Fyfe takes a flight path to CEO’s berth

Coming from the more technical side of the business helped foster sense of innovation, says Fyfe

Rob Fyfe is one of the select chief executive officers with a CIO role on his CV.

However, in Fyfe’s case, his ascent from ICT chief to the top table has been swift, at just under three years, and within the same enterprise.

Fyfe was managing director of ITV Digital in London when he joined Air New Zealand in early 2003 as chief information officer. He became general manager of airlines in October that year and two years later was appointed chief executive.

Fyfe was chosen after a global search for the replacement of Ralph Norris, who joined the Commonwealth Bank of Australia as chief executive.

But that layover had definitely ingrained into Fyfe one vital insight that he is harnessing — no, fully exploiting — and that is to ensure ICT plays a role in the business success of the company.

“Coming from the more technical side of the business has helped me foster my sense of innovation and the possibilities that exist, which just kind of needs to be unleashed inside the organisation,” says Fyfe, who shares his insights on his move from CIO to CEO in this month’s cover story of CIO New Zealand.

The April issue also features another CIO turned CEO, Mark Ratcliffe, chief executive of Telecom New Zealand’s Chorus. Ratcliffe was CIO of Telecom from 2000 to 2006 and subsequently chief operating officer, technology and enterprise.

Ratcliffe says there is no “absolutely right answer” to making a transition from CIO to CEO. “A lot of it is about your inner motivation; how much do you want to balance up between what you do at work and what you do outside work. That determines a lot about where your career might or might not go.”

Fyfe says a major item he focused on as CIO was “innovation and creativity”, and this continues through to his current role. At Air New Zealand, innovation and ventures is part of the ICT portfolio, which was a development that occurred within his term as CEO.

“We created an innovation and ventures capability and quarantined it from the rest of the IT division to some degree.” The team’s brief? “We said there are no rules. You are not constrained by existing architectures, existing protocols.”

The team was put to the test when the airline focused on its website. That was how Grab a Seat, Air New Zealand’s online channel for cheap air fares, which is updated daily, was born. Fyfe calls it the airline’s most successful product launch ever. The website, he says, has up to 120,000 visitors a day. Online revenue from four or five years ago was around $150 million. Today, it is more than $1 billion a year.

• More in April’s issue of CIO New Zealand.

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