How Hydrite Chemical’s Jim Krueger makes IT work for business

Jim Krueger, veteran CIO at Hydrite Chemical Company, has been an IT expert since the advent of the computer age

Photo by Kat Schleicher

For graduating seniors entering the business world, it’s hard to imagine a time when consumers didn’t shop on the Internet and businesses weren’t wholly reliant on computer systems to keep track of everything from inventory to human resources. For Jim Krueger, computer technology has also been a part of his career since the day he graduated from college—but in an era when computers took up an entire room. Since the inception of such technology, the chief information officer has been using it to help businesses grow, which is just what he’s doing now at the Hydrite Chemical Company.

Notable Projects in Jim Krueger’s Career at Hydrite

Twenty-five years ago, Jim Krueger helped Hydrite get on the cloud-computing train. Here are some of his more recent successes:

  • Krueger converted Hydrite’s semimanual batch system for inventory and ordering into a fully automated MRP system in the early 1990s, which eventually evolved into the Prism ERP system that is currently in use.
  • Krueger developed a business intelligence app that allows sales personnel to access the company ERP information on mobile devices so they can check open orders, provide instant pricing to customers, and track inventory on the go; company executives also have their own dashboard that allows them to keep tabs on the critical statistics for each business unit.
  • Krueger created an iPad survey app for Hydrite field technicians to use during the customer acquisition process: when a large manufacturing plant is interested in signing a contract for Hydrite’s products, an on-site, highly technical assessment is required. In the past, it took up to two weeks for a team of five or six technicians to complete using manual data collection. Now, it can be accomplished in a week or less with much greater accuracy using the new app, which produces reports used to generate a quote.

The genesis of Krueger’s career was in 1973. “I minored in computer science because there was no such thing as a major in computer science at that time,” he says. Upon graduation, Krueger went to work immediately for GE in a plant where the company assembled its medical equipment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the time, GE had its own line of computers—the GE 200 series—that has since gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Yet Krueger has kept up with the pace of technology. He’s on the cutting edge of IT development and management at Hydrite, one of the largest and most respected providers of chemicals and related services in the United States. Still, the evolution of his career path mirrors the evolution of the technology itself.

“In my GE days I was an assembly language programmer,” Krueger says. “It’s a very basic machine language where you’re actually manipulating bits and bytes directly.”

The GE 200 computers utilized magnetic reel tapes for data storage, so it was a big deal when the first hard drives arrived in the office. “The platters were at least four feet in diameter,” Krueger says. “They had to bring them in with a forklift, but everyone was really excited about it because it was the first direct-access type of technology we had.”

Things have changed a bit since then, but Krueger says his philosophy for IT management has remained steady: “I like everything to be standardized and centralized. I don’t want to have servers scattered all over the business,” he says. “I like to run everything out of a central data center.”

Shortly after arriving at GE, Krueger set about automating the punch-card system that was the dominant approach to computer technology of the day. He also updated it to the much more efficient time-sharing system, which was the precursor to what is known as cloud computing today. It was the beginning of a top-down approach to IT that Krueger continues to apply at Hydrite. The goal, he says, is to understand how the design of a computer system affects actual users and to design programs that take user experiences into account. “It’s important to understand the effect IT has on individual people in a business,” he says.

In 1990, Krueger’s career at Hydrite began with a cold call he received from a headhunter. Emboldened by his successes at GE, Krueger arrived at the interview with an agenda about what he wanted to do for the company if he was hired. “When I interviewed with the CEO here at Hydrite I asked more questions of him then he asked of me,” Krueger says. “I wanted to make sure I was making a good decision.”

Specifically, Krueger wanted to make sure that the company would back him in the sweeping changes to its computer system that he envisioned. The IT industry was beginning its ascent on the exponential growth curve that it is still riding today, and Krueger intended to get Hydrite on the bandwagon.

“I said, ‘It’s going to cost a lot of money, and we’re going to make a lot of changes,’” Krueger explains. “They had to be one hundred percent committed to the project—you can’t make a change in a business like that without having the CEO on board and assigning some higher-level people to the project.”

The project Krueger had in mind was to overhaul Hydrite’s manufacturing, inventory, and ordering system, taking it from an antiquated batch system that required a number of manual steps to a fully automated material requirement planning system (MRP)—now referred to as an enterprise resource planning system (ERP). The company executives were sold on the idea, and Krueger has since implemented one project after another to automate as many business processes as possible within the company.

Though he is an IT man, Krueger doesn’t lose sight of the fact that computers are intended to serve people. In his estimation, understanding the human dimension of IT is the most important skill. It’s a philosophy he extends to the company’s human resources. Krueger is clear about his goals with the executive team and only takes on projects that have their full and dedicated support. He is also careful in his engagement with the business units that will be affected by his initiatives. “When you make a big change that’s going to affect how people do their jobs every day, you can’t just slam it down their throats,” Krueger says. “You have to have user input so people feel part of the process—that helps make any change easier.”

Hydrite has grown through numerous mergers and acquisitions over the years to become a complex, nationwide operation with seven distinct business segments. Each time a new subsidiary is brought into the mix, Krueger says it has to join Hydrite’s ERP—there’s no room for multiple software systems in the company. “We have all of our data in one place,” Krueger says. “It makes it very clean.”