Ron Guerrier’s journey to becoming a CIO began with his cousins handcrafting old cars in his parents’ homeland, Haiti. Back in 1988, Guerrier said he was first struck by the innovation at work and the tremendous potential of the technology.
“They took parts from every make and model they could get their hands on and they built computers from the ground up to tune the vehicles. I was fascinated by their ability to be so innovative with so few resources. It just blew my mind,” Guerrier recalls. “They were tinkering with technology, and I saw at the time that technology was a real game changer.”
He internalized this lesson and began applying it to his high school mechanics class, where he “had to put a car together for Frankenstein and the computer came into play. Around that time, cars started to have motherboards and you could take the computer and use it to tweak the performance of the engine.”
Guerrier’s early experience with technology eventually led to his career in IT, while his parents’ immigrant experience and time in Haiti shaped his leadership and priorities – including his focus on bringing more diversity to the tech ranks. As he explains, “The arc of my personal journey is related to what drives me.”
‘Who is good at business and technology?’
Despite being initiated into the potential of technology as a teenager, Guerrier majored in finance and economics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. But he didn’t give up his passion for technology: He got through college by working in a computer shop. (He also worked as a janitor, and noted that he likes to think of himself as a “supervisory engineer.”)
He joined Toyota Financial Services in 1996 and worked for almost two years as a Customer Service Representative and Takeback Specialist. Even then, when he was knocking on doors to collect payment or keys, Guerrier hadn’t left the computers behind; He often tinkered with the handheld devices that he and his colleagues used for their field work.
“I became a fixer, and when the company decided to go client-server, they looked around and said, ‘Who knows the business and the technology well?’ And my name came up,” he says, adding that an advocate at his office encouraged him to consider the tech job Toyota offered him.
Guerrier accepted this advice. He moved into IT full-time in January 1998, working first in deskside support and later in Y2K prep, which he credits as a good move: “What really grabbed me was that you could solve different problems with technology, to technology is about change, and I really enjoy change.”
Additionally, Guerrier’s early career pivot demonstrated the value of having mentors and the importance of bringing business and technology together – lessons he says he learned as he rose through the IT ranks in subsequent years.
Guerrier stayed at Toyota Financial Services for 19 years, including a three-year stint as CIO from 2012 to 2015. He attributes his successful rise to senior management to several factors.
“What has served me well is the constant urge to get better, to get better at what I do, to be intellectually curious, and to surround myself with great people,” he says.
His parents, who emigrated from Haiti and settled in Illinois, instilled in Guerrier this “immigrant drive” to appreciate and seize the opportunities he had.
“But what also helped were allies and supporters, people at Toyota who said, ‘He can make computers, so he can make servers, he can make applications.’ I appreciate these advocates and sponsors because they have helped me transition from repo agent to CIO.”
Return as he ascended
After leaving Toyota in 2015, Guerrier was CIO at Farmers Insurance for three years and then CIO at Express Scripts for one year. He then moved again, this time into the public sector, to serve as CIO and Secretary of Innovation and Technology for the State of Illinois, a position he held from early 2019 to September 2020.
The role, he explains, opened up new opportunities for him not only professionally but also personally, as the work allowed him to impact a larger community. He modernized legacy IT systems and led the shift to remote work for nearly 50,000 employees at the start of the Covid pandemic. He also led efforts to secure a $420 million federal grant to upgrade and expand Illinois’ broadband network and worked on an initiative for Improving resources for STEM education.
Looking ahead, Guerrier also worked with the state Department of Education to update the curriculum within the state higher education system so students are trained in the data, cyber and technical skills that CIOs need on their teams.
And he held the state of Illinois for the first time ever Supplier Technology Diversity Day to ensure that the contractors, suppliers and vendors who have worked with the IT department better reflect the diversity of the state it serves.
Leading for diversity in IT
Guerrier, who has a master’s degree in operations management and supervision from North Park University, has used his positions to draw attention to the lack of diversity in IT, and particularly the disproportionately small number of black people in the profession.
He says he was once one of only two black CIOs working at Fortune 100 companies and was mistaken for hotel staff and valet at CIO conferences, including those where he was the keynote speaker. He also had people calling security on him. “People would just assume that as the only black person in the room, I must be in the wrong place,” he says.
In response, he referred to his mother’s advice to “use everything as a learning opportunity.”
“I would say, ‘I’m not the valet. I’m a CIO like you and I’m the keynote speaker. I hope you enjoy it.’”
Guerrier says such interactions lead to new friendships, but not always.
He adds, “I’ve always been someone who said, ‘Learn more about this.’ I’ve always tried to use it as an opportunity for open dialogue. Every time I’ve had an opportunity with an organization, I’ve jumped at the chance to make a difference. That’s one of the reasons I took the job at Illinois State.”
Such interactions also led Guerrier to see the need for further action.
“As I progressed in each of the roles, I really realized that we need to do better at bringing black talent into tech and that shaped me [the belief] that we need to better diversify the makeup of the people in the room – not just black people, but women and Latinx and others.”
Take his mission to HP
Guerrier brought this mindset to his current role as Global CIO at HP, a position he assumed in September 2020. Guerrier, who is married with two children in college, now works outside of his hometown of Chicago, while HP continues its hybrid work environment.
He says he was interested in the company in part because of its existing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) activities, including the summer of 2020 launch of its Racial Equality and Social Justice Task Force, its partnerships with historically black colleges and universities ( HBCUs) and the May 2020 Comments published by President and CEO Enrique Lores under the title Leading with our values after the murder of George Floyd.
Guerrier says he feels he can help the company make an even bigger impact on DEI. “One of the biggest things that drew me to HP was the ability to have a dialogue, to do the right thing and to be a multiplier because [attention to these issues] been here at HP before,” he explains. “I didn’t have to come in and be like, ‘Are we thinking about our sustainability? gender issues? diversity?’”
Guerrier addressed these issues from the start, assembling a team of direct reports that was made up of equal numbers of men and women.
He has set a goal of achieving gender parity among managers in the IT organization by 2030, and he has also set a goal for the US IT team’s ethnic representation to match the country’s diverse composition by 2030. Guerrier has also brought new black-owned IT suppliers to HP as part of the company’s goal of creating more diversity among the suppliers that support the business. These efforts are in addition to the more traditional CIO responsibilities he has of leading the IT department and driving digitization at HP.
They are also in addition to his outside activities, which include his roles as an advisory board member on IDC’s CIO Executive Council and as a member of the Forbes Technology Council, as well as his position on the Board of Directors at Equinix.
In addition, Guerrier works with a number of nonprofit organizations, including Junior Achievement and Habitat for Humanity, as well as Homeboy Industries, a rehabilitation and reintegration program for ex-gang members, and the disaster relief organization SBP.
He is a founding advisory board member of the STEM Advantage program, which serves underserved populations interested in STEM through scholarships, mentoring, and internships.
Guerrier says he knows the importance and value of giving back, having benefited from mentors in his own career and witnessing the impact of helping others move forward. He revisits his own family, who took in newly arrived Haitians as they settled in the Midwest, and the lessons he learned from that experience.
“I’ve seen firsthand,” he says, “that it’s my duty to help others.”
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