Ranny Grubb had no idea what career path he wanted to take when he entered college. So he played it safe and majored in accounting at Radford University in Virginia. If nothing else, he said he knew he’d always be able to find a job.

Majoring in accounting turned out to be one of the smartest decisions the 34-year-old could have made. Part of his course work included an IS class, which opened up a whole new world, he remembers.

Grubb was fascinated by how technology and business could be tied together, and natural curiosity motivated him to go way beyond that introductory tech course; he went on to study Pascal and FORTRAN (which were hot languages at that time).

By the time he graduated, he had built an education foundation that would eventually lead to his current gig as a managing consultant and CIO at Virtual IT, Inc., a technology and business consultancy in Roanoke, VA.

Vital statistics

Ranny Grub photoName: Ranny Grubb
Age: 34
Title: CIO

First IT job: Cost systems analyst, Norfolk Southern Corporation
Non-IT career aspirations:
Landscape architect, builder, educator
Favorite CIO resource sites:
TechRepublic, TechWeb

Favorite non-work site:v

Best advice received: Wick Moorman, VP Information Technology, Norfolk Southern Corporation, said to me after giving me responsibility for NS’s Internet direction and technology: “Before you implement a technology, first ask yourself how much it will cost me to get you out of it.”
Worst advice received: “If you are going to succeed in this company, you need to be in here on Saturday like everyone else.” I’ve long since discovered that it isn’t the quantity of work, but the quality that is important.
Favorite movie:
Hunt for Red October

Favorite book:
Into Thin Air

Regrets: Not getting a masters degree that would allow me to teach at institutions of higher learning on technology subjects
Computers in home: 5

Favorite hobby/recreation: Golf, skiing

Grubb’s complex job includes creating physical infrastructure, performing strategic architecture planning, managing projects, and setting budgets. He has a unique ability to talk business with financial folks and discuss technical issues with IT staff. His skill set has grown beyond those introductory programming courses; today he works with XP, UML, and data modeling. But, he notes, it took more than a decade of long, hard hours to get to this point in his career.

The IT starting point
His tech career began with a three-year stint as an electronic data processing (EDP) auditor for the state of Virginia, where he conducted audits of state agencies and public universities by analyzing their financial structure.

“I looked for vulnerabilities and fallibilities in their reporting and use of computers,” explained Grubb. Working closely with law enforcement agencies, Grubb played cybersleuth in combing through operating systems searching for evidence of fraud or misuse of state funds. “I enjoyed the details of the process, digging and searching for irregularities,” he said.

Three years later, he was ready to test his tech and business skills at Norfolk Southern Corporation, one of the largest railroads in the United States. For the next nine years, he ascended the ranks, serving in various roles, including systems analyst, assistant manager, marketing systems manager, customer integration services manager, and chief Internet architect.

Overall, Grubb’s goal was to bring the railroad company into the 21st century by creating an e-business infrastructure that would allow the company to communicate with nationwide customers.

“Initially, I worked with a team to build next-generation cost systems,” he explained. It was a unique situation, he recalled, because it was the first time the finance organization worked directly with the IT organization in a joint application-development effort. “I came in with both an accounting and a technical background and worked side-by-side with programmers writing code for the cost system,” he said.

Grubb’s focus was bridging the gap between business needs and technology. “When I started, they were running in parallel paths,” he recalled, “and communication between [the business side and IT] was strained.” A big step toward achieving that goal was when Grubb moved from finance to marketing and built the company’s first enterprise data warehouse. The marketing team used the data warehouse to make pricing decisions.

“We implemented a high-end Teradata warehouse [NCR Inc.’s database software] and got into issues of enterprise system integration and finding ways for sharing information from one disparate organization to another,” he explained.

Grubb was part of the team that created a global network that linked all the railroad’s offices. “I physically designed the network that includes applications and security, for example. Making the network secure was one of my top priorities,” he said.

Always looking for a challenge
He realized soon after he accomplished his goals that it was time to move on from the job. He wanted new challenges—challenges that come with solving new problems and breaking down complex systems in the search for answers.

Grubb found his next opportunity as a managing consultant/CIO at Virtual IT, a startup launched in April 2000. When he joined, he was the firm’s fourth employee. Virtual IT provides CIO and IT management services for companies that don’t have an internal CIO at the helm.

“Companies don’t have CIOs for different reasons,” Grubb explained. “Many small companies don’t need them, and while most midsize and large companies hire them, they are not as effective as they should be. Typically, CIOs have solid business backgrounds, but they’re like fish out of water because they don’t know how to bridge technology and the business side of the organization,” he said.

Depending on the enterprise’s hierarchical complexity and its technology goals, it can take as long as two years to bring a CIO up to speed. Hiring a “virtual” CIO allows a company to make the most of its tech resources, he said. “I give the company ideas, strategies, and advice about how to deal with issues of technology and business and how to meld them so the company is making the most of its resources.”

As Virtual IT’s CIO, Grubb’s duties run the gamut—from running cable to performing strategic architecture planning to managing projects to budgeting.

“He exceeds customer demands and is highly regarded in all circles,” said Brian Lanham, senior application developer. “He is unbelievably detail-oriented and absolutely will not compromise on quality. Ranny can quickly assess a situation, evaluate the problems within the context of the big picture, and provide cost-effective, solution-oriented alternatives that meet the functional and nonfunctional requirements of the system,” added Lanham. The developer also noted that Grubb is a terrific supervisor, as he is “patient and willing to share knowledge with less-experienced folk. He is constantly aware of improving himself and others around him and embraces opportunities to do the same.”

Long workdays are worth it
But doing all that means a long workday that often extends into the evening, admitted Grubb, and it’s not a stress-free role. The toughest part, he said, is switching gears several times a day, as he’s consulting with as many as eight to 10 companies at a time.

“I may be working with a manufacturing company part of the morning, then switch to a healthcare company after lunch, and by midafternoon, I’m working with a financial services firm. Each change requires a quick mental adjustment.”

Grubb admitted the grueling work schedule can impinge on his family life. “In a way, I’m always working, but that’s the way it is,” he said. “I love my job—the tension, stress, long hours, the whole thing. Maybe it’s because every day is different because I never know what to expect.”