2016 CTO of the Year: John Wolff

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wolff-5-15col.jpg (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Monarch Beverage Co.
Director of Technology

Major company achievements during tenure: “If it lights up, blinks, or has a cord, we’ve changed it,” said Wolff, who implemented a new order-fulfillment system and accounting, network infrastructure, warehouse automation, fleet GPS, and HR software at the beverage distribution company. “We’re an industry that values service,” he said. “Our job is to provide technology that gives a little more time and a little more information so that we can provide better service.” The company recently turned its focus to its sales organization to ensure it has the right tools in the field. “This project has forced us to update many of our existing tools to work in a mobile environment. We continuously ask ourselves, ‘How do we get the right information to the right people in a timely manner in a format that is easy to digest?’”

Tech problem solved: One major problem historically for the beverage industry has been shrinkage—product mysteriously vanishing en route to its destination. “Inventory doesn’t disappear anymore,” Wolff said. “Technology has taken away that problem. We know what went on the truck and what comes off of the truck. Occasionally, we drop things and break them, but the problem of theft has gone away.”

Challenge faced or achievement that only tech people would understand: “There are many advantages to cloud technologies, but it’s also easy to get caught up in the hype,” Wolff said. “Because we have several client-server-based applications, the correct solution for us was a hybrid strategy. We still operate a data center with a remote backup facility; however, we have pushed some key functionality to the cloud. This strategy keeps the on-premise applications functioning and allows us to take advantage of the many benefits of cloud computing.”

wolff-factbox.gifFirst computer: “My mother received a Commodore Plus/4 as a door prize.” After hooking it up, Wolff taught himself how to make a looping program that would change the color of the screen and frame. “The screen flashed through the colors so quickly it would make you nauseous in seconds … but I loved it.”

Education: bachelor’s in industrial distribution from Purdue University

The road to here: After graduating, Wolff found work with a consulting group focused on using technology to improve supply chain processes. Six months later, his division was spun off into a startup software company; one year after that, it was purchased by its largest competitor. “Consequently, in the first two years of my career, I had the same job with three different companies—a great lesson on being flexible.” Monarch called in 2005. “As a technologist, I assumed Monarch would be one of my many career stops. Eleven years later, it still offers tremendous challenges and growth opportunities.”

Mentor/inspiration: His parents. “My father worked his way up through corporate America and my mother is a small-business entrepreneur. The common themes between their vastly different career paths are hard work and integrity.”

Go-to websites: “Google is every IT guy’s best friend” and Reddit “is a delightful collection of relevant information and complete time wasters.”

Favorite gadget: “That’s like picking a favorite child. I love them all,” he said. “I recently upgraded my GPS running watch, so that’s been my latest bundle of joy.”

My job would be easier if … “I could see into the future.” Elaborating, he said, “I made decisions five years ago with the information I had at the time. Hindsight being 20/20, I wouldn’t have made those same decisions today. That’s true in all business areas, but maybe more so in technology where the rate of change is so fast.” The important lesson: “You can’t be right all the time, but you can always be improving.”•


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