A well-mixed message

A former intern, now the CIO, blends work with a positive atmosphere

MIKE TAYLOR: Pitt County, N.C.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:

1985 Began full-time career as a programmer III with Burroughs Wellcome Co.

1989, 1991 and 1993 Received President's Special Performance awards from Burroughs Wellcome Co.

1995 Completed state-of-the-art pharmaceutical dispensing system

1995 Appointed senior manager for document management systems for Glaxo Wellcome

1996 Became director of Pitt County Management Information Systems Department

2002 Appointed coordinator of the Pitt County Employee Incentive Program and Quality Council chairman.

They say you really only tease those you love.'

'Pitt County's Mike Taylor

John N. Thouse

The sound of Dean Martin crooning 'That's amore!' fills the air. Over drippy wax candles, red-and-white checkered tablecloths and pasta, people chat amiably in small groups.

A night in Little Italy? A vacation in Sicily?

Nope. It's a staff meeting in Pitt County, N.C. And it's one of the ways the county's CIO, Michael Clayton Taylor, has created a more productive, collaborative atmosphere for county employees.

Taylor started as a part-time intern for the county when he was in high school. As the youngest member of the computer staff, he was the target of abundant teasing and practical jokes. Legend has it that one of his managers once stuffed him in a trash can.

'They say you really only tease those you love,' he said.

Taylor, it seems, was much loved.

Fifteen years later, he became CIO. A lesson for the pranksters out there: Many of the senior staff who critiqued Taylor's computer code and played practical jokes on him ended up reporting to him, said Donna L. Davis, technical services director for Pitt County.

Going home again

In the intervening years, Taylor received a bachelor's in computer science and a master's of business administration from East Carolina University, and had a full-time career in IT at pharmaceutical research company Burroughs Wellcome, now GlaxoSmithKline of Philadelphia, all the while working part-time for the county.

'I don't believe it was a great shock to the staff when Mike came back as CIO, because they had witnessed his growth through the years and saw that he was 'CIO material,' ' Davis said.

Davis doesn't know how Taylor did it. His job as a developer at Burroughs was 'intense and demanding, tied to the production line,' she said.

Then he would go to the county's data processing department and work into the night.

The list of Taylor's ideal dinner party guests offers a clue to his ideas about leadership (see gatefold). Thomas Jefferson would be a great conversationalist, plus he could whip out his fiddle and play some tunes. Fellow native North Carolinian Billy Graham could share what he learned in a lifetime of preaching in every corner of the globe.

And Walt Disney. Walt Disney?

'I've always been fascinated with his creative vision and drive and story,' Taylor said. 'It's not only for entertainment. He had a vision of tomorrow and how people would live and play and interact.'

Clearly, Taylor admires visionaries who have the courage of their convictions, whether about democracy, religion or Steamboat Willie'a trait he shares with his dinner guests.

Speaking up

'He's not afraid to speak his mind and make somebody accountable,' said Pamela D. Barber, Pitt County's administrative services director. Taylor meets with each member of his management team every two weeks, 'so he stays on top of what's planned and what's happening,' she said.

Taylor leads by example, Davis said. 'He sets a high standard, but he doesn't expect more from staff than what he would do. Sometimes technical people look at CIOs disparagingly,' she said. 'Your technical competency gets you promoted into management, but then you have to do management, so you lose some of your technical competency.'

Taylor, however, has managed to stay current with the technology. 'The staff feels like he could step in and do any of our jobs,' Davis said.

When Taylor took over as CIO in 1996, the county's computer infrastructure was dominated by green screens and a 'reliable but inflexible mammoth' mainframe with blinking lights, Davis said. The county's previous administration had deemed PCs 'unnecessary novelties.' Even voice mail was an out-of-reach luxury.

Within a year, Taylor had developed a network infrastructure for the Management Information Systems department and implemented MIStery'a client-server application for tracking computer inventory and service requests.

MIStery has evolved into a Microsoft SQL Server application that tracks equipment, software locations, network cabling infrastructure, supplies, network accounts and service requests.

Taylor also helped to develop an interagency fiber connectivity agreement among the county, the city of Greenville, N.C., the Greenville Utilities Commission, the University Health Systems Hospital of Eastern Carolina and East Carolina University.

Experience counts

When Taylor speaks to classes at East Carolina University, he encourages students to take the opportunity to work as an intern if possible. Even though he started at the county 'removing the carbon backing from the carbon paper,' he counts the experience as a pivotal one. Later, at Burroughs Wellcome, Taylor could 'come in the door and make an immediate contribution.'

The need to invest in people and bring about positive change is what drives Taylor. 'I have to have a mission, an objective and a goal,' he said. This sense of mission is what he will most miss about his job, should he ever retire.

'But I'm never going to retire,' Taylor said.

Now that's amore.

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