Tech Execs Weigh In: Herb Hofmann on Leadership

Are you working to grow your tech career? Here’s the expert advice you need to succeed and lead in tech.

Tech Execs Weigh-in Herb Hofmann on LeadershipWhen I spoke to Herb Hofmann, vice president of information technology at Loews Corporation, he was at Loews’ new office, getting things ready. The following Monday, 200 employees would arrive for day one at the company’s New York City headquarters. For Hofmann, it would be the culmination of a long process of planning and setting the foundations for making the next 15 years, at least, as successful as the prior 37 in the old building. Part of the move involved building out and deploying the IT infrastructure. Just as important to maximizing the effectiveness of the new space, though, was the social element—determining who would work from where and when.

Today, understanding how people use technology to communicate and collaborate—inside and outside the office—is as critical to maintaining and leading a productive workplace as the tech stack itself. Hofmann’s insight into technology’s human element, however, far predates the era of widespread hybrid working. The relationship between technology and people – in many ways, the ultimate nerve center of today’s organizations – has been a theme in his career from the start.

Meet Herb Hofmann

Hofmann began at Loews in 1988 as a COBOL programmer. Though his code, he admits, was not as clean as his fellow developers, he had an eye for detail on user interfaces, long before the phrase “user experience” was a major consideration. Hofmann’s strength proved to be QAing the front-end of his team’s programs; correcting buttons that said Yes/No on one screen but OK/Cancel on another, or where mismatched pixels lead to lines jittering between screens. Crafting and perfecting user interfaces each day for the drastically different businesses in Loews’ portfolio gave him a priceless view into the relationship between technology and people.

“I learned about different mindsets of humans,” Hofmann said. “They all see life through a different lens, so they all see technology through a different lens.”

Having studied management information systems (MIS) and moving toward the business end of the enterprise, Hofmann still applies this wisdom at Loews decades later. He assesses business needs and deploys resources accordingly, to implement cybersecurity solutions appropriately and to construct Loews’ future technology roadmap. He shares a few lessons learned along the way.

In Tech, Moving Sideways Can Mean Moving Up

While in some pursuits leaping from one role to a very different one within the same enterprise is virtually impossible, a tech career is unusually leap-friendly. Technologists who remain versatile and keep their eyes open about how different departments operate and what skills are necessary to perform different roles can discover a passion for another part of the profession. They can then pivot accordingly by taking the right steps.

“I’ve had network folks become cyber pros,” Hofmann said. “If they have the right mindset for it, it can happen. We’ve had service desk analysts go into applications. It’s a beautiful thing when you go sideways.” It seems, then, that the phrase “lateral movement” doesn’t just apply to how hackers move from one computer to another.

Certifications Are Always Worthwhile

IT pros – and their managers – live in an N +1 world. In other words, it is always better for an IT pro—especially one on a leadership track—to know more. A certification in a specified area of IT validates the holder’s competence, which is valuable not just for handling technology hands-on in the field, but for appreciating and discussing where that technology fits in a broader strategy, in the board room later in a career.

“It’s not a wasted investment in yourself to get certified in anything,” Hofmann said. “It just broadens your foundation.”

Cross-Functional Confidence Is Critical

IT pros interested in leadership roles have to get comfortable explaining technological needs in the business vernacular. Hofmann realized this quite early. He wanted to leap up into Loews’ investment technical support wing. So, he took business classes. He had clear reasons. He knew that his value would be making traders more successful. That meant that he needed to talk with traders in their own language as he put technology in place to facilitate their success. The educational move he made in making this leap ensured that fewer people would end up talking past each other. Having cross-functional discussions takes this kind of investment and, above all, practice.

Understanding Culture Drives Success

Each organization has its own way of doing things. Hofmann learned early that working with an organization's culture, not against it, is key to getting things done. In a company with a C-suite that likes things on paper, more work will be accomplished by providing physical slide decks in a meeting than trying to dazzle them with a personally delivered PowerPoint presentation with animations. Other companies may be exactly the opposite. Whatever the culture is, IT leadership succeeds by understanding and meeting its expectations.

Be Helpful, Be Human

Throughout his long career, Hofmann has made it a point to help where he can. Sometimes this has meant participating in formal mentorship programs, but in his ideal world more people in the workplace would mentor informally. That means providing friendly guidance and inspiration to those with whom they feel a professional connection. But whether one is helping a junior coworker build a career, or just helping with a technical task, a friendly demeanor and a willingness to jump in are as important in a tech career as any specific hard skill.

“Be helpful,” Hofmann said. “Strive to be a person that people want to be around. Be fun. Laugh. Try to key in on the elements of society that bring humanity to the workplace and make it better for everyone.”

Connect with Herb Hofmann on LinkedIn for continued inspiration as you build your IT career.

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