The Dynamic Role of E-Biz VP

Celanese VP's job changes at the speed of e-biz

Talk about rapid-change agents: Tom Myers is finding that the duties of his new job as Celanese AG vice president for e-business are prone to mutate as fast as methyl acetate dissolves phenolic resins.

A mere nine months after the chemicals manufacturing giant plucked him from a position as CIO and plugged him into this newly created post, his role has already evolved. His days as a CIO used to be spent getting his hands on the nuts and bolts of the companys ERP (enterprise resource planning) technology, but hes now doing things such as heading the creation of online collaborative design tools for plastics industry customers, getting rivals to cooperate on XML (Extensible Markup Language) standards and keeping a close eye on online business-to-business exchanges—all indicative of a new, microscopic focus on the opportunities e-business is rapidly presenting.

This pace of change is just one of the differences between Old Economy IT roles and those of the new titles that make up what eWeek calls Generation E. Another thing that typifies a Generation E position is that these workers are expected to have expertise that spans the enterprise, experts say. "The CIO plays almost an HR [human resources] role—getting the tech people on the same page as the business people," said David Yockelson, an analyst at Meta Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "The VP for e-business role goes way beyond that. This job requires a person to oversee the criteria for success of each e-business project. Its a dream position, in a way. Youre kind of a cheerleader, but then, youre the one who gets the criticism when things go wrong."

As former CIO of the Kronberg, Germany companys Chemicals and Acetate division, "I was focused on the technical side of the business," said Myers, in Summit, N.J. "My role was to see how the ERP systems were performing against the specific business needs of the division," such as sales, distribution, logistics and procurement. While he spent his days as a CIO with his head down, trying to eke better performance out of the business units ERP systems, now Myers gaze goes much further afield. He must ensure that the companys far-flung global business units all operate out of the same e-business playbook, and he must prioritize the allocation of funds and technical and manpower resources to e-business projects. Think big picture, as opposed to intimate details.

Ironically, it was his familiarity with the details that landed him the job. Myers "strong background in operations and IT" was the deciding factor, said Myers new boss, Edward Munoz, CEO of Celaneses Ticona technical polymers division. The impetus for creating the new post was the need for a point person to identify new e-business opportunities, such as potentially valuable e-marketplaces to participate in, and to have someone with intimate knowledge of Celaneses overall business strategy to coordinate e-business projects across business units, Munoz said.

"I got the job because I was current with the technology we ran our business on," Myers said. Myers also brought an understanding of the changing priorities of e-business and a commitment to helping get the companys business unit leaders unified in support of e-business projects.

One big-picture project hes focusing on now deals with business processes, where online procurement is a major focus. In spite of the many failures among chemicals e-marketplaces, notably Ventro Corp.s Chemdex (of which Celanese was not a trading partner), Myers said Celanese still believes online procurement will be less expensive and more efficient than paper-based procurement and will help the company better manage sales channels.

The company has made strategic investments in Philadelphia-based Elemica Inc., a chemicals industry consortium e-marketplace launched in January, and in Omnexus Corp., in Atlanta, a plastics industry consortium e-marketplace launched late last year. While Celanese wont begin transacting on these e-marketplaces until later this year, Myers said, "more and more customers want to do business directly with us online." As a result, the percentage of total company revenue Celanese generates online this year is expected to more than double from last years 3 percent, he said.

One project that Celanese hopes it can spin into profit is online design collaboration tools its developing for customers in the plastics industry. Celanese is now sharing the tools, but the company hopes to hang a price tag on them in the future.

Another critical project for Myers is overseeing Celaneses involvement in an industrywide effort to develop an XML standard for more than 30 different types of online chemicals transactions. This means working alongside major rivals such as The Dow Chemical Co., DuPont, BASF Corp. and Bayer Corp., Myers said. Perhaps surprisingly, "There havent been any major squabbles yet," he said. "We have an interdependence that requires us to cooperate."

And if the chemistrys working between archrivals such as that, then Celanese must be doing something right in mixing up the ingredients for its Generation E roles.