During a recent interview with Lee Rennick on CIO Leadership Live Canada, Rex Lee, the Chief Information and Technology Officer at Canadian Tire, discussed his dual roles and the challenges of leading digital transformation for an iconic Canadian brand. Canadian Tire, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, has had to navigate the challenges of becoming more agile in recent years, and Rex Lee has been tasked with supporting digital transformation and implementing shared knowledge across teams and management as both CIO and CTO. With a portfolio that covers a family of companies including Canadian Tire retail, Sport Check, Mark’s, Party City, Pro Hockey Life, and several others, his role isn’t just focused on operations but also on identifying what’s next and how to evolve.
While retail was not the industry Rex Lee initially thought he would work in, he has found it to be an exciting and dynamic space with embedded technology in everything. However, being a 100-year-old organization means that some of its systems are not entirely modern, and the complexity of legacy infrastructure held back the ability to achieve new things, especially during the pandemic. Finding a way to evolve through traditional IT was essential, and solutions mostly emerged through available talent.
Rex Lee shared that empowering and trusting people helped the company accelerate its move toward an agile operating model where business and technology teams are combined under a single structure. With the tone at the top and the opportunity to bring things together, it was easier to create alignment and communicate. The interview covers his nonlinear career path, the synergy of digital transformation and retail, and the digital overhaul of the business during and after the pandemic.
A senior executive reflects on his career and the lessons he has learned. He discusses breaking rules, rethinking them and finding a better way of doing things. He shares an example from his early days at Bell Canada where he built a server from old PCs, which allowed for information and document sharing, collaboration and other capabilities. While he got in trouble for breaking the rules, it got him noticed and taught him to think outside the box.
He also talks about the challenges of scaling during the pandemic, and how constraints can force organizations to be more innovative and creative. He draws from his experience at Research in Motion, now BlackBerry, where he learned about the problems of having too much money and not enough governance and control.
Regarding digital transformation, he notes that it is not just about implementing e-commerce software but rather a radical business transformation that impacts every aspect of the organization.
He emphasizes the importance of cybersecurity as a business imperative and how objectives must be embedded across all levels of the organization. He notes that agility and a focus on business risk scenarios, residual risk and the ability to pivot are crucial. He believes that the mindset around cybersecurity must change from just securing the company to helping the business in a secure way, as shutting down e-commerce, for example, may make the company safer but will not help the business.