The Makings of an IT Lifeguard

Becky Wanta saves IT departments from Best Buy to Wells Fargo, and now she’s taken her knack for turnarounds to Pacific Compensation Insurance Company, which is benefiting from all the rescues in her track record

Becky Wanta isn’t a typical chief information officer. She thrives on rescuing information technology departments in some of the most well-known brands in the United States.

“By the time I’m recruited into a company, it’s usually when the company is about ready to jettison their IT organization because it’s not adding value and it’s just costing them a lot of money,” Wanta says. “So it’s always exciting to me to turn around the hearts and minds of the team and really establish that firm partnership with the business.”

Becky Wanta, Pacific Compensation
Becky Wanta, Pacific Compensation

Wanta has led and transformed IT operations at MGM Resorts, Best Buy, PepsiCo, Southwest Airlines, Wells Fargo, The Money Store, and others. Her latest move brought her to the Pacific Compensation Insurance Company (PacificComp) in Thousand Oaks, California. That’s where CEO Jan Frank recruited her after the two worked together at the State Compensation Insurance Fund.

“I generally come in at the senior executive level, but you’re not guaranteed a seat at the table,” says Wanta, senior vice president and chief information officer at PacificComp. “I feel like I have to earn a seat every day, and so I take that really seriously.”

Wanta started career as an administrative assistant in the US Department of Defense (DoD) while attending college in the evenings. She had an interest in IT early in her career, since there wasn’t a great understanding of computers, which took up entire rooms in those days. She worked her way up to senior systems design engineer during her nearly decade-long tenure at the DoD.

The challenge of using IT to solve business problems compels Wanta, so she earned her MBA degree in management information systems. She also got an MBA in banking, inspired by her experience at Wells Fargo to pursue a career as a bank CEO.

But instead of focusing on banking, Wanta has made a career as a turnaround leader for IT organizations in varied industries. For example, she was recruited to Best Buy as CIO and also as part of the brain trust to figure out what consumer electronics would look like going forward. Wanta doesn’t stay put for long—about a year at Best Buy, four years at MGM, four years at PepsiCo, four years at Wells Fargo, and short stints at several other firms.

Ultimately, Wanta would like to run a line of business, an opportunity that hasn’t yet presented itself. “There has to be some immediate enough challenge to get my interest,” Wanta says. “I’m not interested in maintenance. I’m interested in making a difference and helping a business move forward.”

“Most people will hide behind the process, and then they don’t deliver. It’s all about quality delivery on time and within budget or ahead of budget.”

In March 2015, Wanta joined PacificComp, which provides workers’ compensation insurance to California employers. With about 150 employees, it’s one of the smallest companies that has employed her. She leads a team of about twenty direct reports and many third-party service providers.

While the nuances may be different at a smaller company, the intent and outcomes are the same as her roles for larger corporations, Wanta says. She leads with a “walk the talk” mentality and stands behind her decisions while making her priorities clear. “I’m not a big process person,” Wanta says. “I’m more of a ‘just enough’ process. Most people will hide behind the process, and then they don’t deliver. It’s all about quality delivery on time and within budget or ahead of budget.”

The role of CIO is a serious opportunity that’s largely misunderstood, according to Wanta. Unfortunately, a lot of CIOs are not qualified, and that hurts the role’s image, she says. Some IT leaders hide behind technospeak and fail to translate how their work impacts the bottom line. “When you’re in a boardroom, you’re not talking about servers and backup routines, you’re talking about capabilities and strategies,” she says.

At PacificComp, she’s working on app development, bringing new capabilities and services through multiple channels, including mobile, Internet, customer-to-customer, and business-to-business. She is focused on leveraging IT as a strategic partner to advance the business. The company is looking to expand beyond California since its growth is limited if it continues as a monoline insurer in one state.

Wanta’s team is working on supporting the business of today while positioning it for the future. She says the team is examining all areas of the business to look at ways to streamline operations instead of the labor-intensive, nonintellectual, capital-based work. They’re retiring certain systems, consolidating others, and implementing more complete solutions that will allow PacificComp to scale up its operations to support its profitable growth agenda.