Point of Impact

As Alliance Data experiences tremendous growth, Mike Rosello and his IT team remain vigilant in protecting the company’s most trusted information

Mike Rosello is one of those people who needs to be in the thick of it, really driving progress, and not just moving things around. After holding management positions with IBM and Deloitte, he realized that he needed to get off the management track and into senior-level leadership positions, where he felt more at home. He spent four years with JPMorgan as vice president of infrastructure and architecture before joining Alliance Data Card Services as senior vice president and chief information officer. It’s a leadership position that he has held for eight years.

Mike Rosello, Alliance Data
Mike Rosello, Alliance Data

“Even twenty years ago, I knew I wanted to be a strategic-impact thinker and lead broad-based growth companies,” Rosello says. “The management positions that were available to me were managing a bunch of resources, performance reviews, on-call duties, etc. I wanted to get into strategic leadership roles. I didn’t quite have the steps mapped out for me on how to get there. But I did end up getting here. And now I’m doing what I always wanted to do.”

Alliance Data designs and builds private-label, cobranded, and commercial cards for a variety of brands. In all, it works with more than 160 different brands, as well as in data mining and analytics for its partners to help them achieve better data reach and market penetration.

Rosello is responsible for launching all new business, as well as supporting the existing portfolio of clients. He considers himself “point one” from a new business perspective, which includes an abundance of new clients. Rosello estimates that the company is growing at a rate of 15-20 percent a year, and he says that growth is the product of strategies tailored to the nature of the clients’ business. “In terms of developing existing business as well as growing portfolios, we do that through deeper acquisition, building different tech capabilities to contact more card holders,” he explains. “Our approaches are customized and targeted to our clients.”

Rapid growth companies such as Alliance Data require an enormous amount of vigilance. Rosello’s team is constantly building more capabilities and bringing in more people to support them. “It’s a constant parallel-aggressive pattern you’re in,” Rosello explains. “We have processes, and then we look closely at everything: did you incur technical debt, did you document all the steps you took, or did you skip that in order to get to market faster?”

“Alliance Data’s ability to grow to a $5 billion company in three and a half years and also have alignment between IT and the business on three-year strategies is very impressive. Creating this type of interlock between the CIO and each department—and looking beyond the next twelve months—is not easy to implement, yet it is so critical to supporting the company goals. Mike’s ability to balance refreshing legacy technology and increasing security while improving the company’s customer experience through their digital presence is not something every CIO has been able to achieve. Does it have to do with the board-level interest and engagement?” —Guest Editor Julie Cullivan, SVP of Business Operations and CIO at FIreEye

The nature of IT has changed in recent years, and its role in the business world has changed as well. Rosello considers his work the supply side of the business. The strategic decisions he and his team make impact not only their own department, but also every other unit in the company. Most areas of the business—including finance, law, credit risk, marketing, and care centers—require IT work. Yet all of them are coming to Rosello with demands. “We’re the supply side of this organization, the basement of the house,” he says. “Every other floor is the demand.”

Rosello outlines the goals and the work that his department will do in three-year strategies. The first one was about cleaning up neglect and building a foundation. The team refreshed legacy technology and focused on security. Rosello says it was about reorganizations and fixes.

The second three-year plan was much more customer facing, according to Rosello. There was more focus on being competitive and building new business while continuing to make investments in the old. The third plan, which the company just embarked on, is almost purely marketplace competitiveness. Alliance Data is looking at bolstering its digital presence, diving further into analytics, strengthening architecture, and moving things from on-premise to the cloud. “Prior to this, there was no true documented long-term business strategy,” Rosello says. “Now the company has a well-established strategy and a goal. I can align and help them get there.”

During his tenure with the company, Rosello’s relationship to the senior leadership team has changed. At first he reported to the chief operating officer, and now, he is a member of an executive committee reporting to the president. He also attends the yearly board meetings and sees much more interest from other members of the board. He says they ask him questions and share the information on earnings calls. “That’s not because of me. That’s because people around me have realized IT’s importance and value,” Rosello says. “You can be the best champion of your case, but at the end of the day you will need the top of the house to believe and say, ‘This is what we lean on now.’”

All of this work comes back to Alliance Data’s focus on growth. Three and a half years ago, the company started a goal of becoming a $5 billion dollar company within five years. It got there in three years. The next goal is to be a $20 billion dollar company by 2020. Alliance Data has four years to get there, and Rosello’s team won’t be watching from the sidelines.