I had an inspiring and illuminating conversation last week with Kin Lee-Yow, the CIO of CAA Club Group of companies. Kin is one of our top nominees for the 2023 HMG Global Leadership Institute Mid-Cap CIO of the Year Award and I am delighted that he took the time to share his insights and experience with the HMG Strategy community of 500,000+ business technology leaders.
Kin has more than 25 years of experience in the technology field. His career began at Royal Bank of Canada where he was part of the team that launched the bank's online system. He also led the technology team that built the retail internet presence at Sears Canada.
CAA, which stands for the Canadian Automobile Association, is a federation of eight regional not-for-profit automobile associations in Canada founded in 1913. The constituent associations (also called "clubs") are responsible for providing roadside assistance, auto touring and leisure travel services, insurance services, and member discount programs within their service territories.
From my perspective, Kin is a truly unique kind of executive leader. As CIO at CAA, all of his leadership skills come into play. Kin describes his approach as “participatory leadership.” I asked him to elaborate on the techniques that have enabled him to become a highly successful technology leader.
“It's really about recognizing that people are actually the key drivers. You may have the right technology, but if you don't have the people to actually implement the technology, it doesn't work,” he says.
Kin also explained the importance of creating a genuine sense of buy-in and engagement. “You have to explain to people why you want to do certain things because then you get the team engaged. You get the team to participate in what you want to accomplish, and that moves the ball forward.”
As Kin says, the old ways of “command and control” leadership are not effective in the 21st century work environment. “When you take that approach, you really have blinders on and you can’t see … the more you actually bring people together, the more likely you will have a better outcome.”
The Keys to Innovation
I also asked Kin about his approach to innovation. “For me, innovation means finding what your objective is and then looking at changing the methodology to accomplish that,” he says. Kin reminds us that innovation is rooted in context and takes many forms. Your definition of innovation will depend on the circumstances, the challenges, the mission and the objectives of the organization.
At CAA, for example, innovation has led to faster emergency roadside assistance for stranded motorists. Shaving minutes off response times made a huge difference for drivers waiting with disabled vehicles. “It’s scary when you have trucks coming behind you,” Kin says.
I really appreciate how Kin relates innovation to service improvements and enhanced customer experiences in the real-world. At the end of the day, technology is there to help us – and I’m glad that technology executives such as Kin are focused on the bigger picture.
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