Gary Laieski‘s career spans over two decades in a highly regulated industry like banking, a truly inspiring journey, especially considering his humble background and the human values close to his heart. He was born to a second-generation immigrant with modest earnings. Gary Laieski’s father instilled in him principles such as selflessness and a sense of responsibility. Meanwhile, his mother played a crucial role, teaching him about humility, consideration, and the importance of always doing the right thing, regardless of circumstances. These values became the guiding principles he embodied in his career.
Throughout his journey, Gary Laieski occupied leadership roles at esteemed banking and financial institutions, including Desert Financial Credit Union, MUFG Union Bank, and currently as the SVP and CIO at Fremont Bank. In addition to these roles, he will further extend his professional impact by launching ALI Consulting in January 2024, a Management Consulting firm created by former CXOs to address the demanding and critical needs of current CXOs.
Gary Laieski firmly believes that authentic leadership involves valuing people as much as technology, guiding teams through challenges and opportunities, and always remaining grounded in humility and integrity.
In a recent conversation, I had the opportunity to catch up with Gary Laieski. We delved into his humble beginnings, explored his leadership style, and gleaned wisdom from his remarkable career that could benefit aspiring executives. What emerges is the inspiring career journey of Gary Laieski, where his strong human values not only helped him navigate numerous challenges but also positioned him as a true winner.
Describe your career progression from the start to where you are and what were pivotal decisions, moves you made, circumstances, and other facts that facilitated your growth.
Looking back on my career journey, I now see a journey deeply rooted in the values and lessons from my upbringing. As the son of second-generation immigrants, my life was shaped by a blend of cultures and the hardworking ethos of my parents. My father, who was accepted to MIT, chose instead to start a landscaping business to support and educate his siblings. This selflessness and sense of responsibility were values he instilled in me from a young age.
Growing up in New York as the son of a landscaper, I learned the importance of work ethic, tenacity, and investing in oneself. We didn’t have much money, and I vividly recall the sheer joy of getting new clothes for the first time in middle school — three new pairs of pants and four new shirts — humble beginnings I reflect on often.
Mom would teach me about humility, consideration, and always doing the right thing, regardless of the circumstances – these would turn out to be staples in my leadership guiding principles.
This blend of humility and tenacity steered me through various roles in the dynamic landscape of banking and technology. At Desert Financial, as Chief Information Officer, I spearheaded significant digital transformations, driven not just by a pursuit of technological advancement but also by a desire to enhance customer experience and operational efficiency.
Every step of my career, from strategic roles at MUFG Union Bank to transformative impacts at Desert Financial, was marked by a determination to embrace change, lead with empathy, and align decisions with both my personal values and organizational goals. These experiences, intertwined with the work ethic and values instilled by my parents, shaped me into the leader I am today — one who values people as much as technology and understands that true leadership is about guiding teams through both challenges and opportunities, always grounded in humility and integrity.
What are the key skills and qualifications that aspiring tech executives in the tech industry should focus on developing to enhance their career prospects?
In the rapidly evolving realm of technology, aspiring tech executives must navigate a landscape that demands both depth and breadth of skills. From my journey, it’s evident that core technical competencies in areas like cybersecurity, data analytics, AI, and machine learning form the bedrock of a successful CIO career. However, the true mark of a leader in this field lies beyond technical prowess. It’s in the ability to communicate complex ideas with clarity, to build and nurture relationships across diverse teams, and to lead with empathy and insight. In my roles, from managing large-scale digital transformations to driving innovative strategies, I’ve learned that the most impactful leaders are those who can translate technical expertise into business value. This requires a deep understanding of the business landscape, an ability to anticipate market trends, and a knack for aligning technological solutions with strategic business goals. Furthermore, a commitment to continuous learning, adaptability, and a forward-thinking mindset are crucial to staying relevant and effective in this dynamic industry.
What are some key milestones or achievements that tech executives should aim for at various stages of their career to demonstrate their growth and readiness for higher-level roles?
Throughout my career, I’ve learned that the journey of a tech executive is marked by continuous evolution and strategic milestones. Early on, it’s about immersing oneself in technology, understanding the nuances, and undertaking challenging projects to build a solid technical foundation. Mid-career, the focus shifts to applying this understanding to innovate and lead teams, tackling complex problems and spearheading transformative initiatives. It’s also a time to find a mentor who can guide and challenge you. Later in the career, it’s about strategic oversight, honing decision-making skills, and understanding the broader business landscape. This involves building a vision, nurturing key relationships, and mentoring others. Each stage has its own challenges and triumphs, but the common thread is a commitment to excellence, learning, and adaptability.
How important is it for tech executives to actively seek out mentorship or coaching opportunities to advance their careers? What benefits can they derive from such relationships?
Mentorship and coaching have been pivotal in my career, offering not just guidance but also transformative experiences. Engaging with mentors like Mike Noble, who shared their wealth of experience and insights, gave me a clearer vision and a more nuanced understanding of the tech landscape. The benefits of these relationships are manifold. They offer a unique perspective on challenges, enabling me to navigate complex scenarios with greater confidence. Mentors have also been instrumental in expanding my professional network, introducing me to key industry figures and opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, they have aided in my personal growth, helping me to refine my leadership style and decision-making skills. Such relationships have been a source of continuous learning, and inspiration, and have played a crucial role in shaping my approach to leadership. Actively seeking out mentorship and coaching is not just beneficial but essential for any tech executive looking to grow and succeed in this dynamic field
In your experience, what role does professional networking play in the career progression of tech executives? How can tech executives effectively build and leverage their networks?
Professional networking has been a cornerstone of my career, playing an indispensable role in my progression as a tech executive. It’s through these connections that I’ve found some of my most significant opportunities and collaborations. Building a network effectively involves more than just collecting contacts; it’s about fostering genuine relationships. This means engaging with peers at conferences, contributing meaningfully on platforms like LinkedIn, and offering support and guidance to others. The key is to approach networking with authenticity, aiming to create mutually beneficial relationships. Leverage your network not just for personal gain but as a way to contribute to the broader tech community. It’s through this give-and-take that aspiring CIOs can truly harness the power of professional connections, opening doors to new opportunities, insights, and collaborative ventures. Networking, when done right, is a powerful tool for growth, learning, and establishing oneself as a leader in the tech industry.
Are there any specific certifications, advanced degrees, or executive education programs that can significantly enhance the career prospects of tech executives in the tech industry? Which ones would you recommend?
In the rapidly evolving tech industry, certain certifications and advanced degrees can significantly enhance the career prospects of tech executives. From my experience, the COBIT Foundations certification is invaluable for its comprehensive approach to IT governance, offering insights that are crucial for effective tech leadership. The CISSP certification is equally important, especially for its focus on information systems security, an area of growing importance in our digital world.
Regarding advanced degrees and executive education, programs that blend technology with business and strategic thinking are particularly beneficial. For instance, executive education programs at institutions like Stanford University offer a wealth of knowledge that’s relevant and immediately applicable. They provide not just technical insights but also broader perspectives on leadership and strategy, which are essential for tech executives looking to advance their careers.
However, it’s important to note that the value of these certifications and degrees can vary depending on your career goals and the specific context of your role in the tech industry. For leadership roles in larger corporations, a more formal education might be beneficial, while in start-up environments, practical experience and specific skill sets could be more valuable. In essence, aligning your educational pursuits with your career aspirations and the demands of your specific industry sector is key.
Can you share any examples of notable tech executives who have successfully transitioned from one role (e.g., CIO) to another (e.g., CEO) within the same organization or industry? What factors contributed to their success?
In my experience, the transition from a tech-specific role like CIO to a broader leadership position like CEO is quite rare but certainly achievable. A colleague of mine, Chris Kearney, exemplifies this successful transition. Chris’s journey from CIO to CEO within the same organization was marked by his deep understanding of both technology and business operations. His ability to translate complex technical strategies into business value played a crucial role in his ascent.
Factors contributing to a successful transition include a strong foundation in strategic thinking, honed through experiences in managing complex projects and navigating organizational changes. Effective communication skills are vital, as they enable the translation of technical jargon into business insights that resonate with stakeholders at all levels. An innate ability to foster relationships across various departments is also crucial. Leadership in tech is not confined to managing technological initiatives; it requires an in-depth understanding of overall business operations and financial acumen. Having a visionary approach and being able to anticipate and adapt to market changes is essential.
This combination of skills, coupled with a proven track record in leading transformative initiatives and driving results, can enable a tech executive to transition seamlessly into a role that demands a broader perspective. It showcases that tech executives who can align their technical expertise with overarching business goals are well-positioned to ascend to the highest levels of an organization.
How important is it for tech executives to cultivate a personal brand and establish thought leadership within the industry? What are some effective ways for tech executives to showcase their expertise and gain visibility?
Cultivating a personal brand and establishing thought leadership are essential for tech executives in today’s competitive landscape. For me, building a personal brand has been about consistently demonstrating expertise, reliability, and a unique perspective in the field of technology. This goes beyond just having a strong presence on professional platforms; it’s about contributing valuable insights, participating in industry discussions, and sharing experiences that resonate with others in the field.
Effective ways to showcase expertise include speaking at industry conferences, publishing articles or blog posts on current tech trends, and actively participating in online forums and discussions. Engaging in these activities not only enhances visibility but also positions one as a thought leader who is ahead of the curve. Additionally, leveraging social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, to share accomplishments, insights, and lessons learned can greatly amplify your professional presence.
Another key aspect is collaboration with peers and mentoring emerging talent in the industry. These interactions not only enrich your own understanding but also demonstrate a commitment to the growth and evolution of the tech field. By consistently showcasing expertise, fostering community, and contributing to the broader conversation, tech executives can effectively establish a strong personal brand and become recognized thought leaders in their industry.
Lastly, what advice would you give aspiring tech executives looking to accelerate their career progression and make a lasting impact in the tech industry?
To aspiring tech executives looking to accelerate their career progression and make a lasting impact, my advice is grounded in both experience and reflection. Firstly, building a solid career plan is essential – treat your career as you would any serious project, with goals, milestones, and review points. This plan should be dynamic, adapting as you grow and as the industry evolves.
Secondly, the importance of cultivating genuine, meaningful relationships cannot be overstressed. In the tech industry, success is often about connections – not just for opportunities but for support, learning, and collaboration. Make people the center of your universe. Invest in your team, mentor others, and remember that leadership is as much about nurturing talent as it is about vision and strategy.
Thirdly, embrace a mindset of continuous learning. The tech landscape is perpetually changing, and staying ahead means being a lifelong learner. This includes formal education and certifications when relevant, but also learning from experiences, both successes and failures.
Additionally, be prepared to take on challenging projects, especially those that might seem daunting or outside your comfort zone. These are often the experiences that yield the greatest growth and learning. Expect setbacks and have contingency plans – resilience is key in this fast-paced industry.
Finally, ensure that your actions and decisions are aligned with the company’s mission and values. Authenticity and integrity in your professional conduct not only enhance your personal brand but also build trust and credibility, which are indispensable in leadership roles.
By following these principles, aspiring tech executives can not only accelerate their career progression but also make a meaningful and lasting impact in the tech industry.
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