Winn-Dixie CIO: Bankruptcy Has Its Advantages

When the $10 billion grocery chain went Chapter 11 in February, CIO Charlie Weston got a nice surprise: Business units started listening to everything IT said.

When the $10 billion 1,000-store Winn-Dixie grocery chain went Chapter 11 (bankruptcy reorganization) on Feb. 21, the initial employee reaction was shock.

But the chains CIO said the secondary reaction was a remarkable focus on core business issues, including the strategic use of technology.

"There is nothing like that kind of threat. Its had a really remarkable impact on IT," CIO Charlie Weston said. "What body of work should IT be doing to really drive getting the business out of Chapter 11?"

Weston is a veteran of The Home Depots IT operation, where he spearheaded EAI (enterprise application integration) deployments. He left The Home Depot in October 2004 to assume his current CIO post.

For the five months that he served as CIO of the 80,000-employee Winn-Dixie before it moved into Chapter 11, Weston said he found the 80-year-old companys people to be wonderful to work with, but that the culture was much slower and more genteel than what he was used to.

It struck Weston as "not political enough, not driven enough, not enough of a sense of urgency."

"Much of it was that old world sense of Southern culture. The South has much more of a veneer. I dont raise my voice. Im respectful of the other person. That can impede organizational change."

For example, in other corporations, frustrated managers might find themselves pounding on a desk to make a point, Weston said. Although ungracious, "it can get action and results."

But once the stock price plummeted and bankruptcy court action was taken, employee attitudes shifted quickly and dramatically, he said. "It has really brought a sense of urgency to the table, a sense of focus."

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