The role of CIO in organizations is evolving from its early definition as a deep technologist who works behind the scenes to a leader with a depth of operations experience and an ability to build strong relationships and bridge gaps between IT and senior management.[i]
You could say Chief Information Officer Ellen Barker is the epitome of this trend. Having taken the role of vice president and CIO two years ago, she has already reorganized and reinvigorated the IT organization.
“It’s typical of TI to be forward-looking and become stronger over time,” Ellen said. “I grew up with TI. I’ve worked here my whole career. But to have a non-engineer lead an IT organization is certainly different.
“They brought me to this role to lead an organization to make an impact to TI.”
As the digital age continues to evolve and present new threats to companies’ information and revenue, the role of CIO has increased in importance and visibility within companies.
With more than 30 years of experience across finance, manufacturing and operations at TI – Ellen brings depth of understanding to the role, said Kevin March, our chief financial officer.
“By putting leaders with a broad business background into a technical organization like IT, you bring a balance,” he said.
Ellen also “spends more time listening than talking,” Kevin said, which is part of what makes her an effective leader.
“When you have a good listener, she can understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology while also understanding what matters most to the business, not just the neatest thing IT can do,” he said. “She is one of those unique people who can be very attentive and empathetic and also very influential at the same time.”
Ellen has learned a lot over the past two years on the job, she said.
“I really didn’t appreciate the breadth of what IT does until I began to dig deep into the team and our processes,” she said. “It’s really a different world, and a world not well understood at TI. So I advocate for us to strategically help the company win and grow.”
Early on in her role, Ellen began working to close gaps between the IT organization and senior leaders, which were due in part to a language barrier, she said. Technical language, that is.
“I’ve had to teach IT to speak a different language – one that resonates with business leaders,” said Ellen, who has recently won awards and accolades including D CEO Magazine’s CIO/CTO award and the Dallas Business Journal’s Women in Technology award.
Having started at TI as a business planner in 1984, Ellen said she never dreamed she would someday work in the C-suite of a multi-billion-dollar company. Over the course of her career, she has stayed true to two things that have helped as she has risen through the ranks: authenticity and patience.
“TI doesn’t want me to be anybody but myself,” she said. “I need to be true to the core ‘me’ or I am not going to be successful.”
One of the keys to success in her current role is problem-solving, Ellen said.
“The business doesn’t care about IT infrastructure – they just want to know how you can help them,” she said. “As a business partner, I need to understand what problem they are trying to solve.”
Ellen’s understanding of different elements of our business add tremendous value, said Vishal Mehra, chief architect in IT, as do her phenomenal relationships with business leaders.
“Her philosophy is pretty simple – transparency with the businesses,” Vishal said. “We take a complex problem, make it really simple, and she then pitches it to the businesses and explains the risks are and how to solve it in future.”
One tactic Ellen uses to increase knowledge in both directions is a monthly lunch-and-learn, in which different technical leaders throughout the IT organization meet with her to whiteboard a particular topic.
“It gives them an opportunity to take very technical subject matter and explain it in such a way that is meaningful for me, so I can then share it outside the IT organization,” she said. “It’s been really good for the team to get an audience they didn’t have before.”
Vishal said that when he first told technical staff leaders about the monthly meetings with the new CIO, they reacted with a mixture of surprise and intimidation.
“After the first two sessions, the energy within those teams was multiplied tenfold that a leader was so engaged and wanted to hear where the technology was headed. It was extremely motivating,” Vishal said. “Ellen is very much an ‘includer’ from a leadership perspective, and that plays very well with people. She lets lots of people into the discussion and the decisions. It is very easy for someone to work with her.”
Ellen’s authenticity helps build strong relationships, said Rodney Brown, who leads IT infrastructure and operations. Within a few weeks of her being in the CIO role, Rodney said he felt like he had known her his whole life.
“She just makes people feel comfortable,” he said. “One of the most beneficial things she has brought to the role is the relationships that she has with the senior leaders at TI. She has opened doors and created a conduit between IT leadership and business leadership."
Ellen is passionate about coaching and mentoring others and about helping prepare the next generation of innovators. She is on the board of High Tech High Heels, a nonprofit organization founded by TIers that works to attract more women to science, technology, engineering and math education.
Trusted confidant and counselor
While Ellen has worked hard to build relationships and give back, she’s made the most impact on her colleagues.
As a boss, Ellen has a lot of energy, and focuses it on improving the company – not just any one group, said Rafael Lizardi, TI controller and our next Chief Financial Officer. Rafael reported to Ellen during his first role at TI.
“At the same time, she is very collaborative, and great at getting the best from people,” Rafael said. “That’s because people trust her and genuinely like working for her. She is always willing to spend extra time with people when they need her.
“I remember one time when I was struggling with a situation after I had left her group, and she spent a lot of time coaching and mentoring me to help me overcome those problems.”
For Krunali Patel, vice president and general manager in our Analog business, Ellen has been influential by being open and honest – even about difficult things. Krunali has never had a direct reporting relationship to Ellen, but reached out to her years ago to establish a mentor/ mentee relationship.
“I love how open Ellen is in talking about situations that may have been difficult or career-limiting,” Krunali said. “This has encouraged me to be more open about sharing my experiences. It’s amazing how much impact you can make by talking about experiences – and how you find that your learnings and experiences are truly valuable or helpful to others.”
The role of IT Services is critical to the organization – providing important tools that can improve the company’s execution and maximize growth. Under Ellen’s leadership, the IT organization will continue to align with the company's strategy.
“I credit my ability to lead this large, global organization and the numerous IT accomplishments over the past two years to the great, talented IT workforce,” Ellen said. “I’m grateful to work with such a strong team.”
Ellen Barker was my manager for a few years when I was in Finance. Love this article about her and so happy she has been successful at TI. She is a great leader and deserves this recognition.
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