IT Smarts & Crafts

CIO Paul Karras optimizes leadership to keep Wilton Brands at the top of the crafts sector

Arts and crafts is a tactile activity; the digital world may not readily spring to mind in the same thought with yarn and gluesticks. Wilton Brands, the parent company of popular lines like Martha Stewart Crafts, is changing that perception. With the evolution of technology capabilities, buyers have countless digital channel options to research and purchase goods online—prompting companies to adapt in even the most analog of industries.

14K

Number of students a year at The Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionary Art

Top 1%

Ranking of the Wilton Cake Ideas & More app in Food & Drink on iTunes

200K+

Number of copies sold by 1966 of The Homemaker’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating, written by founder Norman Wilton

115.9K

Number of Pinterest followers for Wilton Cake Decorating

As the senior vice president and CIO of Wilton, Paul Karras keeps the advancement of the company’s technology foundation at the forefront of its strategy. Drawing from his twenty-eight-year career, Karras has a particular philosophy on how technology comes into play with the success of Wilton. “The focus of our efforts aims to reinvent the high-value end-user experience, enable business capabilities to extend and expand our business, and transform organizational decisions through enhanced and relevant insights,” Karras says. “It has to make strategic sense for the organization, it has to make investment sense, and it has to provide full alignment to the company’s strategic imperatives.”

Established eighty-six years ago, the brand is now strategically leveraging social media and has amassed about two million followers across multiple social media platforms.  “In everything we do, we seek to provide inspiration, education, and the tools in order for our consumers to creatively express themselves and celebrate life’s events,” Karras says.

The arts and crafts company has a fully optimized digital presence, ranging from online cake-decorating tutorials to online shopping, Wilton has developed a brand with an engaged and loyal consumer base. Achieving these results required dynamic leadership capabilities—which is a strong component of Karras’s core principles. “It’s my responsibility to nurture the process of influencing people within Wilton to do two things,” Karras says. “First is to have a solid technology foundation for us to be able to build upon. The second, which is outside of tech, is looking at the capabilities and methods that are needed to enable the organization to achieve its long-range goals.”

Karras credits his first post-college job as a programmer at Arthur Andersen with laying the groundwork that shaped his core leadership ideas. He was able to develop his thought leadership skills—unrestricted by technology—through his experience with financial services, telecommunications, and consumer products industries.                        

“As I progressed through my career, my actions centered on driving results,” Karras says. “Setting strategy, building networks and professional relationships, as well as the ability to continuously learn and teach, basically shaped my brand and leadership. It goes back to the choices I was forced to take and what I learned from them.” With these choices came both success and failure—the latter of which Paul encourages other leaders to embrace. “The leadership brand that I have is mainly reflective of learning from my failure—and I continue learning.”

While technology is a major component to an organization’s success, Karras advises leaders to not forget about the most important aspect—their people. “People are everything,” he says. “As leaders, we must effectively set employees up for success.” To do this, Karras believes that it is important to hire the right people, manage them effectively, develop them, and engage them in maximizing their potential. “I want to instill the belief that everyone can make a difference. I love to change energy because energy changes minds, which changes behavior—ultimately, changing results.”

Karras encourages leaders to think about the bigger picture: What is impacting the company as a whole and not just in IT? “I want our brand to be able to adapt to market trends and opportunities—driving change not just within IT, but to move faster as a company.”