It starts with a blank sheet. When CIO Richard Loew joined PBF Energy—two years after its 2008 founding—the organization’s IT department had no people, no processes, and no technology. But as an information technology executive known for his ability to build and transform enterprise infrastructures, Loew was well equipped to fill in the company’s technology blanks.
Today, PBF Energy is entrenched in the Fortune 500 and has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing petroleum refiners. In order to help enable that growth, Loew meticulously built his IT team using a startup mentality. But even before building that team, Loew worked to establish a concrete objective to guide the IT function’s purpose and future: to implement functional, cost-effective solutions that are scalable and easily implementable.
To build his team rapidly but with purpose, Loew used a staffing approach that optimized IT headcount by leveraging third parties, managed hosting, and outsourcing arrangements. By concentrating on fostering these kinds of relationships, Loew was able to find the expertise he needed, while allowing the company at large to concentrate on its core skill of refining oil.
“Success is a variable metric which is situation-specific, but it centers around doing the right thing and managing expectations of the stakeholder community.”
“As a startup, my model was to depend upon third parties entirely for the first year,” Loew says. “Then over the ensuing two to three years, we moved to the optimum staffing model—a mixture of PBF and non-PBF employees.” This process also allowed PBF to build strong relationships and make scaling possible.
But ultimately, Loew’s overriding principle is to focus on the business success of the company—concentrating on supporting the safe and profitable operations of PBF’s refineries and supporting assets. To facilitate that, Loew and his team define and implement fit-for-purpose solutions, adapting to the needs of the client, the project, and PBF.
“IT has a very unique perspective of the organization and the business process around it,” Loew says. “We have to understand upstream and downstream dependencies and the implications and intersections associated with them.” So IT focuses on not only the organization’s daily technology operations but also the technical strategy, which is defined as the identification of helpful technology that might otherwise go
For Loew, however, his job is to add value not only through technical innovation and business process knowledge, but also through his soft skills and ability to collaborate. “I focus our sourcing on specific vendor organizations whose business and work cultures harmoniously work with PBF,” Loew says. “I don’t have time for infighting between competing organizations, as we have too much to do in too little time.” Loew treats the entire group as if it were a single PBF team. “Our goal is to work together as a team, learn from each other, provide value to the business functions we support, and if we can have some fun along the way, that’s a good thing.”
Running these lean teams allows Loew and PBF to remain agile, while also retaining the
ability to build up its people through cross training and knowledge sharing.
That people-focused ethos extends to Loew’s physical office. Open his door on any given day and you’ll find people—across teams and departments—collaborating, strategizing, and learning from each other. Two of Loew’s office walls are glass—a gesture meant to imply the organization’s open nature. Those walls also double as whiteboards, further driving home Loew’s commitment to collaboration.
“I work with the team to get them thinking outside their silos across IT, and most importantly across the organization regarding interdependencies, points of integration, implications to business process change, and base change management,” Loew says. And while Loew participates in these conversations, he pushes his team to take ownership and lets them know that in the end, they are responsible for their initiatives.
Loew credits his and the IT department’s success on placing equal importance on technology management and people management. “Success is a variable metric which is situation-specific,” Loew says. “But it centers around doing the right thing and managing expectations of the stakeholder community.” For instance, Loew fell short of his goal of having a final IT-resourcing model in place after his third year. When an organization is in growth mode, he says, it’s important to be proactive and hit goals, but ultimately the ability to readjust and mitigate risk is what has kept PBF driving forward.
“Both the existing PBF functions and the incoming business functions understand the journey,” Loew says. An enabler doesn’t need to hit all the goals that they set. Rather, they work collaboratively and transparently to understand past, current, and future situations. When Loew joined PBF, an internal IT team and process did not exist. Because of Loew’s work, IT has become integral to the PBF organization and has helped mark it for continued success.
Photo by Robert A. Lisak