Make People Your Priority

By Peter High  |  Posted 02-14-2011

Flextronics: Keeping IT Running On 'Just Enough'

In his role as SVP/CIO at Flextronics, David Smoley has had to work within the constraints of a business that is a leader in the application of Lean manufacturing techniques.  Rather than view that as a problem for IT, however, Smoley has embraced Lean practices in his own department.

Flextronics is a provider of vertically integrated advanced design and electronics manufacturing services (EMS) to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). When Smoley took over his current post in 2006, the company, and the economy, were doing well. Rather than use this as justification to invest in a wide array of new technologies -- as many IT executives do in good times -- he instilled a disciplined team culture around the theme "just enough."

This mantra meant that IT would spare no expense and keep a keen eye on its contribution to the bottom line. Developing this Lean mentality of "just enough" has served Smoley especially well during the downturn. Those executives who invest willy-nilly during good times often are the same ones who are on the chopping block when costs need to be cut. By running such an efficient operation during the good economic times, Smoley's team was one of the pillars the company could lean on during the trying times of this recession.

Make People Your Priority

There are several areas that Smoley recommends his fellow IT leaders focus on in preparation for the next inevitable economic downturn:

  • First, make people your priority. Smoley's emphasis on providing frequent, specific and meaningful performance evaluations has enabled his organization to identify its best people, and determine which skills are going to be rising in importance. By focusing on getting the right people in the right jobs and the right locations during strong economic times, Smoley was able to avoid significant staff cuts during the downturn. He has driven an extensive focus on retaining the best people and, now that more job opportunities are available, Smoley hopes to reap the rewards of having planned ahead of time to give his best people reason to stay at Flextronics.
  • Second, take care of your external partners. Smoley insists that his team be proactive and open with the organization's key technology partners, sharing business and IT strategy with them so that they are optimally positioned to suggest how they can help drive those plans through to fruition.
  • Lastly, focus on operational efficiency, always. During the Great Recession, Smoley did not have to struggle to make his organization more efficient than it already was.  As a result, he could focus on innovation and growth plans driven by IT at a time when his peers were almost exclusively thinking about cutting budgets. 

Without two years of significant retraction in IT, the culture of innovation is that much more inculcated throughout Flextronics tech operations. By planning for the rainy day prior to the storm, and seeing it through, Smoley's team was part of the story that has led to record earnings for Flextronics. As a result, IT now has a blueprint to follow in preparation for any economic downturns yet to come.

Peter High is president of Metis Strategy, a boutique IT-strategy consultancy based in Washington, DC.  A contributor to CIO Insight, Peter is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs, and the moderator of the podcast, The Forum on World Class IT. He can be reached at