Vice President and Chief Information Officer Jamal Farhat Pushes His IT Team To Prove Their Worth Every Day
Long before he was Vice President and Chief Information Officer at BorgWarner, Inc., Jamal Farhat was enticed by the power of science. His technical, analytical mind led him to pursue both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. With the knowledge of how computers function and with the training in how to design and create them, Farhat widened his scope after also earning a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Michigan. Now with over thirty years of IT experience, Farhat has mastered an equal footing in business and technology—a distinct combination that defines his leadership role at BorgWarner.
Creating Centrality and Synergy: IT As A Business Enabler for the Company
At BorgWarner Inc., a global product leader in powertrain solutions, there is no room for complacency. Farhat expects his top-notch team to stay equally balanced in business and technology, while keeping a healthy sense of competition and endurance alive and well in the office.
“No IT leadership should be complacent – they need to earn their value every day and give the business a reason every day why they should continue to be on the job.”
When entering his position in 2004, Farhat utilized this philosophy that is prided on hard work ethic when he saw the opportunity to challenge and change the decentralized culture of IT at BorgWarner. His strategy was to slowly demonstrate the benefits of decentralizing IT and the values of creating a central global IT organization. He began to focus on fewer projects that showed how different IT organizations within the company working together can bring more value than operating separately. He set out to understand the IT landscape, evaluate areas for consolidation and cost savings, bring in strong talent at the leadership level, add skill sets, and retool his direct reports.
Fundamental to the changes was his focus on cost reduction of IT, driving numbers and savings to the bottom line to become a business enabler for the company.
“As we looked at the numbers, we found we were spending it less on infrastructure and system that did not really have any direct impact on the business process itself—that was then shifted toward implementing systems, applications, that can enable processes – now you are looking at the efficiency of the business itself and not just IT. That drives cost savings to the business as well.”
Enabling business processes is also facilitated through work in consolidation, harmonization, and rationalization of these systems.
“We are offering them a much cleaner, quicker, deeper level of data analytics and insight that helps them makes the right key decisions within their operations as well as strategically.”
By reducing the cost of IT, enabling business processes, reducing the cost and efficiency of those processes, and keeping the right analytics in place, a centralized IT team can drive tactical decisions that create a business model of excellence.
Setting The Bar High: Mobilizing Drive and Competition In-House
The first ten years of Farhat’s career were spent in the consulting world working with different companies and business models before getting more “skin in the game” with an in-house IT role. While in a consulting role, Farhat learned that you have to earn your stay and constantly seek and demonstrate the value of your worth.
Regarding his previous consulting experience, Farhat explained, “It is all about having a keen eye on how can you provide value to the businesses in which you are consulting with. Finding money, cost savings, top line growth—whatever you can do to help those clients because if they can’t justify their expense on you, plus make some money, it doesn’t make sense for them to invest in you.”
This strong attitude and discipline carries definable weight in an organization, and these early lessons affected the way Farhat operated moving forward. He communicated the distinct differences between consulting and being part of an internal organization.
“In-house, you have to see the work done through to the conclusion and see the results reflected in the bottom line. As a consultant, you may take it to a stage where you propose a solution or implement it, but in-house, the responsibility is from cradle to grave–coming up with a solution, making sure it is operational, seeing it through day to day demonstration of that value; it is there and it has to be successful on all of those stages or you haven’t done your job.”
Farhat stressed that keeping IT at BorgWarner operating as if it were an external consultant to the business keeps the organization sharp and best in class; it also brings free market dynamics into something that can become very complacent.
“When IT organizations see that the business depends on them and see that they have no choice about whether they keep them or not, they become lazier and lazier. If you are always being challenged, if you have to prove yourself the way others from the outside have to prove themselves, if your cost structure is always compared to what the business can get form the outside, then all of a sudden you have a lot more competition. Those free market dynamics by their very nature drive people to become more competitive and smarter at what they do, with a keener eye on value creation to the business.”
Modes and Methods: Leading By Example
At BorgWarner, Farhat initially walked into an IT system that lacked strong functional leadership and direct reports. As the company and its IT function began to transform from a decentralized office to a global centralized organization, Farhat, too, evolved and emerged as a situational leader.
“Early on it was more hands on, more involved, more directive, and ultimately I was responsible for the strategy. As you develop the organization, as you put the right construct in place and bring the right leadership in—then as a leader you have to back off a little bit and allow them to prove themselves and allow them to be the leaders that you hired them to be.”
He transitioned from functioning as a hands-on leader to developing and synergizing an organization that could run on its own, essentially leading by strong example.
“My ultimate goal is to have an organization that can run without me, and more importantly, one where I’ve developed a talent pipeline to where I have people that can feed into my direct reports and I have direct reports that can feed into my position as well.”
This technique is particularly important for BorgWarner as a global organization. IT at BorgWarner has over sixty locations in eighteen different countries, with approximately 70% of the overall projects being conducted outside of the U.S.
“I cannot be in all those places at the same time and spread myself everywhere and give all those locations individualized attention – so I have to create an organization that can do that in this distributed environment.”
Along with shaping leaders that can sustain the business, Farhat emphasized the need for free time and a healthy work/life balance—key components to enabling and enduring valuable leaders. Executives at BorgWarner can spend more than half of their time traveling internationally, and with that, a balanced, healthy approach to leadership is necessary. For Farhat, flying his own plane, playing golf, exercise and fitness, and spending valuable quality time with his family are necessary outlets for maintaining his leadership.
“I think it brings a certain level of personal interest to the position. I connect with other people around the company by virtue of those interests. My marathon training and fitness gives me a level of energy in everything I do, so I am able to take on a lot more by virtue of that endurance and enhanced level of energy. With exercise, I have been tested on stress, endurance, and mental fatigue – that is valuable when you have to fight through certain things as a leader.” ♦
How Are IT Leaders Developed at BorgWarner?
Shaping The Ideal Mold: A Business Leader Operating With An IT Hat
With systems like the Business Relationship Manager University Training Program in place, developing and locating potential leaders is part of the overall framework and focus at BorgWarner. This program allows the business to access, quantify, and qualify the people within the organization and help mature leadership development to the next level. Recognizing the crucial need to balance business progress with technology expertise, Vice President and CIO Jamal Farhat spearheaded the development of the IT Leadership Assessment Dimensions—a set of standards unique to IT Leaders.
“Having a good business leader is not necessarily having a good IT leader,” Farhat explained.
This program offers the fundamentals of leadership all the way to the more advanced areas of situational leadership development. The areas of interest emphasize idea strategy development, business strategy enablement, value creation, IT governance, risk and compliance, and much more.
“Some of it is about functional knowledge, some of it is about making sure we have leaders that have developed to the right scope, scale, and global aspect of their leadership—all of those are specific to IT and a business leader might not necessarily come across them.”
With certain services within the business that run globally, regionally, and locally, the organization and development of leadership can get particularly complex. Because of the consultant organization within IT at BorgWarner, Farhat emphasized it is important to also create leaders with very specific skill sets that can act as account executives for IT in front of the business.
“As IT leaders they have to have these dimensions that they can find anywhere else and you have to tune that to the way you are organized. IT has to compete on all levels with all other IT services on the outside and you have to be structured as such and you have to lead as such.”
As far as Farhat is concerned, shaping the ideal mold is about ensuring that a business leader operates with an IT hat—this distinctive approach enables BorgWarner to excel in the IT realm and raise the bar as a global business leader.