A successful career managing IT in business requires more than just a technology background. Understanding the business and its people is just as important. At Wilsonart Engineered Surfaces, CIO Jay Krishnamurthy ensures that the technology keeps the global supplier of high-performance, decorative surfaces for cabinetry, countertops, and fixtures running smoothly.
Krishnamurthy’s education had nothing to do with IT. In fact, he is a mechanical engineer with a master’s degree in industrial and manufacturing management. But in the mid- to late 1990s, he took advantage of opportunities in process and business applications consulting. “That didn’t necessarily involve a focus on IT; it was more business-facing,” he says. “That’s how I started my career, and from there, I just ended up doing more broad-based IT roles. As time went on, I just took responsibility for the entire IT function.”
Krishnamurthy’s unexpected career path makes sense considering his belief in continually learning and taking risks. “I like challenges and am not averse to risks, and this has been consistent in my career,” he says. “You’ve also got to have that hunger in you, build great teams, and never cease to learn.”
At Wilsonart, Krishnamurthy is responsible for positioning the company as a global online leader in its field. To accomplish this, he is providing digital tools and solutions to the sales force; digitizing plant and distribution operations to gain business productivity; ensuring timely, accurate, and automated financial reporting while being compliant; and providing a secure, reliable, and stable global infrastructure. He also sets the strategic direction for the company’s IT department, manages IT investments and risks, and executes cost-effective digital solutions across the entire company, which sells its products in more than one hundred countries worldwide.
“It’s important for an IT leader to understand and listen to the business and to be business savvy, instead of just being a technology person,” Krishnamurthy says. “If you are leading an industry as a CIO, you have to be aligned closely to the overall business strategies, be aware of industry trends, bring the right talent together, and apply technologies that bring value to the business and help gain a competitive advantage. You have to do what you say you will do, and at the end of the day, if you’re helping the business grow their top line and expand their margins, you’re on the right track.”
Since 2013, Wilsonart has been transforming itself from primarily a laminate company to an engineered surfaces company. In doing so, the company has introduced several new engineered-surface products, including, most recently, quartz. While continuing to focus on the core, Wilsonart has made a number of investments to accelerate operational excellence, innovation, and growth in emerging markets. Krishnamurthy cites compounded annual growth rate improvements of close to 5 percent in sales and more than 12 percent in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization between 2014 and 2016.
“It’s very important for an IT leader to understand and listen to the business and to be business-savvy, instead of just being a technology person.”
Krishnamurthy has more than one hundred people on his team stationed across the world, and together, they have digitized Wilsonart’s more than eighteen manufacturing plants in North America, Europe, and Asia. Krishnamurthy estimates that the digital improvements at these plants have resulted in productivity gains of a few million dollars, in addition to improving customer service levels and optimizing working capital.
Among Wilsonart’s latest innovations is its digital wallboard app, which was launched as part of the 2016 design rebranding. “The digital bridge is a game changer for us,” Krishnamurthy says. “It adds brand value and gives us a competitive advantage.” He estimates that with the new global website launch in 2014, followed by the visualizer launch in 2015, and the Smart Wallboard launch in 2016, web traffic has increased by more than 50 percent, and the order conversion rate is also seeing a healthy increase.
Wilsonart also introduced a new business-to-business (B2B) online platform to help its B2B customers. “We want to offer options to our customers so that they find it easy to do business with us and to ensure they have the information they need at their fingertips,” Krishnamurthy says. “This offering takes Wilsonart one step closer to being a technology company.”
Additionally, the IT department has harmonized and built global financial and operational data models that are housed in a global data warehouse, wherein the data is automatically extracted from the various regional back-end systems. This has allowed for streamlined financial and operational reporting without having to intervene much manually or consolidate global systems. “In addition to meeting compliance-related requirements, we realized major productivity gains and more capacity available in our global finance and accounting departments as a result of this solution,” Krishnamurthy says. He estimates that this enterprise performance and analytics solution has led to annual productivity savings of more than $1 million.
Krishnamurthy credits much of his success at Wilsonart to the experiences he’s collected throughout his career, particularly while he was working for Crocs. “The Crocs business model was consumer- and retail-focused, so it was different from Wilsonart,” Krishnamurthy says. “However, the lessons I learned in terms of building teams and managing global growth—and the solutions I put in there pertaining to business-to-consumer, enterprise resource planning, and advanced warehouse management—are applicable here as well in many ways.”
Despite the challenges of managing offices around the globe, Krishnamurthy wouldn’t change his career path. “I’ve spent most of my career in global companies, and I find the culture very exciting,” he says. “I enjoy building and inspiring global talent, setting a vision and executing it tirelessly, taking risks, celebrating successes, and learning along the way.”