CXO

Ron Guerrier: CIO. Collaborative communicator. Football coach.

Ron Guerrier spoke with TechRepublic about his career at Toyota Financial Services, his unique approach to office hours, and how today's CIOs can succeed.

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Ron Guerrier presenting an award to Karen Ideno, Chief Marketing Officer, for co-creating the digital strategy.
Image: Ron Guerrier/TFS

If you want to buy a new Toyota, you go to a dealership. If you want to finance that new car, one of the ways you can do that is through Toyota Financial Services, and the man behind a lot of the technology in that division is Ron Guerrier.

Guerrier is the vice president and chief information officer at Toyota Financial Services in Torrance, California. He's been with the company since 1996, but the way he approached the CEO about the position was unique.

"I sent him a text after the CIO left, and I just said 'I got next.' That's all I said in the text," Guerrier said. "He laughed, put an 'LOL' response, and he said 'patience.'"

Three months after Guerrier sent that text, he was offered the job. Guerrier has been the CIO of Toyota Financial Services since late 2012, but his story with the company starts long before that.

After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in finance, he got an entry-level job with Toyota doing customer service, collections, and repo in Chicago. The fact that he used to be a tour guide in the city worked to his advantage when it came to the repo side of things, being that he knew all the streets.

Two years after he started, the company made a transition from dumb terminals to PCs. Once they moved to client-server, the support model had changed and the company now needed deskside technicians. Guerrier had worked at a computer lab at the University of Illinois, so the company approached him about interviewing to be a deskside tech.

Later, he moved to a management position in Phoenix, Arizona to establish an onsite service desk and deskside team for a 60-person call center. He did such a good job with the call center that the then-CIO asked him to manage all of the company's call centers and outsourcers.

He took that job and eventually absorbed the data center operations as well. He then moved into a liaison position between business and IT. In 2010, he temporarily became CTO before moving back to front-end operations for a short while. It was then that the previous CIO departed and Guerrier sent that text message.

For Guerrier, the position is one that requires constant re-evaluation.

"I really believe the role of CIO, it's a six month interval. Every six months you have to just revisit your strategy," he said. "You need to look at it and say, 'Okay, does this still make sense given the pace of change that's happening in our industry?'"

For example, if you start a 2-3 year IT project, by the time you land it you could deliver a product utilizing now-obsolete technology and potentially put your team at a disadvantage.

Guerrier's unit is called business technology services (BTS), and his mantra is "One BTS." He's seen the civil war that happens between different teams (e.g. infrastructure, applications, etc.) when something goes wrong and he needs his team to be unified.

"If we're not unified we're, essentially, in peril," he said.

He runs IT like a separate business, but he doesn't want there ever to be a question about what his team is working on. He said that transparency and collaboration have made the conversation between IT and business even better as they know what each other is working on. Currently, the team is working on a cost/value program, exposing all of their costs in IT back to the business, so each team lead nows how their tech influences IT cost.

Toyota, as whole, has always been known as a forward-thinking company when it comes to technology. The first hybrid electric Prius went on sale back in 1997 and the company just announced its new fuel-cell powered Mirai. With the Prius, Guerrier said the company is working on a charging mat that you drive the car onto to charge it.

The Motor Sales Division is using iBeacon technology to better engage potential customers in the dealer showrooms, an idea championed by Guerrier. When customers walk into a dealer showroom, they are greeted via a notification on their smartphone, and as they approach the different car models the details and specs will be displayed on their phones as well.

For financial services, specifically, Guerrier said they are working to leverage telematics to alert customers when they are due for an oil change or track an overdue vehicle. As a CIO, he welcomes emerging technology and encourage employees to bring their ideas to him. By encouraging open conversations, and allowing employees to present outside tools, his team can cut down on shadow IT and find approved solutions for the workplace.

Guerrier is also unique in his accessibility. He holds open office hours so employees can share anything that's on their minds. He uses a 20-minute hourglass that people can see through his window so they can approximate how much time is left in the current conversation.

"My rules are pretty simple: You're not here to complain about your boss, if you come with a problem I ask that you come with a suggestion or solution, and the third one is be mindful of the time," Guerrier said.

People development is a high priority for Guerrier. He is a sponsor of the STEM Advantage Program that focuses on underprivileged communities and women in IT. The group partners with Cal State Dominguez to provide mentoring, scholarships, and summer internships. However, he does unique work with people outside of the office as well.

The son of Haitian immigrants who moved to the US before he was born, Guerrier still had family in Haiti for quite some time. In the 2010 Haiti earthquake, he lost seven family members. Since then, he has helped relocate some of his family members to Montreal and has helped fundraise and raise awareness for the situation in Haiti.

"I just want to make sure I'm giving more than I'm getting, that's very important to me," he said.

In his own words...

What do you do to unplug?

"Being a dad is the funnest thing on earth. And, being a dad of two kids that still think you're cool and relevant even though they're 13 and 15 is the best. So, the way I unplug is I coach my kids. There's a flag football league here in Southern California, and they follow the NFL. So, of course, we were the Chicago Bears of Anaheim. I'm so proud of them — 56 wins, four losses, four championships over five seasons. My daughter was the only girl on the team and she was MVP a couple years."

If you weren't working in tech, what other profession would you love to try?

"My dad, when he moved from Haiti he was an architect, and his first job in America was to help with the foundation for the Sears Tower. I think everyone calls it the Willis Tower today. So, everytime I see the Sears Tower, I know my dad contributed to that and I always wanted to be an architect. I did the river tour in Chicago, I was a tour guide there, and that was always my passion — architecture, but it just never clicked. So, if I wasn't doing this I would want to do something potentially in architecture."

What's the best thing you've read lately?

"I read the basics, like Harvard Business Review, McKinsey Quarterly, I read the MIT IT review. Those are things that keep me connected to being a leader and also to understanding what's going on in IT, but the thing I read the most is Automotive News."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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