International roles prepare Sunderland IT leader for the public sector challenge

Steve Williams, corporate head of IT at Sunderland City Council, was driven to a career in IT more by his desire to practise German, than his interest in technology.

Steve Williams, corporate head of IT at Sunderland City Council, was driven to a career in IT more by his desire to practise German, than his interest in technology.

But his first job at a German IT supplier laid down the groundwork for a high-flying career which propelled him to the head of Sunderland City Council's IT, in charge of an annual budget of £8m.

In 1987, at the age of 24, Williams moved to Bremen to take up a position at Allgeier Computer, a supplier of IT systems to construction companies.

He persuaded his employer to give him a position as a systems consultant, working with customers to change their business processes. 

This was an important position as customers would only sign-off IT contracts once suppliers had successfully re-engineered their business processes.

Two years later, as a 26-year-old, Williams was asked by Allgeier to conduct a five-week feasibility study for a new business in southern California.

 Williams got the job because he was flexible enough to move, whereas other employees at the same level had family responsibilities. 

 "The hardest part was trying to persuade the Germans to bend the software for the American market, rather than bending the American market for the benefit of the Germans," he said.

When he returned to the UK in the same year, Williams joined ICI Fibres, one of the business divisions of the chemicals company in Harrogate.

Over the next 10 years, Williams worked in both business analysis and IT management roles for ICI Fibres and another arm of the company, ICI Acrylics.

 The experience helped him to learn what information managing directors needed from IT to run their businesses well.

"Today that type of system would be called an executive dashboard, but in 1993 it was a little more rudimentary than that," he said.

Williams left ICI to join Viasystems, a US-headquartered telecoms equipment business operating in a fiercely competitive market.

"You would have thought the shift from private sector to public would be the big change, but the biggest shift of culture was from ICI to Viasystems," he said.

The equipment company's market became so competitive by late-2001 that the supplier relocated its operations to China, cutting short Williams' first stint as an IT director.

The following spring he found his second IT director role at retail healthcare start-up The Health Clinic.

Unfortunately, the company went into administration later the same year. With a wife and child to support, Williams' work priorities had changed.

He had settled in the North East. His wife was from Sunderland and he found work with Newcastle-based executive coaching business Sentient.

Williams' big break came when Sunderland City Council's IT director left to join a Canadian software supplier.

By then Williams had built up the expertise and experience needed to manage  an IT department with an £8m budget and he was quickly snapped up as corporate head  of ICT.

CV: Steve Williams 

  • 2003-  Sunderland City Council - Corporate head of ICT 
  • 2002-2003  The Health Clinic - Systems director 
  • 1999-2002  Viasystems - European director of information systems and services; group planning manager  
  • 1989-1999  ICI Acrylics/ICI Fibres - Finance, planning and IT manager; executive information systems team leader; business planning manager; team leader;  training manager;  business analyst 
  • 1987-1989  Allgeier Computer Systems - consultant 
  • 1985-1986  Mercedes-Benz UK Organisation - analyst.

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