Nearshore Americas

Rhonda Vetere: IT Requires People-Centric Leadership

Rhonda Vetere was recruited to Estee Lauder Companies (ELC) for her reputation to manage the cost, effectiveness and people needed to propel ELC’s technology operations forward. She joined ELC at the end of 2013, following a series of information technology (IT) leadership positions where she drove change for her respective organizations; moving enterprise IT through global change, mergers and implementation of more effective processes. Vetere is now the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at ELC where she is responsible for global technology.

Technological Challenges

Nearshore Americas had the opportunity to interview Vetere at length. The interview shed light on the value and perspective she brings to executive IT roles in large enterprises. Vetere identified the biggest challenge for IT executives as being that companies “do not understand that not everything is cookie cutter.” There are many varying factors including region and business dynamics that drive the need for unique IT solutions. She reiterated several times that business needs vary in different regions. As Vetere put it, “it is not appropriate to have North America driving decisions that apply around the world, nor would it be effective for Asia to drive decisions. Processes and technology strategies have to be adjusted by region and by business to achieve the best results and enable the needs of the firm.”

Vetere is focused on a people-centric approach to managing IT. For her, the challenge is more a matter of the implementation within her environment as she evaluates how technology can be used within the organization. There were a couple of technology areas that Vetere highlighted as having importance over the long-term. These are the areas of business intelligence/analytics or as she put it “the ability to mine the data for decision-making” and mobility.

Meet Rhonda in person at Nexus 2014, April 8th in NYC

Gaining intelligence and insight about the environment is one of the most critical areas of IT for Vetere. She has a motto that you “can’t manage what you don’t measure,” stating that metrics and indicators of performance are very important to improving IT operations and ensuring service quality. Business intelligence and having the right data to run IT as a business is at the crux of her thinking as she looks at collecting and managing the data across the globe and adjusting processes to meet regional requirements.

Vetere views mobility as another strong and driving trend; in part due to the nature and expectations of the generation entering and impacting the workforce, “the Millennials.” They have grown up with mobile computing solutions and expect to bring those options into the workforce. To that end, Vetere combines her view of mobility with globalization and looks at it as an opportunity.  Within different roles, mobility and how we work is a common denominator to evaluating the “types of services, i.e. video conferencing, iPhone, iPad, etc.  that will be provided and serviced and how do those services need to differ from North America to Asia? It comes down to defining a strategy and implementing it to meet the needs of associates and customers.”

The Business Imperative

Vetere is clearly focused on business outcomes. Throughout the interview, she emphasized the importance of determining the unique business dynamics even for corporations serving a similar customer base. Vetere looks at the big picture as well as the nuances of corporate needs to drive advantage. As seen in her background, Vetere has “spearheaded thirteen successful global mergers, (and) had responsibility for implementations of global data centers. She has managed teams of 10,000 colleagues globally, lived overseas and sees the IT world globally,” one that demands adaptation to local dynamics.

While it may seem that the role of the CIO/CTO is all about technological innovation, the CIO/CTO necessarily is focused on managing expenses and improving the bottom-line. It involves managing budgets, determining appropriate investment and driving costs downward. Vetere estimates that 20 to 25% of her job is spent on financial management of IT.

Vetere’s Roots and Leadership Style

Vetere attended and graduated from George Mason University as a business and communications major and was immediately drawn to technology, specifically telecommunications. Change dynamics drew Vetere to the business of Information Technology (IT). And she is known in the industry as a change agent herself, having been drawn to technology roles for that same reason. IT is agile, versatile and always changing. The fact that IT does not lend itself to one-size-fits-all solutions is at the heart of Vetere’s attraction to technology. She puts this belief to work in how she solves problems on the job and in building global teams.

More than any one factor, Vetere views her strength as being how she manages the people here in North America and abroad. As she put it, “what really sets me apart is the people aspect and how I choose to manage people on a global scale.” She believes in leading by example in that she holds both herself and her people to a high standard and would never ask an employee to do something that she is unwilling to do herself. For instance, Vetere makes herself available around the clock. She explained that it doesn’t matter if it is “2AM, 4AM, 6AM or dinnertime when an issue arises,” she is prepared to roll up her sleeves and manage crisis situations. She expects no less from her team.

Accountability and Leadership Qualities

She mentors her team as well and is clear about her expectations. Unafraid to get the job done herself, she holds her team accountable to a high standard; while at the same time expecting no less of herself. Vetere jokingly said that she has a “David Letterman Top Ten list and asks her team to post it in their offices.” She holds herself to these standards and expects members at all levels of her team to do so as well. Vetere’s top ten list is:

  • Respect–your team members, peers and management.
  • Communicate–important information and actions to your employees, peers and management.
  • Listen–to what is being communicated to you, even if you are not the primary source of the communication.
  • Be Prepared–Know your business.  Have an elevator speech prepared to explain what you do.
  • Be On Time–Show up to meetings, events and corporate functions on time and prepared.
  • Be Accountable–Take accountability for your areas of responsibility, your actions and your team’s actions.
  • Display Managerial Courage–Meaning say what you believe regarding a topic or discussion point, whether you are a manager or not.  People cannot understand silence.
  • Honesty–Be honest.  Don’t take credit for what is not yours and admit your mistakes.
  • Recognize Your Team–Employees and their efforts need to recognized.
  • Know Your Metrics–This means understand your metrics, KPIs, financial information and relevant performance data.

Resourcing IT Operations

Vetere hires with a global perspective in mind. She wants her team to demonstrate leadership skills, conflict management capabilities and have the ability to deal with people on all levels. Technical competency can be taught and while engineering team members certainly need technical skills, they and all levels of management need to engage with others on a global basis. This is Vetere’s priority when it comes to hiring; that and a willingness to operate and align with leadership, ownership and accountability values.

The Millennials

The Millenials, a generation of significance to both innovation and the current workforce, is a dynamic that Vetere believes is driving organizational change.  The Millennials are pushing the envelope and at the same time offering creativity and innovation. Yet, the old systems are not going away anytime soon. Vetere’s hiring strategy seeks to balance the aging workforce with this coming of age team.

Pew Research Center has been studying and writing about the Millennials for some time and began doing so as early as 2009. The organization defines the group as having been born between 1981 and 2000. While much is being learned about the patterns of the Millennials’ adult behavior, this group takes a heavy influence from technology that began in early childhood. In a Pew Research Center article authored by Scott Keeter and Paul Taylor, The Millennials, the authors point out that, “Even without further research, we already know a few big things about the Millennials:

  • They are the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history. Among those ages 13 to 29: 18.5% are Hispanic; 14.2% are black; 4.3% are Asian; 3.2% are mixed race or other; and 59.8%, a record low, are white.
  • They are starting out as the most politically progressive age group in modern history. In the 2008 election, Millennials voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by 66%-32%, while adults ages 30 and over split their votes 50%-49%. In the four decades since the development of Election Day exit polling, this is the largest gap ever seen in a presidential election between the votes of those under and over age 30.
  • They are the first generation in human history who regard behaviors like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia, not as astonishing innovations of the digital era, but as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding.
  • They are the least religiously observant youths since survey research began charting religious behavior.
  • They are more inclined toward trust in institutions than were either of their two predecessor generations — Generation Xers (who are now ages 30 to 45) and Baby Boomers (now ages 46 to 64) when they were coming of age.”

These dynamics are very different from those of both Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, and will impact opportunities as well as needs for accommodation. From Vetere’s standpoint, this group is of great interest as a creative force in the organizations that she leads. She believes they are “so driven and focused and feel like they can take the world on.” Vetere quickly pointed out that mature, seasoned professionals are needed as well to round out the enterprise workforce.

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Using Outsourcing in a Multi-Sourcing Strategy

Outsourcing serves a need and Vetere believes that all organizations should be looking at all possible sourcing options. In Vetere’s opinion, outsourcing is particularly appropriate when you need “a burst of resources” to get the job done and maintain service quality. She is not a believer to outsource exclusively to reduce costs which often results in “a mess for less.” Cost is not solely a good reason, especially if it is done with a compromise on service quality and compromise her firm’s competitive positioning.

Vetere has a keen eye on organizational change and sees technology through the lens of the business. She brings her business acumen and high standards to a role where she has an open-door policy. As she put it, “I tell my staff that I work for them and to come to me with their needs.” However, be prepared, know the facts and bring metrics and business information needed to solve the problem.” Former associates identify Vetere as a leader that gains a sense of mutual respect from her team members. Perhaps her desire to get directly involved in problem-solving is the reason she is able to garner a following, while at the same time disrupting her organizations with role-impacting change that drives out-of-the-box thinking while tailoring solutions that meet the needs of her companies.

Rhonda Vetere will be one of the speakers at Nexus 2014 on April 8. For more information on the event, which brings together senior technology and business investors seeking to understand how to access and participate in thriving Latin America and Caribbean economies, visit

Lisa Erickson-Harris

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