Breaking the Rules and Doing the Right Thing

A Dialogue with Diana Tullio on not taking the easy path as a woman in IT

By Joe Morgan, Founder and CEO, siY LLC

I recently sat down with Diana Tullio, Principal at CC&C Americas, to have a fun and insightful conversation about Diana’s career path to CIO, how she had the courage to break the rules, take risks, and “do the right thing” throughout her career.

Diana is a business-oriented leader with extensive experience in business-aligned IT strategy and technology solutions. She has led large-scale change in both business and technology environments, and has held CIO and executive-level positions throughout her career at companies such as Standard Register, NCR Corporation, Relizon, WorkflowOne, and Aileron.

Breaking The Rules

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Diana, when she was attending the University of Georgia as a Computer Science Major.

Diana said when she first started in her career, “IT wasn’t really ‘a thing.’” She was a computer science major who knew she didn’t want to be a programmer. “I started out working in technical customer service at NCR doing R&D, and building software solutions.” She said that eventually IT matured and became more and more standardized and centralized in the late 90s. It was then that she made the career move to IT.

“I remember discussing the position with NCR that would be in Dayton. They wanted someone with a non-corporate perspective to lead the effort in building their first customer self-help web portal, and I got the role having spent my career outside of headquarters,” Diana recalls.

There was a three-month deadline to build the first release of the portal, and she said she wasn’t even quite sure what a ‘portal’ was at that point, so she educated herself by going to conferences, reading Gartner reports, and asking a lot of questions.

In meeting the three-month deadline to launch the portal, she remembers breaking the rules and unilaterally making the decision to replace a Teradata database with an Oracle database to achieve real-time data access that customers needed. Diana summed up the breakthrough moment in her career: “When we turned it on, it worked!”

“My boss at the time said it was the ‘biggest and best coup he’d ever seen,’” Diana said. But she knew that she had broken the norm and broken company lines by not discussing the decision with anyone beforehand in order to do what was right for the company. “There were ramifications for a long time after that even though it was the right thing to do to meet the needed requirements,” Diana said.

“She knew she had broken company lines by not discussing the decision with anyone beforehand in order to do what was right for the company.”

But it’s because of Diana’s courage to do what was right for the business that she rose through the ranks and eventually became the Chief of Staff for the CIO. “I was responsible for Enterprise Architecture, overseeing IT planning, portfolio services, the off-shore team, and the QA team –- basically everything to keep the business running,” Diana said.

Taking Another Risk

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Diana winning the IT Hero Award from Information Week, while the CIO of Standard Register in 2015.

It was then that I actually first met Diana. I was the CEO of Standard Register, and I played a role in convincing her to leave her senior role at NCR to join us.

“It was a huge risk for me to leave a pretty big role with NCR’s large IT organization to go to Standard Register to have 2 direct reports,” Diana said.

But the risk was worth it. Not only was she able to “get home with family,” – leaving a job with extensive travel – but she became the CIO of Standard Register within two years. It was during Diana’s time at Standard that I remember having an open-door policy – she always kept her door open as well to encourage open and ongoing communication with her team.

Diana remembers her time at Standard Register as invaluable to her career. “Most people never get to utilize so many skills or draw from their experiences as I did during my time as CIO at Standard,” she says. “There was never a normal day from the day I became CIO. We had the expected job to do, but we acquired a company in year one, and, a year of so later we were being acquired after corporate restructuring. It was almost a boot camp for everything that a CIO could possibly face,” she recalls. “It is easier to be a leader and drive initiatives when a company is going through good times, but at Standard Register we had to be creative and positive through some difficult times. We did some amazing things with great team members.”

“It is easier to be a leader when a company is going through good times… but we had to be creative and positive through some difficult times.”

On Being a Woman in Technology, Mentoring Others, and Millennials

“I’ve never been wired to think, ‘I’m a woman in IT or technology,’” Diana said. “My parents always said I could do whatever I wanted. I think of myself as ‘me’ and I have my circumstances like everyone else.”

Diana emphasized that she has always been willing to take a few risks and willing to make mistakes. “I’ve never been one to take the easy path. I like to do what’s best for the company,” she said.

“I’ve never been wired to think, ‘I’m a woman in IT or technology.’”

And that includes mentoring others. “Most of my mentoring relationships (with both women and men) happened organically, and we gravitated toward each other out of mutual admiration and respect,” Diana said. “Though I’ve found that in mentoring men and women, men have had more confidence and women needed more courage.”

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Diana with her family

Diana said a lot of her mentoring began with curiosity. She would ask how the mentee did something (ran a project, for example), invite them to participate in projects they may like, or open their eyes to opportunities to take on a new role.

“It’s rewarding to have someone that wants to spend time with you, helping them find a career path they love. They come back and remember you believed in them — and when that happens, it’s amazing,” Diana said.

When asked about working with Millennials, Diana said she thinks we have an incredible younger generation. “I would encourage a partnership between the generations and for people to focus on their similarities versus their differences in a mutually beneficial way, ” she said.

“I think when you’re younger, you tend to think you know a lot. But I know personally for myself now, that the more I learn, the more I realize how much more I need to learn.”

What’s Next?

Diana said her focus right now isn’t on herself: it’s on others. “In my business, I’m focused on helping others get to the next level and teaching them through what I’ve learned – how to be a great leader and build great teams.” Diana said she is doing this by consulting, blogging, leading by example and by taking a pragmatic and caring approach with her clients.

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much more I need to learn.”

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