Ken Spangler is executive vice president of information technology and CIO of Global OpCo Technologies at FedEx, an $84 billion, Fortune 45 company with 560,000 team members worldwide. Having previously served as CIO for each of FedEx’s businesses, he brings a unique business vantage point to his role today overseeing the global information technology teams that support FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight and FedEx Logistics.
With a customer base spanning 220 countries and territories, FedEx maintains one of the largest air operations in the world and a ground fleet of more than 200,000 motorized vehicles to deliver more than 15.5 million shipments daily. As you can imagine, it takes innovative technology to run this complex operation. But as Spangler notes, the acceleration of technology within business today, combined with the challenges of the past couple of years, has put added pressure on business and technology leaders to quickly implement new capabilities and improve agility.
When we spoke for my CIO Whisperers podcast, Spangler shared some of the secret sauce behind FedEx’s ability to do things that are revolutionary vs. evolutionary. He also discussed how he’s leveraged his expanded role to help further differentiate the company in the marketplace. After the show wrapped, we spent a few more minutes talking about the success pillars he says are central to navigating today’s technological complexities. What follows is that off-air conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Dan Roberts: I hear many CIOs talk about embarking upon big initiatives using all the right words, like modernization, transformation, and agility, but very few ever get to the finish line or realize the full benefits. What are your pillars for getting beyond the buzzwords and delivering results that matter?
Ken Spangler: I think there are a couple of things that are really imperatives, and some of them don’t sound revolutionary; they’re just blocking and tackling. One of the things everyone talks about today is transformation, and we have a saying and an image that we’ve created in my group that says you have to perform in order to transform. A lot of times people are trying to drive a transformational initiative because they have bad processes or bad technology or just bad operations, equaling bad results. And I believe strongly that you have to perform first in order to transform.
As part of perform, what we talk about first is always operational excellence. You have to run world class systems in order to do anything else. Then, to transform, a lot of times in business technology, where people don’t get to the end state of what they’re after, it’s because other things get in the way. We believe strongly in proven frameworks. As we talked about in the podcast, there’s that simple framework of the story, the deal and the plan that creates alignment, which is always a key to success. If you stay disciplined to that and you execute it, you almost have a hard time not being successful getting to the end. But you have to understand the framework. You have to be disciplined to the framework. And you have to be relentless.