Kurt Brungardt, Ambassador for the New City

Kurt Brungardt stewards the technology that manages the wealth of Michael Saul Dell and acts as an advocate for New York’s "New City," a burgeoning technology community

Kurt Brungardt, MSD Capital LP, CIO & Managing Director | Photo by Caleb Fox

People are not machines. I understood engineering well, and that worked quite well for me for much of my early career. When I started to lead people, things didn’t work quite the way they had before. In engineering, relationships between things are mechanistic. You can anticipate how things are going to respond to an input or stimulus. With people, I wasn’t getting the responses that I expected.

A big realization for me was that there are a whole bunch of rules to the way that people work. It goes to biology, psychology, linguistics. There’s a lot about human beings that if you take the time to learn, you can better anticipate how people are going to react to different situations. For engineers, it’s a difficult realization.

Leadership starts with trust. People really need to trust you and accept your interpretations. So there’s a way that you need to relate to them to have them be good followers. Followers follow people who are going to take them to a better place that they can’t get to on their own, or that they can’t get to by following someone else.

It pays to outsource security functions. There are firms that have access to all of the breaches and attacks that are occurring across the world for all of their customers. We can’t reproduce that. We’re going to pay them for their expertise, and part of that is their access to this worldwide set of information and their ability to analyze what things we need to worry about and what things we don’t need to worry about.

The CIO role is changing. The CIO could become irrelevant in a lot of organizations. The roles and responsibilities they have today won’t be as highly valued to warrant a C-level position in the future. There will still be somebody, though, that needs to hold the concerns of the organization around how to manage all of these information systems in a way that protects the firm, that enables a firm to grow, that positions the firm to be able to innovate, and to address regulatory concerns. That could be what the CIO position grows into.

You may also have technologists at the fringes of the business that can contribute to the strategies and experimentation that can lead to higher levels of performance. Those are really going to be the important opportunities for the CIO and his or her team. That’s how they’ll be highly valued in the organization.

 Managing outsourcers will be A key task for the CIO going forward. The CIO will spend more time on sourcing practices, making sure that the vendor is strategically headed in the same direction as the company.

Call it “New City,” not “Silicon Alley.” Mayor Bloomberg likes the term “New City.” His administration was a huge supporter of bringing in technology firms to New York City as a way to revitalize our economy and make it less dependent on finance. Google has more than 3,000 employees in New York. Facebook has offices here now. Cornell is building a new technology campus on Roosevelt Island.

There’s a New York tech Meetup group with close to 40,000 members. They hold events on the NYU campus, and they’re sold out. Young startups vie to pitch their ideas. Venture capitalists sponsor these meetings. That’s powerful stuff, when you get the community working together and helping each other out.

The cloud gives startups an advantage. One of the big enablers for startups is the cloud.  You don’t need to own the hardware anymore, and you already have the platforms to build on. You can have some young businesspeople that have some technology chops or a technology buddy, but they don’t need to be hardcore technologists to launch a business, and they don’t need a lot of money.

Gain some perspective. You need other people to expose what you don’t know you don’t know. Humans are limited in how we perceive the world. If you are inventing something new, people really won’t understand it right away. There’s a way that you’ll need to learn to speak about it and present it to people to get them engaged. For people coming out of hard-core technology, that will be difficult. As you think about who you want to work with, that might be a consideration about who you want to include—people who are not just like you with a different set of skills.

Many small wins lead to victory. You’re better off delivering small and fast, over and over, rather than in big chunks with long development cycles. There may be a place for that, but the risk in delivering in big chunks is that the world changes. What was relevant three months ago is no longer relevant today, or at least not in the same way.