In this episode we are joined by Paula Bartgis, Chief Information Officer at Sun Life US. Paula is a veteran technologist, but one with particular strengths and expertise in getting things done. She has held many leadership roles in IT across application development and engineering, financial and operational planning, and portfolio and project management.She has held senior positions in IT and project management at Travelers and at Voya Financial, where she ran the enterprise Project Management Office and served as head of Enterprise Transformation. Paula oversaw acquisition integration and business transformation at MassMutual, and for that company she also invented an assessment framework to measure project delivery effectiveness that was patented for the company.
The relevance of this experience—of both the fundamental technology expertise and the added specialization in how to successfully get things done—is the essence of the value Paula brings to her work, as you’ll see from our conversation. Paula arrived at Sun Life US in 2019 to assess the company’s technological state, evaluate how IT worked and lead a digital transformation. Based in Canada, Sun Life has a history spanning 150 years. It is rooted in life insurance, but now offers a comprehensive suite of employee benefits, including disability, dental, and medical.
During this conversation, I felt that Paula kept hitting some of the most important success factors in running a contemporary IT operation. She takes and end-to-end view of technology, where success of the most advanced digital capabilities stands on a solid technological foundation. She sees digital as supporting and affirming the human element, even as it introduces the efficiencies of automation. Every CIO needs to have a mastery of technology and the ability to run a project. Paula has specific and outstanding credentials in project management.
Equally importantly, Paula understands the importance of the human element in getting things done. For example, she notes the importance of providing a career path for different kinds of professionals at a time where technologies and needed skillsets are rapidly evolving.And she understands what is perhaps the most important aspect of leadership: maintaining morale.
I made the observation that Napoleon said that moral considerations are 2/3 of success in battle. Paula explained how she drives morale in her organization and elaborated on the need for a flexible and adaptable organizational culture. That reminded me of another famous tactician—Mike Tyson—who said that everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face!
Maybe Paula would prefer Clausewitz’s phrase—that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. In this scenario, the “enemy” is the shifting realities of the market, and the thousand unexpected things that are bound to happen. At Sun Life, Paula has built an organization that has the discipline down cold, but that is responsive and ready to roll with the punches.
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