The DNA of a Successful CIO

How Joe Beery is building an elastic data management infrastructure on the life-sciences frontier

Joe Beery, CIO. Photo: Ken Hansen.

Imagine being the person responsible for keeping afloat a company responsible for saving the world. That, in a nutshell, describes Joe Beery. Beery is CIO of Life Technologies Corporation, a $3.8 billion global biotechnology company that holds more than 5,000 patents and improves lives every day through genomic scientific research, forensics and human identification, diagnostics, cell biology, and more. Beery is responsible not just for “keeping the trains running,” as he likes to put it, but is heavily involved in the development of new technology-driven products and services—in essence, playing a role himself in helping to save lives. I sat down with Beery to learn more about the man behind the high-tech curtain.

How is being a CIO in the life-sciences industry unlike any other industry? 

Joe Beery: There are two major differences. First, in life sciences, we take advantage of a significant amount of leading-edge information technology such as big data, the cloud, e-commerce systems, and an extremely complex supply chain. That requires us to maintain a high degree of standards and competencies. Second, it’s a really young and growing industry. In 2012, we acquired nine companies. So I have had to build a very elastic and scalable infrastructure that can manage all these attributes in an environment where customers are very demanding. There is a high bar set with our customers. They want the features and benefits of companies like Amazon and Apple, and we have to provide that.

Do you need to understand the science to do your job? 

Beery: In IT, we have to know enough about the science to understand what our products do, but we will never be experts in genetics. I have an engineering background, and having that engineering mind-set is key; I don’t think I could do my job without it.

You provide online, on-site, and phone support in 60 countries. How do you keep it all flowing smoothly? 

Beery: We are organized around four major pillars. First is alignment with the business. We have people who sit in on all the staff meetings and act like mini-CIOs. The second pillar is to “run the trains.” We’re very focused on 24-7-365 operational excellence. We have people who run global data centers in Europe, Asia, and the US, and operational excellence is all they think about. The third pillar is governance, which involves overseeing how all the processes within IT are developed and managed. We spend a lot of time on project management and prioritization, and developing a global resource pool to run the trains. Then fourth is financial responsibility. We’re very focused on finding every low-cost model we can so the dollars get reinvested in the business.

The work that Life Technologies does is very personal for you. Why do you feel that way? 

Beery: Genome research literally saved my children’s lives. I have 16-year-old twins, Alexis and Noah, who were misdiagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy. After about five and a half years of dealing with two children who were developmentally delayed, and my daughter’s disease being extremely progressive, my wife did her own research and refused to accept the answer the doctors had given. She found some research at the University of Michigan that described a genetic disorder that mimicked cerebral palsy. My daughter was given a dopamine, and within one day, she went from a wheelchair to almost walking, talking, and reading. This has been documented as a miracle and has been written up in all the papers. Even the Discovery Channel did a special on it, and my wife now speaks globally on misdiagnoses. I opted to come [to Life Technologies] because we felt it was part of the cause. We felt we would be helping others who have rare disorders like this.

Two years later, when Alexis got sick, we were fortunate to be connected with Baylor College of Medicine. We sequenced Alexis and Noah’s genome and found that the medicine was only treating 50 percent of their problem, so we added a second dopamine. Today, they’re juniors in high school just like any other child, and we’re looking at colleges. At the end of the day, I feel that what we do here makes a difference. We are truly saving people’s lives, and my children are proof of that.

“When you have a servant’s heart, everyone gets a little more cooperative.” —Joe Beery

You see yourself as a service provider. How does focusing through that lens allow you to serve your internal customers better? 

Beery: As a service provider, I try to get my team to see the world through a servant’s heart. We want our customers to see that we are here to help. In IT, there is an infinite demand to what you bring to the table but a finite supply. We have to prioritize and recognize that not everybody is going to get what they want. Our mantra is not “What I can’t do,” but “What can I do to help.” It’s that perspective—that we’re here to help—that drives positive conversations and eliminates friction. When you have a servant’s heart, everyone gets a little more cooperative.

You came on board in the middle of the 2008 merger between Invitrogen and Applied Biosystems, and had to bring together several disparate departments. What was that experience like? 

Beery: They had two very different cultures. Invitrogen’s was a dynamic and fast-moving reagents business, while Applied Biosystems had the larger instruments business. We first put together the team, then we had to lay the technical foundation of how we were going to integrate the systems. We needed to deploy a global footprint, but there was a lot of disparity worldwide. I made lots of changes in personnel to create centers of excellence. We looked for people who had more experience in bigger companies and who shared the same vision of how IT was going to interact with the business. We changed the profile of IT leadership and people at every level and molded the department along the four pillars and servant leadership.

How do you see your role evolving over the next 12–18 months? 

Beery: More and more of what is in our products is coming from IT, especially next-generation genome sequencing, cloud computing, and big data. As we start moving more of this capability into clinics and hospitals, the people sitting across from our salespeople and R&D team could possibly be CIOs. These digital systems have to ride their network and plug into their data center, so my job is becoming more aligned with the product. In the end, it’s all about strong leadership. You’ve got to make sure your leadership team is capable and you’re out in front of the cutting edge of what’s going on.