We love to spotlight our Council Members and share brief insights into the person behind the role. As our Innovation Advisory Council spans twenty-three cities across three continents, we have an incredible and diverse group of Council members leading companies of all sizes and industries. In this spotlight, we caught up with Steve Zimmerman, VP of IT / CIO at Prent.
Prent Corporation is the world’s leading designer and producer of custom thermoformed packages for the medical device industry. The company has received 16 WorldStar medical packaging awards, operating in clean room environments at their facilities in Arizona, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Malaysia, Puerto Rico, and Wisconsin. To learn more about Prent visit www.prent.com.
Can you give us an abridged story of the journey through your career and how you got to your current role?
After school, I had three different IT-related jobs in different industries, a Civil Engineering firm, a Student Loan Guarantor, and a small computer consulting company, I started as a Network Engineer at Prent. After a few months, I voiced concerns about my supervisor and then was promoted to the supervisor a week later at a very young age - 23. Then going to Manager, Director, and then CIO/VP of IT over the next several years, it has been a wild ride taking me all over the world running IT for multiple business units and different divisions of the company. Always challenging, never boring, and the 28 years here have gone by really fast!
Innovation means many different things to many different people; what does it mean for you?
It means creative problem solving. Leaps forward in technology or business process improvements. Taking into consideration the things that have been tried before and based upon life experiences of the team, being creative to solve existing or new problems / challenges.
How do you see the rapid evolution of technology impacting your industry in five years?
My whole career has seen rapid evolution of technology. I really hate the latest terms of digital transformation. Like that’s something new. I have been doing that since I was 19 years old where one of my first big projects was eliminating the manual calculations done by people with hand calculators on boxes of printed green bar survey data into something more useful. Eliminating several man months of manual work and doing those calculations in a couple minutes on a PC with a Turbo C program I wrote. I think the next five years will be strongly impacted by AI/ML, Low Code Development, and Augmented and Virtual Reality.
What's on your radar for new trends and technologies that you think will accelerate innovation for you and your company?
Low Code Development and Business Process Automation. I think the ability to write and iterate changes to applications 8 to 20 times faster than previously will improve many organization’s systems and business processes in significant ways. I think the automation from those new Low Code Systems along with Business Process Automation will help us compete with the same number or a smaller number of employees in the future. It seems a large percentage of the population isn’t motivated to work so we have to do things to automate as much as we can. That exists with robots in the factor as well as robots/cobots in the office.
What's been one of the most significant challenges you've faced over the course of your career?
Developing third generation systems in a global environment where people want to do things differently and we want global processes and systems to be consistent. It’s seemingly impossible to please everyone and still provide a global standardized product. When the bar is so high on what the end users expect because a system has evolved for 20 years, the minimally viable product for the next generation is massive! Sometimes you just have to give them something that will work to move the ball forward and hopefully the ongoing enhancements to the system will make them happy in the long run. It’s like building a house that 100 people will be living in and they all want it laid out differently.
Setting and achieving attainable goals is an art as a leader. How do you set goals for your team?
I regularly align with the business units and make sure the IT team’s priorities align with the businesses priorities. As a team, we work closely to make sure we are adding the most value to the organization we can every day. While we spend 60ish percent of our time keeping the business running and maintaining and supporting existing systems, we still add a lot of value with building implementing new systems and business processes.
The saying that culture eats strategy, technology, etc., for breakfast or lunch is well known. Do you agree with that? If so, how do you work on building a better culture at your company?
I agree with that! I think culture is critical and has to be intentional and I work on that frequently. We can always get the computers to do what we want and the challenge is inspiring the people to make the necessary changes to their daily duties, use of the systems or to their business processes. A strong culture makes this easier but it is never easy! In general the change management is a huge part of the success of a system and the company leadership has to provide the inspiration for continuous improvements.
What are you most proud of in either your work or personal life?
My kids for sure. As challenging as it is to raise kids, I am happy we succeeded in raising three good people that are productive members of society. They have all graduated college and have good careers – two even in IT. They are doing their part to make the world a better place and hopefully someday make me lots of grandkids I’ll get to enjoy.
What kind of leader would you describe yourself as?
I am a strong, thoughtful, open, sometimes intense leader that likes to grow the members of his team and is willing to get pushed by his team to be better as a team.
What is one piece of advice you'd offer the next generation of individuals looking to grow within the technology space as a leader?
You can’t take a helicopter to the top, you have to climb the f-ing mountain! Do cool things that add value and keep learning!!! Be curious and put in the effort!
Do you build in time throughout the year for continuous learning? If so, can you speak to the value of continuously upskilling yourself?
Absolutely! Every day I am learning new things and I always ask my team what new or interesting things they have learned today or this week. Close to a good part of an hour every day I spend reading about the world and what’s going on and diving in to things I don’t know or understand. It’s part of all of our job descriptions and critical in this IT world! If you aren’t curious about things in IT, and are interested in learning more about them, you are in the wrong field! I love learning about new tools and technologies and trying to understand how to apply them to solving business challenges.
What's your favorite non-professional activity that you love to do?
I love spending time at the lake with my family. Boating, skiing, tubing, wake boarding, fishing, swimming, and other family activities.
Interested in joining our Council filled with amazing innovators like Steve? Find out more here.