Aaron Gette, CIO of the The Bay Club, caught our interest through his integration of a people-led approach with his tech-centric executive role. Being an innovator and a major player at The Bay Club, a San Francisco institution, we knew he would have some unique insights into the world of tech.
Avenue Code: When you were a child, who did you want to be when you grew up? I have a feeling that only a few CIO's know that they are going to go down that path. Do you agree? Why did you become a CIO?
Aaron Gette: As cliché as it sounds, I've always wanted to be an astronaut and a pilot. I was captivated by space travel - still am, actually. So, where does that line up with becoming a CIO? Good question. For those of us who were introduced to the personal computer in the 1980's, it's hard not to find yourself in a tech-related job today. That initial intrigue developed into a deep curiosity that led me down the programming path early on in my life. While other kids were venturing off to horseback riding or sports camps over the summer, I attended the YMCA coding camps in the 80's. Although my love for tech has only grown over the years, my desire to code has faded. Over time, I've been able to build rapport with peers, customers, and investors that has helped open the door to my first CIO gig. The last 4 years as a CIO have been an amazing journey for me, and more than anything, I enjoy empowering those around me to be great as well as mentoring those on my team to achieve the success they desire in their career.
Avenue Code: What made you choose an executive role at The Bay Club as the next step in your career?
Aaron Gette: The Bay Club has been an institution in San Francisco for over 40 years. It represented a challenge that was unique because it was transforming into a hospitality organization, and I was excited to be a major player in that transition. We as technology leaders have a real responsibility with all the resources and technological advances at our disposal, to drive businesses to new heights. Using technology, we can create new competitive advantages through innovation and the acceleration of market opportunities that may have never been realized before. I'm always excited for a new challenge, and taking The Bay Club into the future while defining a new hospitality category around Lifestyle was exactly what I was looking for.
The iconic Bay Club in San Francisco. Image via The Bay Club.
Avenue Code: What expectations did you have for the CIO role, and what opened up for you once you were in the role?
Aaron Gette: My expectations were in line with the vision and playbook of the CEO. Matthew Stevens has done a phenomenal job with taking The Bay Club into new and uncharted territory. We have designed the cloud architecture and infrastructure to support our rapid business expansion and provided the tools to drive decisions that keep us ahead of all the competition. Having a true sense of trust allows the team to operate autonomously while keeping the technology strategy intertwined with the business strategy. I've been able to learn the depth and breadth of a business that covers so many different aspects all while creating a community across business units and teams that drives a more collaborative environment. We have really just begun, and I'm excited to take this brand outside of California.
The newest addition to The Bay Club - the luxurious Manhattan Country Club. Image courtesy of The Bay Club.
Avenue Code: IT is transforming and evolving. Do you feel the CIO role is changing at the same speed? What have you observed as an innovative leader who is part of the new wave of CIO's?
Aaron Gette: The modern CIO role covers so much these days and I think it's most important for the CIO to constantly be innovating. Not only do we have to understand the digital landscape internally, but also that which defines so many other businesses outside of our own front door. I think it's critical for a successful CIO to build a great peer network and get involved in the leadership community in order to challenge themselves to find new ways to lift their team and business to exceed expectations. The ability to understand the business so that you can align your goals will create both cost cutting measures and drive top line revenues.
Avenue Code: If you were to interview someone for the CIO role, what are some things you would look for? In other words, what are the critical factors that must be in place in order to be successful in this role?
Aaron Gette: It starts with integrity, and holding yourself accountable. There are great successes and soul crushing failures, but we have to find ways to learn and be better the next time around. The intrinsic characteristic of a great leader, not a boss or a manager, is the ability to empower those around you to be better, which requires trust and mentorship. A great CIO can instill a sense of culture that goes beyond those who are in front of you daily. For many of us, we have distributed workforces that also have to feel like a part of the team in order to truly contribute towards the success of the team. This means rolling up your sleeves and participating in the right ways to foster the culture you want, since culture is a critical element in enacting change.
To me, success in this role is really about finding the pieces that can be commoditized, and investing in those that will bring about the change your business needs. It's also important to be able to connect and interact with all your customers, both internal and external. After all, there is no substitute for fantastic customer service.
Avenue Code: You're an active speaker at several conferences and events. Are you hoping for the audiences you address to see this role in a new way? Where does your passion to share your story with the audience come from?
Aaron Gette: With what I have been able to accomplish in my career, it has certainly afforded me the opportunities to speak and share with other IT leaders. Every time I'm up there, I hope to connect with my peers and share the evolution of the CIO role as I've experienced and envision it to be. Change is the only constant, and if you're able to harness the power of change to define the role that ignites the business and feeds your growth, then you are altering the way the world sees the CIO. We are a unique and quintessential piece of the C suite as we challenge the way both boards and investors see our abilities to inspire the business. My passion to share my experiences with others come from those trials and tribulations and I hope to encourage them to step out and take risks. Their success alters the legacy of the business they represent as well as improves the community of IT leaders yet to come.
Avenue Code: What is the next thing you'd like to accomplish as an innovative leader?
Aaron Gette: The future is bright with so many amazing emerging technologies. I'm most excited to step out into the direct digital customer interactions and experiences we can now provide. I've recently written articles on my views of AI, IoT, and AR and their impact on creating unique customer experiences that are real game changers in almost any industry. I cannot think of another time when we, as IT leaders, have had so many options at our disposal. It can be challenging and easy to get lost in the hype, so finding practical ways to initiate and bring these technologies into your business is your best first step. Establish relationships with partners and push to get phased adoptions that will build to the digital experience your customers want and business needs in order to drive engagement and wallet share. We're excited for the future of digital engagement here at The Bay Club and what we will soon be delivering to our customer base.
Avenue Code: This was really enlightening, Aaron. It was great hearing about how you first got into tech and then transitioned into this CIO role as well as where you see the CIO role going in the future. You offered some great advice on how CIO's can foster teamwork and a collaborative culture in order to push innovation within the company. Thanks for your time!
Holly Vander Wall
Holly Vander Wall is the Director of Marketing at Avenue Code. She is an eCommerce enthusiast, a marketing guru, and an animal lover.