“This industry is in constant pursuit of smarter decision making. It’s all about the data: Having it available in a fast, flexible manner is key.”

When Ariel Marrero came to the United States from Havana, he was just eight years old, and his struggle to integrate would ultimately create skills that led to his success. “Immigrating at an early age forced me to enter an unfamiliar educational system, learn a new language, and understand a new culture, and that eventually prepared me for challenges ahead,” says Marrero, who is now North American chief information officer for Havas Media, the global media network for Havas, a $2 billion media conglomerate. “Early on I learned to step away from the traditional way of doing things and be entrepreneurial, which is essential in a job that focuses on innovation.”

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING Ariel Marrero of Havas Media always keeps an open mind when it comes to the fast-paced IT industry. “Regardless of my company or role, my goal has always been to manage change. That’s the way I’ve achieved the most both professionally and personally,” he says. PHOTO: David Neff

I focus on business processes. That involves setting up organizational models to make sure internal and external clients are getting consistent delivery of services around what we call our three pillars—flexible solutions with simplicity, security, and continuity. We want to make sure we’re delivering technology that is helping to grow the business and [can be] adopted as business tools.

One of the projects of which I’m proudest of is our business intelligence project. This agency struggles, as many firms do, to manage information in a way that allows users to make immediate decisions that will move the business forward. We’ve consolidated and simplified that information, then served it up in a way that’s sexy and easy to understand. It’s a data, analytics, and decision-making platform that can be used internally and externally, providing employees and clients with information about everything from spending to profits to performance. Essentially, we’ve come up with a new way of looking at data and bringing data out of the dark to improve business insights in real time.

My early career in the financial industry helped define my interests in engineering and economics. In 1994, after graduating from DeVry University with a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications management, I was fortunate to get an opportunity at Bear Stearns. I began mainly in IT consulting, which has opened many doors. The financial world is fast-paced, and then as now it was always important to find ways to [create]value by finding smarter ways to work. I stayed in that financial industry world until 2001, spending time at Swiss Bank and Citigroup as well as Bear Stearns.

In 2001, I got the opportunity to work in the media entertainment world. I moved to Sony, heading the project-management division, which involved directing technology projects globally to make sure all business-technology offerings provided immediate value. After five years, I was elevated to a global shared services role, which was my introduction to the duties of a chief technology officer. I stayed there until 2008, when I accepted my current position at Havas.

My experience across different industries helped me obtain my current position. This industry is in constant pursuit of smarter decision making. It’s all about the data: Having it available in a fast, flexible manner is key. I feel I have a lot of experience with that. Backed by a team that is focused on creating efficiencies and innovation. I saw this assignment as an opportunity to work for a smaller company in terms of revenue but a bigger company in terms of ambition. Smaller companies tend to move at a much faster pace than traditional Fortune 500 companies, and I am having the time of my life at my current position at Havas Media.

Regardless of my company or role, my goal has been to create a smarter way to manage change. That’s the way I’ve achieved the most both professionally and personally. You have to step up, move away from traditional ways of doing things, and be entrepreneurial, even if it involves taking a significant amount of risk and leaving your comfort zone.

My greatest challenge has been tight budgets. There [is] a higher expectation of IT commodity services, but whereas budgets were equally higher in the past, now you’re expected to deliver with a third less budget. That’s led a lot of us in the industry to do some soul searching because we want to deliver secure technologies but also ensure that we continue to innovate.

I tell young people to adhere to their beliefs. There are tremendous expectations in this industry to achieve more at a faster pace. But we need to ensure that we’re not overpromising and under delivering. Be open to new opportunities, get out of your comfort zone, but be sure you leverage the resources around you. There’s a team behind me and we’re only as strong as our weakest link.

My greatest mentors have been my parents. I’ve had tremendous support professionally, but before that opportunity arose, I had parental support. My mom is a school teacher, and my dad, who started as a mechanic, now owns a business. In my family there was always the expectation that you’d have drive and better yourself. And I don’t take anything for granted: I’ve stayed humble and always given back to community, whether through church programs, education, or sports.