Sharon Stufflebeme, RadioShack CIO, successfully balances work and family responsibilities, all while advancing the retail experience through technology.
By Stephanie Harris
Technology is rapidly changing the world in which we live, including the retail environment: Chief Information Officer (CIO) for RadioShack Sharon Stufflebeme finds herself at the forefront of this evolution.
“Technology is essentially embedded in everything we do, more so than other retailers,” Stufflebeme said. “Because RadioShack is at the heart of selling mobility to customers, we are at the forefront of understanding what is happening with consumerization and technology, the information technology (IT) environment, and how retail needs to change to reach customers and consumers differently.”
Stufflebeme and her IT team are faced with the constant challenge of staying on top of technological advancements while balancing the demands for their services.
“It’s fabulous to be in a situation where we are in high demand and people see our value,” she said. “One of our biggest challenges is prioritizing our demands.”
But it is nothing this mother of three cannot handle.
A double-degree French and Economics major from the University of Dallas, Stufflebeme began her career right out of college for what is now Accenture (Arthur Anderson at the time). “That experience gave me a great foundation in terms of understanding business operations, strategy and client/customer service, as well as understanding technology.”
Here she developed her skills in application development, beginning as a programmer, moving up to Analyst, Designer, Program Supervisor and eventually into management. As she excelled professionally, Stufflebeme also took on the role of motherhood in her personal life.
“I was unique in that part of my career because there were very few married women with children at my age,” she said. “I had my first child pretty much simultaneously with my first promotion, and it was a challenge for me because they didn’t have a model for anybody doing that—if you had children, you typically left the company.”
But Stufflebeme continued to maintain and fulfill all of her professional responsibilities, including client services and travel, as well as those of a young mother. “It was more challenging having to serve clients and working the hours that I did,” she said. “I had to work on prioritization and focus on being present—100 percent there and 100 percent productive—with what I was doing, whether it was taking care of my family or work.”
By the time Stufflebeme had her second child, however, her employer was moving in a more global direction, requiring increased international travel, so she left the firm and began working for Michaels Stores, where she was responsible for all of the applications that ran the company.
“That is where I got great experience being a client and running an IT operation,” she said. “I was there two and a half years and in that time, we grew from 140 stores to 325 stores and we replaced most of the systems, including the store and merchandise systems.”
But Stufflebeme still had the “consulting bug” and returned to Arthur Anderson. “They had started a practice to support mid-sized businesses and it had a local regional flare, so I was able to balance my personal life with my travel and still be there for my children while doing the consulting and client service that I loved.”
Prior to being admitted as a partner at the firm, Stufflebeme had her third child. Shortly thereafter came the Enron scandal, which caused Arthur Anderson to disband.
Stufflebeme recalls having every intention to retire from Arthur Anderson, which made the Enron experience particularly painful.
“That experience taught me what’s really important in life,” she said. “For the partners, what was most important to us was making sure we were taking care of our people and our clients first.”
For Stufflebeme, she focused on placing her staff in different groups, while still serving clients and transitioning them to new operating groups. “We had clients we were serving literally up until the end.”
During that time of crisis, Stufflebeme learned to have faith that she would get through the situation okay. “When anybody comes to me today and says, ‘we’ve got a big problem,’ I chuckle,” she said. “Yes we’ve got a problem, but let’s make sure we have the right perspective to solve it and let’s focus on the solution.”
When Stufflebeme encounters a crisis today, her method is to solve the issue, determine the cause and remediate. “Don’t get too confused trying to figure out how it happened or who to blame,” she advised. “You need to stay focused on solving the problem.”
Although it was a painful experience, Stufflebeme says she would not trade it for anything. “I learned to focus on what’s important—the people, your customers—and all else will work out. It makes it easier to have that faith, having actually experienced that.”
After taking some time off to focus on her family, Stufflebeme became an independent consultant for 7-Eleven and was eventually brought on full time as CIO. She then was invited to join RadioShack, where she was given the opportunity to have influence over the company’s strategy.
“RadioShack is a technology company,” she said, “and the leadership of the company had a really operational and effective IT team, but their goal was to have IT be more proactive and involved in helping the company’s strategy move forward.”
One particular strategy the company is aiming to achieve is improving the customer experience, and Stufflebeme’s team has been very involved with this process.
“One of the key items changing in the world of technology is cell phones, and we sell those items,” she acknowledged. Her team works closely with cell phone carriers to ensure that RadioShack has proper integration to sell these products and have them fully activated properly when sold to the customer.
“We can’t just say, ‘here’s a cell phone, go configure it yourself.’ We have to make sure that phone is activated on the carrier’s network and the customer is satisfied with that service before they walk out the door.”
Stufflebeme said this requires constant messaging between RadioShack’s systems and the carriers’ systems, particularly when new phones come out.
“We’re involved in strategic road-mapping,” she said, “not just from a merchandizing perspective but IT is often saying, ‘what are the business processes we’re going to do together to make sure the customer walks out the door with a good experience?’ We have road-mapping sessions with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc., to say, ‘how are you changing the customer experience, and what does that mean to our in-store and pre-sales experience?’
Climbing Career Mountains
Although she has experienced and overcome challenging times, Stufflebeme has enjoyed her career progressions and aspires to instill her positive outlook on others.
“I tell people the career ladder is not something you should think about because it assumes you’re climbing over other people to get there—and that’s not a very positive, supportive image.”
Instead, she prefers to think of career evolvement as a series of mountain climbs. “A series of mountain climbs means you have a team with you, you have to support your team, and your team has to support you,” she said. “Think about your career as a series of mountain climbs and a series of destinations you want to get to. The journey is as important as the destination.”
Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
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