Unlike most technologists, Ron DePoalo literally grew up on Wall Street. His father, who was the head of technology for Salomon Brothers, used to bring Ron to his office on Wall Street when Ron was a young boy, fostering a life-long love of the financial industry in his son.
Today, after two decades at Merrill Lynch and four years at Fidelity, DePoalo has risen through the ranks to his current position of CIO of Fidelity Institutional, where he leads 2,500 technologists across departments ranging from institutional wealth management services to the capital markets group -- which is made up of fixed income, prime brokerage and equity divisions -- as well as a family office group serving ultrahigh-net-worth individuals. "My father did a lot of influencing and mentoring of me," he says. "Not just as a dad, but also as a professional, an IT professional and a senior executive."
But DePoalo's management style was shaped by what he describes as one of his most formative professional experiences, a stint in London in the late 1990s as director for international equity financing and sales and finance technology for Merrill Lynch. "I was relatively senior, but not a CIO," he recalls. "It was the time of European wealth expansion and conversion to the euro. It opened my eyes to how work is done in Europe."
As he learned how European markets worked and explored the various cultures -- work and life -- in countries like Ireland and Spain, DePoalo says, he became more open-minded and positioned himself to take on his first global job in a worldwide company. "I knew what it was like to work six hours away from the East Coast, when they expect you to be available at 5 a.m. their time," remembers DePoalo, who notes that during his time in London he also was adjusting to life with a young family.
According to DePoalo, he was particularly intrigued by the different work methodologies that are used in Europe and the U.S. and by the ability of Europeans to think beyond their own countries' borders. "In Europe, there is a spirit of deep analysis -- people have the ability to think beyond the complexities of working in European markets," he says, pointing out that Europe still had multiple currencies and markets "that weren't harmonized or as mature as U.S markets" while he was working in London.
Building His Own Legacy
Firmwide, Fidelityhas a global IT budget of $2.5 billion, and today, as CIO of Fidelity Institutional DePoalo says, he is highly focused on business alignment -- that is, using information technology to achieve business objectives -- while also taking advantage of the company's scale and efficiency. In support of that goal, Fidelity's technology philosophy is to build versus buy, he reports.
"We may buy software that we would use 100 percent that may be commoditized and integrated into our environment," DePoalo acknowledges. But, "We build proprietary software ourselves. And we tend to use some consultant help to scale up or down. But we take full ownership of projects."
Throughout his more than 25-year career, DePoalo relates, he has experienced a full range of build-buy-consulting combinations, and building often is the most beneficial. "When you're dealing with complexities around software building, it gives you the capability to be nimble, change products, add some," he insists. "It tends to be a good strategy when you have the resources to do it."
DePoalo also is resolutely focused on customer alignment. Fidelity measures the success of its IT projects, he explains, in terms of its clients. "Many of our technologies are consumed by our clients," he says. "We use their satisfaction as an indicator. They are very involved in our work."
According to DePoalo, Fidelity operates its systems with an eye on the future, looking out 18 to 24 months to determine how the firm's platforms need to evolve to continue meeting client needs. "We get direct input from clients through client steering groups, and we also work with CIO councils from the companies we're servicing," he notes. "We measure their overall success."
Fidelity's success metrics also look at a project's budget, whether it came in on time and the overall quality of software, DePoalo says. And the company places an emphasis on quality assurance and user testing, he adds.