Job Title : Group IT director

Organization : Tesco

What they say about him: “He is the classic ‘new CIO’ – an IT professional who has been an old-style IT director, moved up and out into board level business responsibility. He is challenging Wal-Mart for the mantle of the world’s best retail IT function.”

Tesco’s success over the past decade has been nothing short of phenomenal, with record profits breaking the £2bn mark this year. Its CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, has publicly praised the role technology has played in the supermarket chain’s transformation into a global general merchandise retailer.

Colin Cobain joined Tesco in 2001 and is now group IT director for the world’s biggest retail IT function outside of Wal-Mart, tasked with setting and managing the focus of the IT division and leading the development of the retail giant’s IT strategy in line with its aggressive and ambitious global growth plans – which now extend to 440 stores in 11 international markets.

As part of this global expansion, Tesco is now aiming to simplify the business by rolling out standardised business processes and IT systems across its international operations – a hugely ambitious programme, dubbed ‘Tesco in a box’. Tesco has also been at the leading edge of the testing and exploitation of RFID technologies in the retail sector, using it both in-store and in the supply chain.

Tesco’s IT success has also extended to the company’s dot-com online operation, where sales now exceed £1bn per year.

Cobain started his IT career at the Mars Group after gaining a degree in Computational and Statistical Science at Liverpool University. In 1990 he became IT director at Rumbelows and then joined the Kingfisher Group, where he spent time on the boards of both Superdrug and Woolworths. It was at Woolworths that Cobain also launched the world’s first national interactive digital TV store.

At the height of the dot-com boom Cobain set up an internet start-up, which reached pilot stage, before he joined Tesco. Outside work, Cobain is a die-hard Manchester United fan.