Wallick Communities Says IT Leaders Must Learn More About Tech, Build Relationships in the Business and Learn to Effectively Communicate in Order to Succeed - comSpark Podcast

Paul Koehler - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree

Paul Koehler

Previously CIO and SVP of Marketing and Technology - Since the time of this interview, Mr. Koehler has been Promoted to Chief Administrative Officer. Congrats!

Wallick Communities



Christine Zmich

Director of Business Development and Technology Consulting - Great Lakes Region



To listen to the podcast, click here!


(Previous) CIO and SVP of Marketing and Technology of Wallick Communities, Paul Koehler, discusses the need for IT leaders to learn more about tech, build relationships in their business, and learn to effectively communicate in order to succeed.


Hello, and welcome to the ComSpark podcast, where you will get to meet today's technology thought leaders. To learn more, visit comspark.tech.


CZ: Today we're here with Paul Koehler, who's the CIO and Senior VP of Technology and Marketing at Wallick Communities, which is an organization based here in Columbus with 900 employees. My name is Christine Zmitch and I'm with RSM and I'll be your guest moderator today. So, let's get started. So, Paul, under the leadership category, what is the best attribute you bring to your organization?


PK: Thank you, Christine. I would say my best attribute is developing people. I really enjoy that aspect of my job.  Probably what I look forward to the most is working with individuals and identifying their strengths and determining and helping them find a position which will make them be excellent at what they do. You know, people really enjoy being good at something and they excel when they're happy. The whole organization benefits and then the organization gets the benefit of having someone who's really, really excellent at what they do. So, I would say one of the things that I really enjoy the most about my job is working with the individuals on the team, on developing their development plans and finding that spot on the team that works best for them.


CZ: I couldn't agree more. It's kind of strength finders.


PK: Yeah, exactly. People's strengths and letting them leverage their strengths. And it really works. It really works. And it really benefits all involved.


CZ: I agree. So, along the same category, what do aspiring IT leaders need to do to prepare themselves for the next step?


PK: Well, I would say three things are really critical for aspiring it leaders to become a CIO or a head of an IT department. One is kind of the basically learning everything about IT. So, if you've been a developer all your life or your, and you've gotten to the ranks of a development manager, go find that next management role that gets you into another position. So, you know, a telecom manager role opens up, maybe you take that. Learn everything you can about IT and about the different components and the different types of people on those teams.

And the second thing I would do is get to know the business side of things and develop relationships within the business. You know, make friends and build relationships in other areas of your business. Really get to know what they do and what they do to make the organization successful and kind of get to talk their language. Learn what it means to be a part of this organization when you're not within the IT department.

And then the third thing I would say, and I tell this a lot to interns and students and people who are kind of growing up in the IT industry, is become a really, really good communicator. Learn how to present, learn how to write reports, learn how to get your point across and sell the value of what it is you're doing. Because when you get into an executive level position, that's what people want to hear. They want to hear how this is benefiting the business, what it means to our business and to our associates. And I think becoming a great communicator is critical to that.


CZ:  I concur 100 percent. It's really critical. I love the idea of learning the business side as well as even cross training within your own technology profession.


PK: Yeah. I would say if you learn all functions of technology, learn the business and really become a great communicator and a presenter of what it is you're doing, you're going to be successful.


CZ: Wonderful. So, from a community perspective, what is the best part of working in Central Ohio, since you're a native of Columbus? And what are the biggest challenges of working in Central Ohio?


PK: Oh, boy. I could go on for hours about this topic, because I just love Columbus, Ohio. I was born and raised here. I met my wife here. My wife was born and raised here. I've got family here. So, personally I love it and my roots are here. On a business level, I love the culture in Columbus, Ohio. It is an amazing mix of kind of your typical midwestern friendliness along with a very competitive and industrious and frankly a hardworking and innovative kind of attitude where people get a lot of work done. We’re nice to each other, but we work at a great pace and there's a great sense of community here, especially in the technology industry and I have many, many peers and I feel like I have a great network of people that I can reach out to and talk to and that's really important when you become a leader of an IT organization. Because when you're the leader, you don't have a lot of peers you can talk to. So, having that network in Columbus, Ohio has been fantastic.

I think the only downside that I've seen are, the one that I see often impacts us is the availability of talent. And it's not uncommon in big cities to find, to have difficulty finding great talent in the IT industry. And we see it here in Columbus. I mean, we have tons of IT opportunities in Columbus and it makes it difficult to staff those positions, but thankfully at Wallick, we have a very great team and they're engaged and like many others in Columbus, Ohio. We're driving a lot of innovative projects that are keeping our associates engaged and they see a long term career with Wallick.


CZ: Wonderful. I'm going to go off script, if that’s okay.


PK: Certainly. Yeah.


CZ:  It's unusual, but it is part of, I think, the future to have both marketing and technology under your areas of responsibility. Tell us about how you got that position and what is the most challenging or rewarding part of that role?


PK: Yeah, absolutely. So, I started with Wallick in 2014 and when I started we had a really bad technology problem, but I would also more highlight the service problem. We were not delivering good service to our associates and providing good service. So, we had to lay down a foundation of customer service, good business process, innovative business processes, etc. And so, and we did that. Great team. I'm very proud to say we turned around the technology of Wallick. We went from being a very, almost a “put a fire out every day” or “put lots of fires out every day,” reactive to being proactive and innovative in deriving business value through technology. The state of our marketing department about a year and a half ago or two years ago was in the same position. So, my boss, our CEO, approached me and asked me if I would take on this team and try to turn them around to provide better service, better business processes, and really drive business growth through marketing, which is really a core part of that. Right? So, but along the way, it's very, very plain to see nowadays that about 75 percent of marketing is technology and how customers interact with organizations. It's all through technology, all through the web, social media. That customer experience is becoming more and more technology based, if not almost all technology based.

So, the overlap with our IT development teams and with our data teams is so significant. There's a lot of synergies there and, that has been wonderful. I mean, we have aligned so well, that part fits great. The challenge has been going into, uh, function in terms of the creative side and the working with creative experts. That has been a challenge, you know, for someone in the IT industry and have more of almost a very, more introverted, logical approach for the creative approach. So, that's why we hire great creative people right in and we trust them and they build great brands and great designs for us. So, it's been fantastic. I love it and I'm hoping that this journey continues and then, if possible, even expands


CZ: Yeah. I mean, Gardner had said that the Chief Marketing Officer was going to have more of the spend of the IT at Wallick. So, you've already made that transition, so kudos to you.


PK: Yeah. Thank you so much. It's been a wonderful experience.


CZ: How have you seen your role change as the CIO?


PK: So, it has been a really neat journey. Like I said, we started at a very reactive mode, building business process and improving our customer service.  And then we've added the marketing component along the way. But what I've seen, I think that is most striking to me is when you turn that corner from reactive to proactive and business enabler, what starts to happen is that the business starts to look to you for advice. And how do we automate business process and drive standards through automation? That has been a great experience and I've really enjoyed. It's almost a consultative role or a consolidated for all from just kind of executing on projects and providing service to really becoming a part, a seat at the table and helping this company grow and be ready for the future.


CZ: Well, that's fantastic. I'm going to have to share my job title. It's fairy godmother. You're going to be fairy godfather. They come to you with their problems and fix it. So. Well, thank you so much for your time today. Again, this is Christine's Zmitch, and I'm here with Paul Koehler and to learn more about us, visit comSpark.tech. Goodbye, until next time.


To learn more about sponsorship opportunities for 2019, contact Michelle Ziegler at michelle.ziegler@venuemag.net