CoorsTek’s Matt Mehlbrech on rebuilding IT’s credibility
When Matt Mehlbreck joined CoorsTek in 2017 as VP of IT, he inherited an IT department that had fallen out of alignment with the business. Here’s how he reestablished those relationships.

Matt Mehlbrech is VP of IT for CoorsTek, Inc., where he leads the global IT organization. Headquartered in Golden, Colorado, CoorsTek is a privately held, family-owned global supplier of engineered ceramics and advanced materials to customers across industries from semiconductor manufacturing and energy and defense to medical devices, agriculture, and household goods. It employs more than 5,000 people worldwide, with an estimated revenue of more than $1 billion.

Mehlbrech’s team of about 100 technologists manage the IT resources, systems, and processes—everything from ERP and manufacturing-related systems to infrastructure and information security.

CoorsTek IT earned CIO 100 innovation awards in 2021 and 2022 for their use of advanced analytics in IoT and machine learning to connect production machinery at the company’s 25 manufacturing sites around the world and for a “model plant” integrated systems strategy.

Mehlbreck joined CIO’s Maryfran Johnson on a recent episode of CIO Leadership Live to discuss those award-winning projects, how Mehlbreck has rebuilt IT’s credibility with the business, and how he retains top talent. What follows are edited excerpts of that conversation. For more of Mehlbreck’s insights, watch the full interview embedded below.

On executing a turnaround:

[When] I walked in [in 2017], we had a lot of really good talent within the organization, but we really were not as aligned to the business as we needed to be. Frankly, we had kind of been disinvited from a lot of the tables because we just struggled with that engagement, and we needed to rebuild some credibility.

At the time, we were bringing in a lot of mid-career individuals, people who were experienced. They hit the ground running because we just had a lot of work to do. Now, we have started to shift a little bit more toward developing talent and trying to continue to pivot to where the business needs us.

On strategies for retaining IT talent:

We really put an emphasis on how do we give people challenging assignments? Give them things that are fun to work on and move the needle for the company. And so we strategize every year and pivot as the business pivots. We are constantly looking for how do we put people into new roles—to stretch them, to grow them.

The other thing is really trying to be purposeful and transparent and overly communicative at times. We have all-hands meetings where we share what is going on with the business. And we talk about different strategies and challenges that we are all facing. And we also like to celebrate the wins … there are lots of wins that are happening all the time. And I think it’s important that people see that and recognize that.

On building credibility:

[When I joined CoorsTek, it was clear that] we needed to do a little bit more business relationship management. We did a lot more listening and understanding what the business is looking for.

The world runs on IT, and we need to be experts—as much as we can—in other people’s functions and figure out how to support them and be a strategic advisor. And so it was really about putting people in place and alignment with our commercial teams, our operations teams, HR, finance. Really embedding people as much as we can.

The other piece was we needed to learn how to deliver more effectively. And we are far from perfect, but we have gotten much, much better at, I’ll call it, basic ITIL type of processes, just basic rigor to manage the workload.

On getting insights from machine data:

Our project to connect machines started off a couple years ago as a small pilot. And what it is about is trying to provide real-time data about what is going on in our machines, so that our operators and our shift supervisors and our plant managers can see really what is going on.

That project has created a bit of a flywheel pull effect where everybody is asking us to connect more and more and more machines. And now we have got north of 600 machines connected around the world.

It is also part of a broader strategy that we have had around what we call a model plant. And it is how we modernize our shop floors to make our operators more efficient and make our plant managers and supervisors more capable of making the decisions.

On being data stewards:

As part of our data analytics strategy, we are very purposeful in including what we call collaborative BI or collaborative analytics. And what that means is I do not want every request for a report change or data to unnecessarily come through the IT function.

There are a lot of brilliant people that sit in our different functions, and it is important that we help them be successful and take advantage of some of the capabilities they have. And so many of them are just looking for data. And we can be the stewards of getting them qualified data sets.

This article originally appeared in CIO’s Center Stage newsletter. Sign up today!

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