Bruno Laquet, CIO of steel-maker Corus Group, has always relished a new challenge - it's the driving force that has motivated his restless career. "I've always been trying to start something new," he says. "So any time there was something new somewhere, I was always the first to say: can I do it?"
As IT is in a state of perpetual motion, it's no bad thing to be willing to grab new opportunities when they come along. Getting your foot on the ladder first means you're ahead of the crowd as you climb higher. Laquet explains his relish for the new as an incessant curiosity and a vigorous desire to explore the uncharted frontiers of IT. "I'm more motivated when I have something new to explore," he says. "When that happens, I just feel the internal energy boiling away in myself.
"But when a situation has settled down and stabilised, I miss the energy. I think being willing to mobilise all your energy is really important when you aspire to a leadership position."
An IT professional who actively seeks out new challenges needs a range of qualities, says Laquet. "You need to be creative because when you're looking to apply IT in completely new ways, there are no precedents to guide you. But then you need to set up a team and give them some direction - because when you're working on something new, your colleagues will need to understand in which direction you want to move."
Then there's the need to understand the different factors that may affect the project. "But I think there's a risk of trying to go too deeply into analysis," says Laquet. "At some point in the project, you need to have some gut feel and some inspiration - and then follow your chosen path. Very often, there are many ways to do things. It's not so important choosing which way to go - it's more important to choose a path and get everybody aligned on it."
Laquet has build his successful career on the back of being known as the guy who can take on a difficult new project and make a success of it. When he left his technical college in Paris in the early 1980s, he started working in R&D at France Telecom. At that time, IT was emerging from the mainframe world and the PC was beginning to show how it would reshape IT.
"I became IT project leader and set up the IT infrastructure for the newly established R&D laboratory," Laquet recalls. He also led a team that developed its own computer-assisted manufacturing (CAM) system.
After six years, Laquet was looking for a new challenge, and joined Thomson Semiconductor as IT manager. Following mergers, the company morphed into ST Microelectronics. Laquet stayed with the company for 11 years and now looks back on it as a formative experience in his management development. It was where he started to learn about what differentiates a manager from a leader.
Pasquale Pistorio, the inspirational Sicilian, had begun a major transformation programme to turn the loss-making company into a worthy rival for the then global semiconductor leader, Motorola (for which he had previously worked). "I admired his ability to lead people," says Laquet.
While at ST Microelectronics, Laquet was given the opportunity to show he could deliver on another major new project. He provided the IT part of a small team tasked by Pistorio to create a European distribution centre. Laquet moved from his native France to Geneva, Switzerland and worked with a multinational group on the project for a year.
"The semiconductor business was becoming more and more global and we needed a European approach - an open platform," he says. "We had to do everything to bring the new distribution centre online - including finding the land and commissioning the building.
"As a project, it was like being in the gold rush - we just didn't know what was going to come next. But what I really enjoyed was the freedom we had to develop the solution."
Along with a lust for the new, the other driving force in Laquet's career has been a desire to experience the best that world-class organisations have to offer. Pistorio had always lauded Motorola as an example of a brilliantly run global company. And, eventually, Laquet decided he wanted to experience that for himself - so he accepted the job as IT director for Motorola in France.
Over six years, he worked for Motorola in four locations. One of the most fascinating from a career development point of view was when he moved across the Atlantic to become IT director for global administration systems at the company's Phoenix, Arizona base.
Laquet says one of the things he learnt from his time at Motorola was the importance of "applying process in whatever you do". But he also discovered that stepping into the new can sometimes be confusing. "On my first day at Motorola, I joined a meeting of the team I was leading," he says. "They were talking about something I didn't understand. I finally realised they were discussing which process they should use to define the process they would use on a new project."
Even though working for Motorola was like a top-level course in world-class management, Laquet couldn't resist an offer from aluminium manufacturer Pechiney to become its CIO. "It was the first time I'd been offered a CIO post - and it was based in Paris," he says. "It was a big challenge moving from an industry that typically spent 5% of turnover on IT to the metals business where 1.5% was the norm."
Like many industries, Pechiney was going through a series of global mergers and acquisitions, and when the company joined up with Alcan, Laquet found himself sidelined from the number one IT slot in the new company - and was offered the CIO post in one of the divisions.
So when fellow Frenchman Philippe Varin, who had recently taken over as chief executive of the London-headquartered Corus Group, asked him to join as CIO, Laquet swiftly crossed the Channel. Varin was in the middle of sorting out the accumulated problems of the troubled steel-maker and Laquet soon discovered there were plenty of issues in the IT function.
After Corus's merger with Dutch Koninklijke Hoogovens in 1999, the rival IT functions of the respective companies had descended into a state of undeclared war. "The two outfits had no respect for each other," Laquet recalls. The root of the problem was that the UK IT operation had been largely outsourced, while the Dutch function had a big staff with plenty of internal expertise.
Laquet calmed the warring factions by making it clear that he wanted IT to be organised in a different way - as a demand-and-supply model (see below) in which there would be a mixture of outsourcing and inhouse expertise. It is a challenge that has taken him nearly four years to bring to completion, but which has brought peace to the company's IT function - and enabled it to deliver real value to the rest of the business. Job done.
Happily for Laquet, there is already a new challenge on the horizon. Corus's acquisition by India's Tata Steel in 2007 means Laquet now regularly takes the plane to Kolkata to discuss plans for the future of IT in the new group. "What I like about people in India is their ambition and the belief that nothing is impossible," he says. "They say: just dream about something and go and do it."
That's not a bad way of summing up Laquet's own career - and not a bad philosophy for any other IT professional looking to progress.
CV: BRUNO LAQUET
• Studied telecommunications at ENST technical university in Paris.
• 1978: Became project leader at France Telecom R&D.
• 1984: Joined Thomson Semiconductor as IT manager. Implemented manufacturing systems on three production lines.
• 1987: Appointed European IT director at ST Microelectronics, reporting directly to group CIO and responsible for IT teams in 11 European countries.
• 1995: Accepted post of France IT director for Motorola with a team of 70 IT professionals.
• 1997: Within Motorola, moved from France to Switzerland to become IT director of the semiconductor component group.
• 1999: Moved again with Motorola to Phoenix, Arizona, to become IT director for global administration systems.
• 2001: Shifted industries to join aluminium manufacturer Pechiney in France as senior vice-president and CIO.
• 2004: Head-hunted to become CIO of Corus Group.
• Bruno Laquet is CIO of Corus Group, reporting directly to chief operating officer Rauke Henstra.
• Corus's IT runs on a "demand and supply" model in which most service lines are outsourced to specialist suppliers that are managed by Corus sourcing managers.
• Laquet has appointed six IT directors who report directly to him. Two of them oversee IT demand for major product areas - "strip products" and "long products" two manage IT for business processes - distribution and corporate functions and two oversee IT supply - one for infrastructure and one for applications.
• Laquet is embarking on a programme with his opposite number in Tata Steel (which acquired Corus in 2007) to explore ways in which the IT of both companies might benefit from more integration.