Brian Abeyta is someone to watch.
At least, that’s what his boss and CIO magazine believe.
Several months ago, his boss, Aflac Chief Information Officer Gerald Shields, nominated him for CIO magazine’s Ones to Watch award. CIO magazine, a trade publication for senior IT executives, presents the awards annually to rising stars in IT — senior staff who are likely to become chief information officers in the future.
Abeyta, vice president of Aflac’s IT project management office, recently learned he was among the 25 professionals from across the U.S. chosen for the honor. He received the award at a CIO conference this month.
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Abeyta gained a good amount of experience working with technology in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for eight years. He joined Aflac in 2001 and has been able to climb the corporate ladder in various IT positions since then.
Abeyta sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer to talk about what he does, how his Air Force experience helps him today and how he feels about climbing the corporate ladder at Aflac.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you feel about winning the award?
It was flattering to be nominated by my boss for the award. CIO magazine selected 25 people across the country. I was able to attend the conference in Colorado, where I was surrounded by existing chief information officers and other honorees. It was humbling to be with that many sharp people.
Tell me about what you do.
I manage the development and deployment of new technologies for Aflac — new products, call center applications, web applications. Any new technology we’re developing gets initiated in this office, then deployed and implemented.
So is it technology that employees use, or that customers can use?
It’s both. It’s for internal customers and headquarters staff, our 70,000 associates in the field and policyholders.
What are some interesting projects you’ve worked on?
Whenever Aflac is deploying a new insurance product, the marketing department has the idea of what we want to sell in the market. That gets turned over to our group to develop the rates, tables, benefit codes and so forth. Those typically are some of our most visible products, since they’re revenue-generating.
Of course, we do projects for our internal customers, like the call center. For the past couple years, we’ve had some significant work done within our call centers to provide service representatives with more interactive user interfaces. It’s a one-stop shop for interacting with their customers, available on one screen.
We’re currently doing a project on our commission systems. At any given time, we have about 50 large-scale active projects.
What’s the connection between the Air Force and what you do today with technology?
The Air Force gave me tremendous training — while I was at the Academy and while I was on active duty — to learn about mainframe hardware infrastructure-type technology, satellite communications, software development. Those were all the technologies I learned while I was in the Air Force via training or on-the-job work. I spent eight years with some hands-on technical training — both at a field level and headquarters level. What I learned there was directly applicable to the civilian world. My learning curve, leaving the Air Force... it was a very quick, easy transition.
A lot of what I learned there was also about the discipline and structure the government insisted upon. Some of that has helped me develop here. Some of the tenets and qualities the Air Force taught me have certainly carried over to the civilian section.
What’s your favorite part of the job? Least favorite?
My favorite part of the job, by far, is watching the other people I work with develop, succeed and grow. That is the most rewarding part — when I see someone who’s worked really hard to improve, succeed on a project or grow in a direction and finally see the fruits of their efforts.
The part I like the least is when somebody hasn’t been able to perform and you have to look at ways to correct or discipline. Some of the more difficult personnel decisions are the least rewarding parts of the job... For the sake of the organization and sometimes the sake of the employee, you have to do that. In doing so, one thing I always insist upon with my staff and myself — whether they’re doing well or not doing well — is you always want to uphold that person’s dignity.
You’ve been able to climb the ladder at Aflac over the past nine years. Has it surprised you how you’ve been able to move up so quickly?
What’s surprised me is how quickly nine years goes by. Being in the Air Force, I was used to moving every few years. Being here nine years, it’s been a big surprise. As far as how my career has gone, certainly it’s surprised me that I was able to reach an executive level at a Fortune 150 company. It was a goal of mine, so I don’t want to say that surprised me, because it was a goal of mine to succeed in corporate America. I look around and see very talented people who are my peers and I’m flattered to work with such quality individuals here at Aflac.