Three years ago, Thomas Druby fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams: he purchased a dark blue 1965 Ford Mustang. He’s been a Mustang fanatic all his life, and now he had a vintage classic all his own to repair and restore. He says it was a challenge to end the day working on computers and to start his evening working on restoration, but doing so set him on a new path.
Druby pursued a similar challenge as vice president of IT with door and grille manufacturer CornellCookson—an organization with roots dating back to 1828. In about a year with the manufacturer, he’s taken an IT staff of just twenty-one employees and set it on a path to becoming a well-oiled machine. Druby is leveraging technology on the operations floor, representing IT with a seat at the executive table, mending the strained relationship between IT and the rest of the business, and instilling a new culture in his department.
“My mantra is that I like to go in and fix organizations and take IT departments to a high-performing level,” Druby says. “CornellCookson had an IT department that they thought could do a lot more, and they really wanted to leverage technology to develop the business and to help increase the top and bottom lines. The position offered a seat at the executive table, and it was much more of an influential position. I’ve grown my career by taking on opportunities that are very challenging, and that’s how I ended up here.”
When Druby came on board, the relationship between IT and the rest of the business wasn’t all it could be. “Some would say it was pretty frayed,” Druby says. The staff had spent years focused only on trying to implement an ERP system. That sole focus resulted in the business units relying on outside partners and vendors to assist with their IT projects, including implementing a CRM platform that CornellCookson’s IT department could not support. The small staff was overwhelmed with requests and so focused on completing this one project that, from a technology perspective, the business lagged far behind.
“It was getting them to look beyond what they worked on for the last several years,” Druby says. “They had gotten into a zone where they were just working on one thing, which is very harmful. We started down a path within four or five months where IT had a different, more collaborative culture being cultivated, and the business was much more receptive. We’re starting to move down the path in some cases with sales and operations, where we’re becoming a strategic partner with them and not just a service delivery organization.”
Druby’s team started with a simple IT service desk where they could manage and prioritize requests and put service levels around the amount of work they had to deal with. He then put iPad Pros into the hands of the safety and quality assurance managers on the floor to speed up operations. He also utilized OneNote to get everyone organized digitally with the iPads.
“For a smaller manufacturer such as CornellCookson, the idea is to get steady and stable operations and create as much efficiency as we can so we can improve the bottom line,” Druby says. “If I look outward, the question becomes, ‘How can I leverage technology to create a competitive advantage and make it easier to do business with us?’”
So while Druby would love to invest in cutting-edge technology, he acknowledges that working within a smaller organization requires a different priority on investments. Rather, Druby’s focus has been to stabilize IT operations, improve the culture within IT, and empower his staff to accomplish more.
“It’s about creating a professional environment where they can have growth, where they can see themselves being at a much higher level than they are now, and giving them the development to get there,” Druby says. “It’s about allowing them to take risks, to have successful failures, and to not be chastised because they decided to take a risk that potentially could have had some benefit to the organization.”
Druby tries to present a similar level of trust in how he deals with his vendors.
“I’ve been in organizations where vendors were just treated as a supplier. You negotiate hard, you get the best deal, but it’s not really a win-win for you and the vendor,” Druby says. “If any issues ever arise, I’ve gotten much better cooperation with them because I’m a partner of theirs. Otherwise, I’ve already hammered them and nailed them to the cross with the deal, and when I need them to resolve an issue, the cooperation is not as good as it can be.”
After a few years of caring for it, Druby sold his ’65 Mustang to another muscle car lover. But he eventually upgraded from that model to a 2017 Mustang GT. In a short time with CornellCookson, he’s now earned a seat for IT at the executive table, and like his car, his department looks as good as new.