Kevin Hart | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
Seeing Technology Through a Business Lens
By Karen Rosen
Kevin Hart will launch CTO University within his Technology organization at Cox Communications later this year and he has a time-tested curriculum ready for the Class of 2012.
“It’s really about teaching emerging technologists how to become better business leaders,” says Hart, who has been Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Cox Communications since April. “It helps them understand why we’re here in terms of how do we contribute towards the growth of the business.”
Students are graded, must do homework and will put what they’re learning into action on a day-to-day basis at work even before they receive their diplomas and hear the commencement address.
Hart began offering the course in 2005 when it was called CIO University, reflecting his job title at Level 3 Communications, where he won numerous awards for innovation, business value, collaboration and leadership. Students will continue to focus on understanding what drives profitability for a business, leadership development skills, teambuilding skills and conflict resolution, going so far as to undergo DiSC Profiles to understand their dominant behaviors.
Classes are typically limited to 20 to 30 participants at a time.
Hart, whose parents were teachers, says he’s “primarily there to make sure they’re getting the right input from other experts.”
He brings in guest speakers, including CEOs and external trainers, to teach “how to partner, empower and manage your stakeholders as well as your team for top-tier success.” Graduates often become mentors to the next class.
Of the 125-150 people who have graduated from CIO University, more than 10 are now CIOs or CTOs.
“That’s one area that I have a lot of pride in,” Hart says. “I think investing in your team members ultimately improves the performance of the organization, and that’s been the key to success in many of these very fast-moving, technology-enabled, challenging environments.
“I’ve always been a big advocate of empowering the teams to come up with the right solutions and applying those. You probably get more miles per gallon out of a solution that they feel bought into.”
Cox Communications, a multi-service broadband communications and entertainment company serving more than 6 million residential and commercial customers, already invests heavily in training, Hart says, so CTO University will leverage a lot of material that is already in place.
“Technologists don’t always feel like they have an equal seat at the table,” Hart says.
By helping them “see the world through a business lens,” he says, technologists can feel more like a consultant to the situation instead of “just a receiver of a specific request. It’s how do we partner and enable the right business solution?”
Choosing a Career Path
Hart was searching for the right solution even at a young age. As a teenager in St. Louis, he knew he wanted to play Division I college soccer, but had no idea what his major should be. He decided to interview all of his older sister’s friends who were in college to get their perspectives.
“One of her friends was a computer science major and she said, ‘You can’t go wrong becoming an engineer,’” Hart says, then smiles. “I said I didn’t really want to drive trains, but tell me more about that.”
He attended college at the University of Tulsa on a combination soccer and engineering scholarship.
Hart started every soccer game for four years at center midfield and was the team captain his last two years when the Golden Hurricane went from worst to first.
“It was a great experience,” Hart says. “It really shaped who I am as it relates to teamwork and leadership.”
Fresh out of college with an electrical engineering degree, he joined Southwestern Bell as a design engineer and network operations manager. That became his first foray into telecommunications.
“I like leveraging technologies to bring people closer together,” Hart says. “Think about all the social media that exists today. I’ve been fortunate to work with many companies that have been a part of building out the Internet infrastructure and enabling a lot of that communication to take place.”
He left Southwestern Bell to get his MBA in Finance at Notre Dame in 1993 because he had an affinity toward business. Hart also anticipated that the combination of his engineering degree and an MBA would prepare him for multiple roles within a company.
Although he wanted to get back into telecommunications, job opportunities for upward movement were thin, so Hart took a job as Director of Strategic Planning at International Paper. He then joined Ernst & Young (now Capgemini) to get back onto the consulting track and hone his business and technology process skills.
Hart was there for more than nine years, making vice president and running the global telecom operation and the IT back office service line. Working with more than 50 companies accelerated his skill sets and maturity.
Whether those companies thrived or not, he says, “It always came down to vision, alignment, people and then translating the technology into business results.”
Proceeding to a New Level
When Level 3, one of the world's largest IP communications providers, called Hart to ask for recommendations for their CIO job opening, he had a good one. “I said, ‘What about me? Hart says. Within a few weeks, the job was his. “They were looking for somebody to bring the combination of business skills, process skills and technology and blend those together,” he says.
During Hart’s tenure, Level 3 acquired eight companies and increased revenue from $1 billion to $4 billion. “It wasn’t always smooth sailing,” he says, “because any time you combine two companies there is always a lot of hard work. You multiply that by eight times, and there’s a lot of detailed process work, and people and strategy alignment.”
Hart implemented the Unity system, decommissioned 700 applications and helped save the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
Looking for a new opportunity that was more growth-oriented, innovative and cutting edge, he joined Clearwire Corporation as CIO. “It was a balancing act in terms of potential risk and reward, but it was one of those career opportunities that I’m glad I pursued,” he says.
He led the transformation of the IT organization during the deployment of the company’s 4G wireless broadband service across the nation. In 2010 alone, Clearwire built out 10,000 cell towers.
At Cox Communications, which has more than $9 billion in annual revenue, Hart’s role is a combination of Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer and head of network operations. He has to keep his various initiatives aligned and in focus.
“We built out a multi-year transformation plan around people, process, platform and delivery with clear objectives and initiatives aligned with the company’s overall mission and challenges,” he says.
The focus is on project delivery, which includes holding people accountable for delivering results on time and on budget.
Cox is investing in next-generation platforms -- both internal infrastructure and external infrastructure – as well as in its network, which is “one of our most precious assets,” Hart says.
Cox Communication’s High Speed Internet service was recently rated “Fastest in the U.S.” by PCMag.com, and was 44 percent faster than the average Internet service provider with an average 18.51 Mbps download.
Reinventing Cox for the Future
Cox is the third-largest U.S. cable TV company, and is known for its pioneering efforts in cable telephone and commercial services and for its excellent customer service. Although it reaches 6 million customers in 18 states, it is only available in Atlanta in the building housing Cox Communications.
Cox Business is a facilities-based provider of voice, video and data solutions for commercial customers and Cox Media is a full-service provider of national and local cable spot and new media advertising.
“We’ve got a great team, we’ve had a great business model, but we’ve got to reinvent ourselves for the future,” Hart says.
In December, Cox launched a live streaming app for iPad, which went from concept to market delivery in less than nine months. That marked a new developmental lifecycle threshold within Cox technology products.
“Some products and projects like that have frankly taken years in the past, Hart says, “but it comes down to having clear vision from the company executive team. Pat (Cox President Patrick J. Esser) has done a great job aligning our strategy and our mission.”
Cox has also rolled out a new home security product in Arizona that could serve as a platform to enable the broader smart home concept in the future. “Folks could potentially manage their security, their energy, health monitoring, wellness awareness and Wi-Fi –enable the entire home premises,” Hart says, “and all these great next-generation applications could feed off of our high speed Internet.”
He has roughly 2,000 people on his team in Atlanta and several thousand more that are dotted line from engineering and operations teams across the U.S.
“The pace of innovation and new technology in the marketplace, particularly in communications, is at an all-time high,” Hart says. “The pace of tablet growth is exponential. To have that second companion device, where you can either interact with your screen and/or have the full video experience in a mobile fashion -- it’s here, it’s today and we’re investing in it.”
Cox is also looking at a lot of cloud-based applications and solutions -- particularly focused on Cox Business customers -- and is investing in healthcare solutions that are enabled by its network.
“There is still a lot of work in front of us, but we are focused on using technology to connect our customers to the things they care about in ways that are easy-to-use and reliable,” Hart says. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of Cox and the cable and telecommunications industry.”
Secrets to Success:
- Paint the vision and be very clear about your goals and the measures for success. You have to do that in repeated formats because different people absorb the information in different ways. It could be written, visual, or experiential.
- Persevere, be patient, do the root-cause analysis and stick to the course. I was part of the soccer team that had the worst record in school history, and we turned it around in one year and the team went on to set the NCAA record for most consecutive home wins (39). We went from worst to first in one year. That’s an example that I draw from. It’s very applicable in my mind in technology, because in technology, new investments, these things are complex. They’re difficult and they don’t always work perfectly the first time out of the gate. And, of course, correcting based on new information is another key to success.
- Invest in people, empower them, give them confidence, give them some constructive feedback. Oftentimes people don’t have the courage to give both the positive and the constructive, but that’s how you improve, just as a coach would do in athletics.
- The power of positive thinking. As a leader, you’re going to have setbacks. Things aren’t going to go perfectly and you have to find the good in every situation and translate that into a moment of inspiration for the team. I had a slogan that I used for years: “Refuse to Lose, Choose to Win.” You have to make that a goal of yours and a mantra for the team. You have to believe in it. But be realistic. Ask tough questions. Don’t just fall for platitudes, but if you are positive and you stick to your plan, you can achieve great things.”
Kevin Hart is Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Cox Communications, Inc. Atlanta Trend expresses its thanks and deep appreciation to Kevin Hart for sharing his thoughts with us.
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