Thinking Out Loud: Thomas Murphy

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 01-02-2002

Thinking Out Loud: Thomas Murphy

 

Interview with Murphy

CIO INSIGHT: How do you plot strategy when the world keeps changing?

Murphy: I'm not sure you do. For us, it was literally going from 100 miles an hour and clicking on all cylinders to basically stopping dead in our tracks. Before Sept. 11, it was about using IT to support rapid growth. After Sept. 11, it was about halting all projects that don't sell a cruise or increase revenues substantially. The first two weeks were consumed with figuring out what to do with staff. Now, we have a 12- to 18-month window in which things are going to be extra challenging. We need to get through that, then be in a position to restart Project Leapfrog when it's appropriate to do so. All the reasons that got us to where we were—bringing on new ships, globalizing—are still going to happen. It's too late to cancel the orders for new ships. The merger, of course, just adds to the uncertainty of when and how all this will happen.

You were on a course guided by a five-year plan drawn up by CEO Richard Fain in 1999. In a fear economy, is a five-year plan an anachronism?

Not entirely. I still believe there's value in having a macro vision for what needs to happen. For instance, our strategy for the company was growth, and it still is. It's very important to have that long-term understanding. Within that context, though, there's a whole bunch of microstrategies, and it's those stepping-stone strategies that need to be very nimble and very flexible and very adaptable in order to achieve the long term.

What's your focus now?

The basics—keeping the production systems running is the first thing. Second is keeping the utilities running, the network services, the e-mail services, all the things that people just expect to be there. But we also must focus on what incremental change means to the business. The business expectation is that I'm on the front line in determining where to invest for more value. I spend a lot of time arguing with those in my peer group about what is going to add the most value to the organization. We're in that mediation position of ensuring that resources get to the right place.

Managing expansion is different than managing reduction and uncertainty.

I was doing a tremendous amount of managing up before Sept. 11, because Leapfrog was so big and so profound to the business. I was very lucky to have a CEO and president who not only understood that but were fascinated by what it all could mean and by the process, and they passionately believed in it. So I spent a lot of time helping them understand how we were bringing the business and IT together to execute on imperatives.

But in the last two months, I've spent much more time focused inward on the IT group. We all went through a very painful time together. I think my role was clearly to be strong, to be a leader, to let them know we're going to overcome this thing and we have to do it together. In the last couple of weeks, I've seen us coming out of grayness, and I'm spending more time talking to the president and CEO again about the future and what all this may mean. It's been an interesting cycle.

Is there a new need amid all of this change to justify a seat at the table?

I think I was able to show through the two or three weeks after Sept. 11 that I can sit at the table as a business person. I have passions and strengths beyond technology, and they can serve the business in many ways. On the other hand, there has been less emphasis on my position because of the mere fact that Leapfrog is on hold.

How does your experience resonate, do you think, with other CIOs?

I think at some level everybody is going through this period of uncertainty and is having to re-evaluate strategies and, in some cases, cut staff dramatically. Certainly, most are cutting budgets to some degree, none of which is easy, and all of which cause you to look inward a little bit and re-evaluate what got you to that point. You've got to peel it back. It causes you to look inward, from a personal standpoint.

What's it like to be facing your fourth merger in your career?

It feels a little bit like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman deciding who gets what. With mergers, everyone assumes senior management knows how things will work out. But the fact is, they don't have any idea any more than anyone else in the organization. It's exciting, but it takes endurance. You have to sit back and allow things to work themselves out. The harder you push for answers, the more you realize there aren't any. You just hunker down, keep your eye on the horizon, break short-term plans into little pieces, and be ready with short-term adjustments if and when you need them. But you stay the course, definitely.

Career Highlights

Career Highlights

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.

  • CIO

    Bristol Hotels & Resorts

  • Vice President & CIO

    AVIS RENTAL CARS, INC.

  • Vice President of Information Systems

    Omni Hotels

  • Vice President of Information Systems

    Interstate Hotels Corp.

  • Director of Information Systems

    Marriott Hotels

  • Support Manager, Property Management Systems
  • Project Manager, Pre-Installation
  • Senior Project Manager, Installation and Training
  • Director, Property Management Systems and Telecommunications

    Education

  • Bachelor of Arts, English Literature, University of Richmond