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Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) is big on ethical investment and creating a happy workplace for its workers. As a co-operative business, ethical values and employee wellbeing are part of its mission statement. So the fact that its director of IT delivery and development, Jim Slack, would be a comedian in an alternative life makes him a perfect choice for the job.

Jim Slack

Director of development and delivery CFS, part of the Co-operative Group.
Size of IT department: 500+
Size of IT budget: £130m+

CFS - part of the Co-operative Group – is a group of businesses that includes Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) and The Co-operative Bank.

Slack needs his sense of humour because his workload recently doubled and an imminent £250m investment in business change will result in significant IT developments. Slack speaks to Computerworld UK about what it's like to be part of a company that has ethical principles woven in the fabric of its structure.

What’s the day job?

It just got a lot bigger because I’m now responsible for delivering IT solutions for both infrastructure as well as applications development. We used to have infrastructure delivery - all the boxes and wires – dealt with by one set of people and the applications sitting on top, by another. We’d created the two functions but found that that there were synergies in terms of project management and so brought the project management areas together.

In terms of how I divide my time, I spend roughly a third on shaping direction, another third on leadership and management, and the rest managing the large portfolio of IT solutions.

How did you start out in IT?

Oh blimey! It was my maths teacher who pointed me in the direction in the early ‘70s. He said to my mum at a parents evening: "Your Jim should go into computer programming because he’s so logical". I was the son of a miner and computing seemed incredibly glamorous. So I took an HND in Maths and Computing, thinking I’d have the maths to fall back on if the computing didn’t work out.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Being involved in everything. IT really is integral to the entire business – its role goes way beyond the logical part that initially appealed to me. In that sense, IT matters to how the business performs and that means having conversations with everyone. It’s great to be part of the IT team.

What’s the worst?

Conversely, being integral to business means that when things go wrong, IT is under pressure and the phones get really hot. Unfortunately, when you’re delivering a 100% service, people don’t phone you up to congratulate you, they just let you know when things go wrong. The other bad thing is that friends and relations think I’m some kind of PC geek and bring their stuff around for me to fix.

What the techie high of your career?

Techie stuff doesn’t turn me on any more. But once upon a time I was very proud of two games that I wrote for a PET computer in Peek n poke software. People really enjoyed playing them and that was a buzz. It wasn’t easy. The PET was a 64 bit machine and very slow so you had to use special software and techniques to write games. It was heavy too –it took two of us to carry the machine home.

What’s your biggest career mistake?

Not moving on when things weren’t going well. It was a difficult time and I had a difficult boss – there was a personality clash. I sat it out for eighteen months. The worst thing is that I wasn’t developing personally. I would always advise people to take control of their own career and drive it forward because no one is going to do it for them.

What other career advice do you have for others?

Don’t focus on just being a techie – ‘hybrid’ is where you want to be.

Have a vision for your career and a plan how to get there. I deliberately worked across the whole lifecycle of IT, from development, to operations and support. Very few people have done that and it put me in a good position to be a director. If you’re not enjoying it do something about it.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in this job?

A stand up comedian, working the northern clubs.

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