Harry Ciaccio is Vice-President of Operations for a large manufacturing and distribution company in suburban Philadelphia. He started as a programmer, but after a few years he decided to focus on the operations side of the business.
I like to program, he says, but I fell in love with manufacturing. The advantage you have when you enter a company through the information technology side, Harry says, is that you get involved in every aspect of the business. As you study the company s operations, you interact with the managers of every department ”manufacturing, finance, distribution, customer service ”and with the chief financial officer and the chief executive officer as well. You are right in front of them in terms of opportunity.
Harry should know: He entered the business world as a programmer, and programming set him on the pathway to management. Now he s an executive for an apparel firm that buys its materials and sells its products throughout the world. We have our own cut-and-sew operation in the Dominican Republic. We also utilize more than fifty contractors throughout the world, along with distribution centers in South Carolina, Florida, and California, he says. We have a buying office overseas, so our supply chain logistics are very complex.
Harry oversees the work of many departments: purchasing, production planning, customer service, information technology, and some aspects of warehousing and distribution. Basically, he says, I oversee all of the company s day-to-day operations.
Harry says he wouldn t change a single thing about his career path . It had two parts , he says. One was the technical part, where I really wanted to excel in understanding computer hardware and the programming languages. When I got my first job ”for a computer peripheral manufacturer, back in 1973 ”I wrote in RPG, Assembler, and COBOL. These three languages gave me a broad-based knowledge and allowed me to work with many different computers. I wanted to be the best programmer the company would ever have. I don t want to sound pompous, but I believe I accomplished that goal.
However, the other part of my career was to learn the business functions. When I started, I was doing computer operations and programming. I didn t have a clue as to how the people in the accounting and manufacturing departments went about doing whatever they did. I then realized that just being a computer whiz was not enough. I had to be on a level playing field with middle and upper management.
Accordingly, Harry went out and took several night courses at a local-college in business and management. The more I got involved in systems development and programming, the more business aspects I began to learn, he says. For instance, when I was at my second job, I worked with the controller, and we developed financial budgets , enhanced the accounts payable system, and developed a cost accounting (work order management) system. That s how I learned debits and credits.
But what really changed my direction was when I worked on my first MRP [Manufacturing Resource Planning] project. I got deeply involved with all aspects of manufacturing from master scheduling to shop floor control. It was at this point in my career that I decided to get more involved with business and less involved with being a good programmer.
Harry saw his opportunity and seized it. He left his first job and went to work for an apparel company that was struggling to get its technology systems going. He told the principal of the company that he was not interested in being just a technical person. Harry said, I d love to help you with your technical problems, but really, from a career standpoint I would want the opportunity to manage the manufacturing operation. The principal of the company said, Look, you solve our technology problems and when something comes up in manufacturing I ll give you a shot at it, Harry says.
That s all I had to hear. That s the change I wanted to make. I loved computers, but I loved the broader business aspect ”what computers could do to increase productivity and improve the bottom line. I felt that with what I knew about technology and what I knew about business, I could help any company grow and become more profitable. In fact, that s exactly what happened . So, coming up as a programmer and doing systems analysis and systems design was my springboard to getting into top management.
If you find that you have a bent for management, go for it. Your programming skills will add to your luster as a manager. To move up, throw yourself into every sort of task, and try become known to managers and engineers in other divisions, as Joe Cohill did. In addition, take courses in business and management, as Harry Ciaccio did. It is these types of activities that can lead to a lasting career in management.