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CIOs join forces to battle cancer

Stephanie Overby | May 30, 2014
Join forces with a seeming archrival to develop a data-sharing platform? Jay Ferro ... Ferro is the CIO of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Ferro, then the CIO of AIG, immediately set up a nonprofit--Priscilla's Promise--dedicated to increasing cervical cancer awareness and research. But it never occurred to him that he could use his IT leadership skills more directly in the cancer fight until an executive recruiter approached him about the CIO role at ACS.

"I'd assumed what most people assume--that a nonprofit is like a government institution. It's going to be behind the curve. It's going to be slow-moving," says Ferro. "But that couldn't have been further from the truth." He received a formal job offer from ACS on the five-year anniversary of Priscilla's death. "A match made in heaven," he says.

Como had cycled through numerous IT and product development roles over twenty years, spending time at Lockheed Martin, in dotcoms, and doing business-process outsourcing. After implementing his 14th child-support-processing system in his 14th state, he was burnt out.

"My mother used to say, 'Why do you work so hard?'" Como recalls. "'It's not like you're curing cancer.'" Since taking on the CIO role at LLS nine years ago, he's got an answer. "I'd always wanted to apply my skills to something that wasn't just about building shareholder value or reaping the most profits and then distributing those unevenly," he says. "I was looking for a way to give back based on my skill sets."

Machen worked for nine years in IT leadership at Hilton Worldwide, where he enjoyed the work and was being groomed for the top spot. But something gnawed at him. He'd spent his childhood summers doing mission work in Honduras. As an adult, he felt most fulfilled when he was volunteering during his off hours. When the CIO role opened up at ALSAC, it was an opportunity to combine his love of IT and helping others.

The three CIOs with strong commercial credentials each found their calling in cancer nonprofits. Today, they're dedicating their professional lives not just to their own organization's success, but to each others'. They started meeting annually last year.

"The end game is so similar that we thought, 'Why don't we share ideas,'" explains Ferro, who offered his colleagues the chance to sign NDAs but says no one has taken him up on it; they all agreed to share even nitty-gritty details. They talk desktop support, project management offices, data visualization and other CIO-related topics. They commiserate about office politics and the self-imposed pressure. Ferro shared his IT governance methods. Como explained his mobile peer-to-peer fundraising technology and offered to give it to the others. Machen introduced his approach to master data management.

"There are no sacred cows," says Ferro. "And you walk out the door feeling like you have CIO allies in the battle against cancer." And, says Como, "it's a lot cheaper than paying a psychiatrist."


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