Maybe you’ve never heard of Textron, but you’ve almost certainly heard of some of its best-known brands and products such as Beechcraft and Cessna airplanes, Bell helicopters and Arctic Cat snowmobiles.
Providence, Rhode Island-based Textron is a multi-industry company whose many product lines include jet engines and aircraft, drones, armored military vehicles, advanced marine craft, flight simulators, fuel systems, off-road vehicles, golf carts and commercial lawnmowers. Textron also provides financing for purchasers of its aircraft and helicopters.
It’s a big business. With a global workforce of nearly 35,000 employees, Textron’s revenue for its latest fiscal year totaled $13.6 billion. Of that, 66 percent came from the United States, although Textron has a presence in more than 25 countries.
Peter Claus, vice president and chief technology officer at Textron, has held IT positions with Textron and its businesses since 2011, and he became the company’s CTO in early 2019. Previously, Claus led The Walt Disney Company’s international IT infrastructure and projects for over a decade.
Q: Your CTO title can mean different things at different organizations. What does it mean at Textron?
A: I’m the VP and CTO of Textron. As both a vice president and the CTO, I am responsible for making sure technology positively impacts the bottom line of the company.
Primarily, I focus on infrastructure and operations, but I also evaluate emerging and future technologies, especially if they can be leveraged across multiple businesses and functions. So, if a technology solution is unique to only one of our businesses or functions, it may not be provided by my organization. It may be supported, but my team’s main focus is on large-scale technology trends that can meet our needs throughout the Textron enterprise.
Although Textron’s Corporate Office provides oversight, direction and assistance to its businesses, each one is responsible for its own day-to-day operations and profitability. Each business unit has its own IT organization and CIO who report to their own business unit’s president. Corporate IT is a shared service function that is an umbrella over this structure. The business units drive the demand and Corporate supports them.
Q: You came up through Textron’s ranks, working at several businesses. Does that experience help you now?
A: The valuable experience I’ve gained at these different businesses has helped me understand the different needs throughout Textron from their perspective. And having worked under different leaders at each one of those business units has given me a broader view than I would have had by staying in infrastructure my whole career.
That said, the career path at Textron is less like a ladder, where you keep climbing the rungs of a single function, and more like a diamond with many facets. We jokingly call it the “jungle-gym career.” You can stretch sideways as you move through the ranks. It’s something we do to encourage folks to broaden their horizons.
For example, our employees can move between different business units as well as different IT functions. I started with Textron Specialized Vehicles within an infrastructure function. Then I moved to Kautex, our automotive supplier business unit, and had responsibility for all aspects of IT, including but not limited to ERP, PLM product life-cycle management, infrastructure and applications in the Americas. From there I joined TRU Simulation + Training, our flight-simulator business, as the CIO.
The career path at Textron is less like a ladder, where you keep climbing the rungs of a single function, and more like a diamond with many facets. We jokingly call it the “jungle-gym career.”
Q: Before that, you worked at Disney, which seems like a very different kind of industry. Was the change as big as it seems?
A: Although it’s a completely different industry, there are actually similarities. People may not realize how diverse Disney’s business is. Not only is it a media company that makes movies and owns ESPN and ABC, but it also has consumer products, cruise lines and parks. Each of these businesses works completely differently from the others.
Textron is also a diverse multi-industry company. Our segments include Textron Aviation, Bell, Textron Systems, Industrial — which includes Kautex and Textron Specialized Vehicles — and Finance. Each has different needs from one another, and even different needs within the segments. For example, our businesses manufacture vertical lift and fixed-wing aircraft; provide supplies for the defense, aerospace and automotive markets; and produce golf cars, off-road utility vehicles, recreational side-by-side and all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, light transportation vehicles, aviation ground support equipment, professional turf-maintenance equipment and specialized turf-care vehicles.
It all boils down to understanding what IT can do for the business. Having worked at Disney, which had such vastly different needs at their different functions, certainly helped me when I came to Textron. Sure, there are functions at Textron that didn’t exist at Disney, and vice versa, but as an IT professional and executive, you need to be flexible and willing to learn the business’s needs, no matter what they are.
Q: IT talent is in high demand. How are you ensuring that Textron has a sufficient number of skilled IT workers?
A: Talent development is a key pillar among my objectives. The talent war is real. Plus, the folks who work for us are our most important resource. Fortunately, Textron does a fabulous job of leveraging, developing and providing career development opportunities for our people.
Coaching people in the technology space is important. We want our IT employees to exit the hamster wheel, where they only execute non-value-added technical tasks without a clear understanding of how they can positively impact the business. Our first step to move them beyond that mindset is to define our 3- to 5-year goals in the technology space. Then we will develop action items for the next 12 to 18 months that relate to those strategies and goals. Getting our employees to perform the actions that relate to our goals will take a lot of coaching — we realize it won’t happen overnight.
Q: Your top priorities for the coming year?
A: Understanding what makes good business sense when we review a technology. We have to determine whether that dollar spend will translate into revenue dollars and ultimately into profits. If you keep implementing new technology for technology’s sake, you’re going to spend a lot of money and human capital on things that won’t provide value to your business. The companies that will succeed long-term will be the ones that use smart technology — both emerging and proven — to positively impact the bottom line for their business.
For more on business transformation and progress, read “Connecting digital islands: Bridging the business transformation gap,” a global survey of business and technology executives. This Q&A appears in the survey report.