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Female Disruptors: Renée McKaskle of Hitachi Vantara is shaking up what it means to be an IT person

“The best piece of advice I’ve received is to “not look to the past for how to be successful in the future.” Going back to a design…


“The best piece of advice I’ve received is to “not look to the past for how to be successful in the future.” Going back to a design thinking construct, you have to look around. For example, what is used as a utensil to eat your meal with may be an interesting way to do a technology innovation. Ask the tough questions. Never be shy about raising your hand and asking a tough question. Feed your curiosity.”


I had the pleasure to interview Renée McKaskle. As Chief Information Officer, Renée McKaskle is responsible for developing and implementing information technology initiatives that align with Hitachi Vantara’s mission. She supervises the information systems and communications network of the company and directs the planning, implementation and continuous improvement of technology solutions. Previous roles have included: CIO of Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), CIO and vice president of business process and technology at SC Johnson & Sons, CIO and VP of IT governance services at Symantec Corporation and senior IT leadership roles at Oracle and PeopleSoft.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I’ve always loved science and technology. As a kid I was a tomboy and loved animals so naturally I wanted to be a veterinarian. At some point however, the sciences became less interesting to me and I gravitated towards math which seemed more fun and challenging. This led me to focus more on economics and statistics, then data, numbers and business, which led me to my career in Information Technology (IT).

What led you to join Hitachi Vantara?

I decided to join Hitachi Vantara mostly because of its uniqueness as a Silicon Valley company. The company puts employees first, has a commitment to a long traditional heritage of authenticity, community involvement for bettering society, what we call a double bottom line — you can do this all through technology with a very diverse culture of how you get that work done, which I find fascinating.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The positive disruptive work that I’m doing is asking my department, the IT department, to think differently and to come to the table with a business acumen language. Challenge the fact that we don’t necessarily have to do everything on-premise, challenge people’s thinking about what it means to be an IT person and challenge the business to engage IT differently — solution and value creation, not corporate overhead, bureaucracy and policy.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

I’m a big design thinking advocate which means that you find mentors or patterns or hints for success in different places. For me, the first head-nod would be to my parents because I never questioned what I could or could not do, it would never occur to me that couldn’t be a fireman, scientist, ballerina, concert pianist, anything. And it didn’t really matter whether I was a boy or girl. That never entered my thinking process.

Another mentor along the way was one of my bosses who was also a CIO. He demonstrated early on what it means to be business-focused and not spend a lot of time with the zeros and ones without context.

How are you going to shake things up next?

We’re already in the middle of shaking things up as we’re in a company-wide digital transformation (called Project Mirai, which means future in Japanese) where we are digitizing everything to ensure better business outcomes for all. Everyone wants technology and they want to see it as an outcome to help them do their jobs better, be more efficient, increase profitability and be more global. We’re continuing to disrupt every six months because that’s the velocity of change we have right now, we’re creating continuous positive disruption and it’s the IT organization’s role to lead the way.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The best piece of advice I’ve received is to “not look to the past for how to be successful in the future.” Going back to a design thinking construct, you have to look around. For example, what is used as a utensil to eat your meal with may be an interesting way to do a technology innovation.

Ask the tough questions. Never be shy about raising your hand and asking a tough question. Feed your curiosity.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

Recently I had the privilege of hearing Marcus Buckingham speak live at an event where he talked about his belief that people perform best when they are going with their strengths instead of trying to improve their weaknesses. Find what skills you’re good at and develop them to become an advantage for you. He likened it to the famous soccer player Lionel Messi’s exceptional left foot and how we should all find our ‘left foot’.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@CIORenee

Originally published at medium.com

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