Meet John Carrow, Unisys CIO

Justin Runquist

Risks have a knack for stopping people — and progress — dead in their tracks.

For John Carrow, however, risks have always represented opportunity. His experiences and accomplishments are testaments to this.

Carrow has traveled far on courage and openness to take risks. As a young man growing up on a modest farm in Missouri, he accepted the challenge of enrolling in the Military Academy at West Point, which eventually provided him with invaluable lessons. He implemented new concepts at General Electric and in the process helped create many technologies that are commonplace in homes and businesses today. And as the first-ever chief information officer in the history of Philadelphia, Carrow found ways to use technology to virtually transform an entire city.

Today, Carrow serves as the chief information officer and vice president of information technology at Unisys Corporation. As CIO, he has worldwide responsibility for the firm’s information technology across the 39,000 employees operating in 119 countries. Carrow directs an IT organization of over 1,000 people and manages an IT budget of about $200 million annually. He is also responsible for setting Unisys’s strategic direction for IT and its customers.

The responsibilities of Carrow’s position are almost intimidating. Yet, not only has he seized opportunities at Unisys, he has helped transformed Unisys.

“I see risks and I think of opportunities,” Carrow said. “It’s important to create those opportunities for yourself. Positive outcomes almost always come out of them.”

Carrow has taken the challenge of technology over his professional career and found a way to make a positive difference. This has been evident from West Point all the way up to his current position at Unisys.

“I have always found technology to be tremendously exciting,” he said. “I love the constant changing nature of it. Technology has a significant impact on lives, at both the professional and personal levels.”

Computer technology was only a new phenomenon when he attended the University of Illinois in 1973 for his master’s degree.

“At that time, computers were just a mix between math and engineering,” Carrow said. “I was interested in it though and I’m glad I stuck with it. That area of study has allowed me to do many things.”

Carrow’s first taste of technology in the professional realm came at General Electric, where he went on to work 16 years. At GE, Carrow played an integral part in building large-scale information systems during the 1980s. They were systems that were used by government intelligence, NASA and the department of defense.

“While completing those projects, we actually found ourselves inventing new technologies,” Carrow said. “Early versions of computer search engines, image processing technologies for digital cameras… these were all being invented during this time. And it was so exciting.”

Later in his career, Carrow found new ways to influence technology and its consumers. When he was appointed Philadelphia’s CIO in 1993, the new challenge was not to invent products, but to transform a city.

“When I first arrived, the city was nearly bankrupt,” he said. “Everything was very manual. Out of almost 25,000 employees working in the city, less than 1,000 of them used computers.”

Along with then-Mayor Ed Rendell and other city officials, Carrow urged business owners to include computer technology in day-to-day operations. He showed Philadelphians how computers could improve their processes, make them more efficient and save them more money. When he left his position with the government three years later, the number of workers using computers grew from 1,000 to 15,000.

“I am very proud of that experience,” Carrow said. “That was a time when the role of CIO was still very new. But our IT team was able to accomplish a lot in that period.”

As Carrow works from the Unisys headquarters in Blue Bell, P.A. today, the role of CIO is much more established in government and corporate America. He believes his role is key in using and managing technology.

“The goal of our department is to have Unisys operate the same in the U.S. as it operates in Australia or Europe,” he said. “About every one of the company’s 37,000 employees uses a computer, and that ultimately makes our country much more efficient.”

Creating these opportunities is what inspires Carrow day in and day out.