Sally Ericksen: IT applications strategy at Wyndham Worldwide
In the classroom or at a conference table overseas, this IT leader has succeeded in helping male counterparts understand the insights a woman brings to the mix
'I’m a Jersey girl,” says Sally Ericksen with pride. “One of six children, three brothers and three sisters. Our parents always stressed the value of education and we all knew we were going to college. They guided us to do something we would be passionate about.”
Today, Ericksen is group vice president of business solutions at hospitality company Wyndham Worldwide (Parsippany, NJ). She manages business applications for a variety of functions across the enterprise. She also assesses the need for new application solutions and standardizes implementation.
“I lead, manage and set the technology strategy for global corporate applications,” explains Ericksen. “Any enterprise applications used by our business units come under corporate so we have an enterprise-wide support system. For instance, we support all the financial systems that we use day-to-day, and those we use to budget and plan. Any HR needs, from payroll to recruiting to retirement systems, are also included.
“We let the business units focus more on customer-facing things while we take care of the applications that are the enablers for those activities,” she sums up.
Ericksen has five direct reports who handle daily business applications, analytics and reporting, collaboration, quality assurance, and applications architecture. “We’re constantly collaborating with the businesses’ functional executives or folks on the ground to help solve their problems and be successful,” she says.
“Our team is made up of about fifty associates. We also use third-party consultants because some work is seasonal. We manage a lot of major upgrades, some already completed and others still underway.”
IT was not the original plan
Ericksen did not start out wanting to lead corporate technology initiatives. “I wanted to be a nurse,” she says. “But one of my high school professors pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, Sal, you really should go into computer science. You love it.’ I was the only female in those classes so it didn’t really come to life for me right away. But he saw that I had a passion for using technology to solve problems and be more efficient, and I liked to work with other people in a team to get things done.”
She attended Bloomsburg University (Bloomsburg, PA) where she earned a BS in computer science in 1984. “My older brother went to Bloomsburg and I fell in love with the school. They had a strong CS program and I knew that was where I wanted to go,” Ericksen says.
“I minored in management so I would have a balance with technology. I wasn’t someone who wanted just to be technical, sitting by myself and writing code all day. I like interacting with people.”
Her first job after graduating was at Shaw Data, a small market data company in Wayne, NJ. “I did just about everything. I worked with the CEO, developed software, and was accountable for delivery. I liked that. I figured the experience would help me hone my skills.”
Two years later, in 1986, she was recruited to AT&T (Basking Ridge, NJ) as a business analyst, moving up through positions of increasing responsibility before becoming an IT division manager. “The eighties and nineties were a transformational time to be in technology, regardless of whether you were a man or a woman,” Ericksen believes.
Changing male mindsets across cultures
“Being at AT&T was good timing for me in my career. I got to travel globally in support of a joint venture called World Partners. I negotiated the financial interfaces.
“At that time, a lot of cultures didn’t understand why there would be a woman at the table for a technical meeting. At first, no one would talk to me directly,” she recalls. “But after I moved on, I got calls saying that I helped them understand how important it is to have some diversity of thought. I was able to show them that women could provide different insights and participate and engage as well. I watched them make the transition to having a woman on the team.
“That experience prepared me to support global initiatives and work for a global company like Wyndham.”
In 2000, Ericksen was recruited by an ex-AT&T executive to Comcast Business Communications (Philadelphia, PA). “He was heading up a new company to deliver business services to companies over broadband. It was made up of four companies that Comcast had purchased and wanted to merge into one. He needed a head of IT to consolidate these systems and set the game plan.”
In 2002, family considerations drew Ericksen back to northern New Jersey and she joined market data company Moneyline Telerate (New York, NY) as global IT director to launch its international presence for its financial applications.
Two years later, she was contacted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE, Piscataway, NJ) to be its CIO. IEEE is a worldwide membership organization for electrical engineers. “They needed a major overhaul of their systems,” Ericksen remembers. “They were outgrowing all the applications they had, including some legacy systems that hadn’t been upgraded in ten years. Also, the issue of security was becoming more important.”
In 2009, she moved to Medco Health Solutions (Franklin Lakes, NJ) as director of IT strategy and enterprise architecture practice. “We were asked to lay out the enterprise technology vision and its core architecture design principles.”
Ericksen joined Wyndham in 2011, stepping directly into her current role. “The CIO had been there for a year and he had already made some changes. I had followed Wyndham over the years and when the recruiter called, I said, ‘Wow! This is exactly what I would love to do, at a company I would love to work for.’
“One of the things that really attracted me was the talent of the management and the focus of the ‘count on me’ culture. ‘Count on me’ is all about doing our job and doing it right and, at the same time, being respectful, transparent and honest.”
A future with Wyndham
At Wyndham, Ericksen is a member of Women On Their Way, a program that includes mentoring circles, workshops on topics surrounding health, family life, and work/life balance, career development classes, seminars and networking events.
Outside, she is a member of the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW, Garden City, NY).
“I’m extremely happy in what I’m doing, and I see many opportunities within Wyndham,” she says, “not only to expand the applications my team supports, but to broaden my own responsibilities over time.”
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