Leadership Lessons Learned Over a Lifetime
UW CIO Tom Martin mastered how to manage people -- and his own work/life conflict
Tom Martin video

Tom Martin planned for a career in management when he started college. He studied to pick up the practical skills, but he would have to look elsewhere for instruction on the human aspect of the discipline--how to treat people.

A summer job at a paper factory provided some insights. "I learned about the kind of manager I didn't want to be," says Martin in an interview for "Information Technology Leaders," explaining: "Someone who was autocratic, who didn't really engage the team of the staff they were working with; they were just giving orders in a kind of condescending way." Martin preferred the style of bosses there who communicated good directions and outcomes and set workers free to perform. It was an example he later followed while leading teams on high-stakes jobs for Andersen Consulting and as a IT leader in the health-care industry, where decisions could have life-or-death implications.

"Information Technology Leaders," produced by the University of Washington’s School of Business, presents multi-faceted portraits of the people filling the top IT positions at major corporations such as Microsoft, Boeing, and AT&T Wireless Services. The revealing interviews show that personal characteristics often play an important role in the unpredictable career trajectories of this industry.

Seattle-born Martin had his first brush with medicine during a high school job with a veterinarian. Assisting animal surgeries did not inspire any interest in the field, however. Instead, the serious student pursued business and engineering at the University of Portland. Although computers weren't in wide use in the late 1970s, he developed a strength for systems analysis that helped him land his first job.

Recruited to Portland-based Burroughs Corporation, Martin worked on software to solve business problems. The company provided good training and even offered to fund graduate school, but the job sometimes bored Martin, who was expecting a more fast-paced business environment.

Taking up Burroughs' offer on a master's degree, Martin returned to Seattle, but before long a new world beckoned: consulting. As a consultant, he explains, "You get to pick the best answer as opposed to trying to push an answer that didn't fit very well." When a former colleague tried to recruit him to Arthur Young, Martin decided to test the market and apply to Andersen Consulting, where he landed a job. He quit grad school to earn an "MBA by fire" at Andersen, known for its professional training.

Martin's nine years at Andersen were marked by challenging jobs that stretched his comfort zone--and often kept him away from home. His first project sent him to California just days after his wedding. During another project in Mississippi, he had to race to catch a plane home in time to witness the birth of his first child. Life on the road is part of the dues a consultant pays, Martin explains. "You always are trying to put it into the context of what's important for your career." But often he--and his wife--asked, "Is it worth it?"

From a career standpoint, Martin's consulting work was important. Distinguishing himself early on with his technical background, he led teams of developers and programmers who worked on IT solutions for a credit union and a state tax system. One of his teams created architecture for the state of California's welfare system that other states have also implemented. A promotion to manager put him on the partner track. But eventually the travel reached critical mass for Martin, and he started to re-evaluate his career.

When a friend suggested returning to Seattle to work at the University of Washington, Martin made the move without regrets. The job, director of strategic projects and implementation for UW's medical center, put him back in touch with his technical side. One of his most important, cutting-edge projects was to create a repository of clinical data on the Web and eventually enable physicians to access medical records online--a program that more than 6,000 people now use daily.

The UW job was good enough for Martin to turn down an attractive offer at Microsoft that would've returned him to the "churn and burn" environment of his consulting days. The decision paid off: When the medical center's CIO left, Martin was a shoe-in for the role. His new responsibilities included dealing with budgets, server support, and infrastructure. His accomplishments--including transferring medical personnel from paper-based information to online data and choosing to buy software rather than build it in-house--solidified his reputation. Four years later, he was named CIO of UW Medicine, the broader organization encompassing the hospital and medical school and other departments.

Martin never loses sight of the fact that technology can have high human cost in the healthcare industry. He works to create redundancies in case a system fails and to keep online data secure yet accessible to doctors. Because every IT expenditure competes with a medical equipment purchase, he must ensure that the technology solutions are wise investments.

As a leader, Martin describes himself as approachable, participative, and results-oriented--much like the people he admired at the paper factory during his college days. Although he's less tolerant of the technical details these days, his experience enables him to play a more visionary, future-focused role.

Challenged on the job, Martin now also enjoys a better work/life balance. "The university environment has helped me that way," he says. "It has provided an environment in which I can do the other things I need to do and still feel like I'm making a difference in an area that has a great mission. You can't beat a mission like health care."

Produced By: Christopher Redner

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