The Four Strange Leadership Mementos on My Desk and What They Mean

Leadership mementos by Isaac Sacolick
For the last few years as CIO of McGraw Hill Construction, I've had four relatively strange items on my desk that I've kept around for special reasons. A few people on my staff have some understanding of why I kept them, but few have asked about them. I think everyone working in IT might have some interest in the stories behind these items as they represent different leadership principals. So here is why this CIO has bottles of Heineken, Bardolino, and Napa Valley Mustard along with a toy dump truck on his desk.

  • The Bottle of Heineken - In my first year leading technology at BusinessWeek, we launched a business-oriented social network Business Exchange that enabled people to collaborate on business topics and view articles that were rated highest. This was a controversial project because until then, most of BusinessWeek's content was created by journalists, and Business Exchange was a significant step to stretch the brand and capture audiences looking for a more extensive breadth of business coverage. To develop the product, we successfully brought together collaborators from all departments - editorial, marketing, product, technology, and sales - to shape and launch it. We held a big internal celebration the week it launched.

    Unfortunately, I missed this celebration. We had kinks to knock out in the product's infrastructure, and we were experiencing some kind of issue during the celebration. I stayed back to work with the IT team that found and fixed the issue, but by then, the celebration was over. Thankfully, one of my lieutenants brought us some beverages from the celebration.

    I kept my Heineken as a reminder not to miss these celebrations. Truth be told, this wasn't the first time in my career that I missed a celebration for an IT accomplishment because of a systems issue. At the time, I was angry and promised to make sure that my next products had sufficient "alpha" periods to ensure that launches were seamless and successful.

  • A Bottle of Bardolino - This was a gift from a consultant who brought it back from his trip to Europe. It's been sitting on my desk to remind me to get out and travel the world. Travel personally and for business - just get out there, meet some people, be inspired, and explore. Visit your offshore teams, go on a sales call, or speak at a conference. 

  • A Bottle of Napa Valley Mustard - This came in a gift basket from a CIO colleague as a thank you for helping him interview candidates for a key lieutenant on his team. I kept it around as a reminder to thank people for their extra efforts and accomplishments.

  • The Dump Truck - When I came over to work at McGraw Hill Construction (now Dodge Data and Analytics), a colleague gave me this toy as a gift. Yes, I would be working in the construction industry. Hence the dump truck, but his hidden message was, "Prepare to clean up a mess." The CIO's job is one of constant cleaning, improving, and building toward the future, and sometimes you do need an over-sized dump truck to blaze a new path. At Construction, we launched five new products, re-platformed the flagship product, and established several new technology platform capabilities. Glad I had a staff up to the challenge, the right agile tools, the ability to select platforms, and of course, this dump truck!

Now the dump truck and the mustard sat in the back of my office capturing little attention. But my staff knew what it meant if I had either the Heineken, the Bardolino, or both on my desk. Watch out!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the reminders Isaac! All great reminders on what it truly means to be a leader.


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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.