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Is Rayovac IT Nirvana? An exclusive interview with Rick Dempsey, VP of IT

I have been to IT Nirvana, and I like it.

OK, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but after talking with Rick Dempsey, the VP of IT at Rayovac, it sounds like a good place to be an IT practitioner. Rayovac IT isn’t fighting for respect. They get invited to the table when it’s time to deal with strategic acquisitions.

Dempsey
They aren’t nearly deaf from the constant ringing of alarm bells. They understand business priorities, and their business partners understand business priorities as well. Rayovac IT isn’t constantly fighting outsourcings or off-shoring. They don’t have a huge IT shop, but what they do have is closely tied to the core business processes, and their leadership supports that.

Like a good lunch, Nirvana doesn’t come free. The primary cost of all this IT serenity is discipline. Discipline in the IT shop and discipline in Rayovac’s business methods. Several years ago, Rayovac IT was a collection of internal and out-sourced services and platforms that weren’t meeting the business needs. David Jones, Rayovac’s CEO, decided a more standardized approach was required and identified SAP and a robust network infrastructure as the core elements.

With that direction set from the business side, Rick began bringing infrastructure and application development in-house and devising methodologies and organizational structures that keep IT closely linked to Rayovac business needs.
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In talking with Rick you’ll notice you don’t hear a lot of talk about the latest whiz-bang technology or this programming language or that piece of hardware. You will hear a lot about business process improvement and process facilitators.

Those are his IT managers, only one of whom comes from an IT background. The rest all came over from various Rayovac functional areas, and they maintain those ties to the benefit of the IT shop and business functions. That focus is complemented on the business side with a commitment to use existing IT investments such as SAP and the associated infrastructure to address business needs.

You may think of Rayovac as a battery company, but in fact they’re growing into a global consumer products company, with the acquisition of Remington Products as one example. As those acquisitions occurred there wasn’t any question about integration of back-office business processes. Those were all transferred to Rayovac’s existing SAP foundation, not because Rick Dempsey said so, but because David Jones said so.

That discipline allows Rayovac to make effective use of vendor partnerships with SAP, EMC and others to address new business needs as they arise. It also allows them to maintain a relatively small IT presence. Around 100 IT staff support the entire company. While Rick brings on contract help for development, the operations and evolution of IT at Rayovac are handled by the core staff. Another benefit is greater consistency in how the IT methodologies get applied. When new capabilities are required, Rick said, “We think of the methodology and existing investments first before we consider personal viewpoints of technology options.”

All that discipline doesn’t mean Rick and his staff aren’t looking at new things. Those explorations just occur in the context of being responsive to the business. RFID is on Rick’s radar right now, not because it’s a hot new technology, but because one of Rayovac’s major customers is interested in it.

In that same vein, Rick’s challenges arise from his close connections to the business. Recently when Rayovac set more aggressive productivity targets that meant doing more without hiring more folks in IT. They responded by switching to fully automated operations in their data center.

When speaking of challenges, Rick also mentions attracting talent from outside the region. Rick came from the South so he’s got a certain empathy for reactions to Wisconsin’s winters, for example. Growing talent internally and keeping those folks happy is one response.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that Rick got into technology as a way of getting into business. His training is in business, though he’s come up through technology at Monsanto and other companies and learned the cost of living on the “dark side” of IT with no methodologies. That same disciplined approach comes out when you ask what Rick might be doing if he weren’t in technology. He muses about working with his hands as a craftsman in wood, an unforgiving medium.

Bringing that craftsmen’s perspective to all the chatter about constant change and rising complexity in technology is an interesting response. Rick Dempsey leads Rayovac through the shifting technology maze based on a craftsman’s familiarity with what his tools can do. With that approach, Rayovac can count on a good fit and finish for each of its technology investments.

Q&A with Rick Dempsey


What’s the latest book you’ve read?
"Does IT Matter” by Nicholas Carr

What magazines do you read regularly?
Wall Street Journal, CIO, Computerworld

What’s your favorite quote on leadership?
“Leaders are grown, not made” – Peter Drucker

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Making mobile home furniture during Carolina summers.

Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC of Madison Wis. Prairie Star specializes in managing the organizational impacts of technology. He can be contacted via e-mail at byron.glick@prairiestarconsulting.com or via telephone at 608/345-3958.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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