The Chicago 2020 CIO of the Year Finalists Realize it’s About More Than Just an Award

by Pranav Ramesh
October 05, 2020

Despite the virtual format, the anticipation was palpable at this year’s “Meet the CIO of the Year Finalists” conference held by SIM Chicago. In previous years, attendees at the popular annual event had the opportunity to congratulate and support their fellow SIM Chicago members, local IT leaders, and peers in person. This year, the new virtual format offered a new experience to share that same pride and excitement across the board.

The award was first given out in 1995 and has evolved so that a single distinction is no longer enough. The rapid build-up that the Chicago technology sector has experienced over the years is now outpacing even Silicon Valley in some ways. The leaders behind this expansion are so numerous that it has become impossible to recognize just one winner. In 2019, SIM Chicago expanded the pool to include three different awards: CIO of the Year, CIO Innovator of the Year, and CIO+ of the Year. This year’s event was all about recognition. That recognition, though, wasn’t reserved for the nominees or even just those attending. The message sent from Chicago’s top tech and business execs was how true leaders give recognition and build successful teams.

Sandee Kastrul, the President and co-founder of i.c.stars – Chicago, opened the ceremony with a heartfelt anecdote about the difference that giving recognition can make. Much like the Chicago tech sector, i.c.stars is growing rapidly. They had recently opened an additional office in Milwaukee and, after a long day of helping the project unfold, Sandee was waiting patiently for her Uber. Opening a new office can be a large, taxing process, especially for those in a leadership role. She was lost in thought, contemplating what went right, what went wrong, what could’ve gone better, when she heard some screaming at her from the street.

“Sandee, I’m your Uber driver!”

She was startled, of course. After all, what kind of Uber driver screams your name from across the street? Your former boss, as it turns out! After retiring, Sandee’s prior mentor had succumbed to the boredom of retirement and had taken up driving to stay social. She was surprised he still recognized her, so many years later, but that shock was quickly replaced by a sense of comfort and joy. Sandee felt recognized which led her to a series of thought-provoking questions that she posed to the CIOs in attendance at the award ceremony today.

Who do you most want recognition from today? Could they possibly need some recognition from you? Knowing how many people have helped you along your career path, do you really still believe in the myth of the “self-made man”? This is no longer the new normal, it’s the now normal. As a leader, what are you going to do about it?

Following Sandee’s inciteful line of questioning, numerous leaders in the Chicago IT space shared their compelling views on the affect recognition has on team culture.

“As a CIO, you are the primary marketing vehicle for your IT department. Giving recognition, rather than taking it, and celebrating your team builds a culture of trust and drives motivation. Your team knows that someone’s paying attention, someone cares.” according to Rick Merrick, CIO at TCS Education System and President of SIM Chicago.

“People know when recognition is sincere. If it’s specific, about them and something they did, they can feel it. When it’s abstract or general, it’s nice, but they know it’s not from the heart,” said Wayne Bulmahn, CIO of Unite Here Health and Board Member of SIM Chicago.

Though it was said in many different ways, by numerous participants, the message remained the same. Recognition is critical to the success of a team and it is the responsibility of those in leadership roles to build recognition into the culture. That message was heard loud and clear by all those in attendance. Speaking of recognition, from the Peterson Technology Partners team to you, our heart-felt congratulation goes out to all fifteen nominees, and the seven finalists, for the 2020 SIM Chicago CIO of the Year award:

(in alphabetical order)

  • Jill Albin-Hill, CIO and VP of Operations and Technology, Dominican University
  • Jonathan Beyer, CIO of ELCA
  • Bill Blount, CIO of BenefitExpress
  • Ramnath Cidambi, CIO of Illinois Student Assistant Commission
  • Olivia Friedman, CIO of Institute of Higher Global Studies
  • Matt Hartzman, CIO of RedMane Technology
  • Sean Katz, CIO of Vitality Group
  • Alejandro Martinez-Galindo, CIO and SVP of Global IT Transformation, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA)
  • Heather Nelson, SVP and CIO, University of Chicago Medicine
  • Keith Onchuck, CIO of Ozinga
  • John Sudduth, Director of IT of MWRD
  • Helen Sun, CTO of StatsPerform
  • Praseed Thapparambil, CIO of National Association of Boards and Pharmacy
  • George Wang, CMO of Peterson Technology Partners and Interim COO/CIO of Arx Nimbus

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