to educate me, and conversely, then I had to let them make decisions. I had to let them lead what they’re accountable for and stay out of the way, and the most I have to do is find a way to test their decision making, to test that they’re being balanced in how they’re looking at something, and not overly eschewing it to a preference. But beyond that, I’m not smarter than them on technology, so I can’t affirm their technical decision. I can only affirm their decision-making process.

Jeff Martin: Do you spend any time with associations or nonprofits?

Tom Butterfield: Yes. Yeah, I do. I do. I’ve been involved with Second Harvest Heartland. This will be my seventh year.

Jeff Martin: Wow!

Tom Butterfield: I’m on the board of directors there. I actually was the board chair for a couple of years. My association there has been incredibly enriching for me, and I hope I brought some goodness to that organization as well. It does a wonderful set of work for the community in Minneapolis-Saint Paul and in Minnesota, but it was good because I got to be a business executive. It’s funny I spent again almost 7 years there and if you were to go in and ask fellow directors what Tom does for a profession, I think the majority of them won’t realize I’m a CIO.

Jeff Martin: Really?

Tom Butterfield: Because it’s not that muscle I lead with. It’s more the strategy muscle, the business muscle.

Jeff Martin: Balance, how do you balance work, life, and personal?

Tom Butterfield: I’ve always been relatively – I’m always good at that. I’ve always made that an intent of mine, and in fairness, I have not gone to organizations or where I didn’t feel like that was a valued component of what to be an asset there, an employee there. I advocate that a lot with my team as well. The language that I basically use with myself and with my team is, “I think every one of us works because we have to work, right? If we got hit by the lottery, I highly doubt we’ll show up two weeks from now. But if we are going to work, we should have fun doing it. We should get something out of it, right?”

Jeff Martin: Yeah, yeah.

Tom Butterfield: We should improve ourselves. We should get successes. We should get all the wonderful things that come from doing good things, and I think you can work hard for 50 hours a week and then feel comfortable that you work hard for 50 hours a week. Not every project and not every job, and not every monthly calendar let’s you do that but generally speaking, if that’s your focus, you’re good to go.
Jeff Martin: Yeah, I always look at it as work, family, and personal. On the personal side, I always ask these questions. What do you do to look for inspiration and thoughts and ideas for work? Where do you go and what do you do and then what I think is kind of the flip of that is that what do you do or where do you go when you totally want to disconnect from your work?

Tom Butterfield: You know I usually go in the nature to totally disconnect, so whether it’s a cabin or a beach in Florida, but I do think it’s valuable or anybody who’s a professional to disconnect. If you go to spend a week in Florida, where I was last week, then you’re constantly online. You’re not disconnected. You’re not recharging. You’re not yourself or pulling from your organization.
Ironically, Jeff, what I would tell you is when I do go to those places, it is the place where I do get creative. I do get perspective, and I do get enough of a step back that I can challenge whether the current approach I’m taking is the right approach, so I come back with more insight by unplugging than my diving into other industries and other articles.

Jeff Martin: That’s what I find too is that when I go on vacation, that’s when I probably do my best work.

Tom Butterfield: Yes, yes.

Jeff Martin: The ideas come to me. The vision come to me because I’m disconnected from everything. Then there’s activities like for me, I do Brazilian jujitsu.
Tom Butterfield: Yeah, I know you –

Jeff Martin: Where I can’t think of work at all.

Tom Butterfield: Yeah.

Jeff Martin: And no vision is going to come out of that.

Tom Butterfield: Yeah, that’s right. that’s right.

Jeff Martin: In the moment. Do you have activities like that that you do?

Tom Butterfield: I do. I have been doing a little bit of training for triathlon. I did one earlier in my life, and I was looking to do a Half Ironman in the next year or so. So I put a lot of time on the seat, riding. I work out at least one day and I’ll run or I’ll bike and that is away time for me, and that is mentally completely away, that is hard work, hard energy like your jujitsu. You’re getting everything you got and you’re expending energy and you’re doing it with complete disconnect, and it helps refresh a lot. I do mine in the morning because it gets your blood flowing. It gets your head going in the morning for the rest of the day.

Jeff Martin: I have one last question for you.

Tom Butterfield: Okay.

Jeff Martin: It’s going to be unique question. The question is for other tech leaders that are watching this, what one question would you have for them? What would like to hear other tech leaders talk about?
Tom Butterfield: If I wouldn’t, if I don’t look at it from a personal question point of view for them, I look at it instead from a profession. I think the question that all of us tech leaders need to get our head around is what is the changing nature and obligation of our roles as technology leaders, given how fast and how profound technology itself is changing. I can remember days. I’m old enough, I can remember days when literally the spreadsheet was the vehicle of only the finest organization and not too many years ago, programming was the vehicle and tool of only an IT team and that doesn’t exist anymore. So now as that evolves, what’s the changing nature of IT leadership?
I actually think IT domain shrinks and our job becomes less to control things like we used to control and more to enable things within formats and standards to be smart enough to think forward, to think forward enough, to put out the hooks, the put out the connections, and the standards and formats and the toolsets that allow people to go to and go create but to do it in a way that you don’t create total chaos in the environment. I think that’s an intentional change, right? As an IT leader, you have to really your head around what does it mean to lead technology when it becomes a commodity and so pervasive of a capability?

Jeff Martin: Yeah, excellent. Well, thanks for your time.

Tom Butterfield: You’re welcome.

Jeff Martin: I appreciate it.

Tom Butterfield: Good to see you again.

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