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Hospira's Cathy Skala creates IT infrastructure

"I understand the business processes and break things down logically," she says. "Then I let the technical experts focus in on the technical solutions."


Hospira's Cathy Skala: her job was created along with the new company.

Hospira's Cathy Skala: her job was created along with the new company.

Cathy Skala is director of corporate systems IT at Hospira (Lake Forest, IL), a spin-off of the hospital product business of Abbott Laboratories (Abbott Park, IL). She leads the teams that are working to create the new company's corporate IT infrastructure.

"One of my strengths is really understanding the business processes and breaking things down logically," she says. "Then I let the technical experts focus in on the technical solutions."

Skala started out doing interior design for companies and commercial buildings. There was a lot of computer work involved in her job, and "I decided I could do better logically than I could creatively," she says.

Medication delivery
Hospira is a specialty pharmaceutical and medication delivery company. Created last April, it develops, manufactures and markets medication delivery systems, injectable pharmaceuticals, critical-care devices and custom manufacturing services.

Sales of about $2.6 billion in 2004 make it one of the largest manufacturers of hospital products in the U.S. The company has fourteen manufacturing plants, five distribution centers and 13,000 employees worldwide.

Supporting business
Skala's job was created along with the new company. As director of corporate systems IT, she's one of seven people reporting directly to CIO Mike Carlin, who was also her boss and mentor at Abbott.

Corporate systems supports all the company's business functions, including finance, treasury, tax, purchasing, legal, ethical compliance and much more. A team of about fifty people, including three managers, reports directly to Skala.

Aggressive timelines
The new Hospira brought along many legacy systems from Abbott. Some are being integrated into the new infrastructure, and some are not needed and are being phased out.

From the start, company execs knew they wanted to implement SAP rather than duplicate the mainframe environment they had inherited. For regulatory reasons, the separation process must be completed within two years.

"Anybody who knows about rolling out SAP knows that's an extremely aggressive timeline," Skala says. "It has given us a very strong common purpose and single objective that helps keep everyone on target."

Managing the move
Managing the transition to an independent company was challenging for Skala, especially since she didn't even know for sure that she would be part of the move. The initial announcement was made in August 2003, but Skala and many other career employees didn't learn if they would stay or go until November.

Meanwhile, she brought in employee assistance program advisors to help with the transition. "Of course we still needed to do the job at hand, but I wanted my people to have an avenue to understand and accept the changes," she says. "My door was open to let people come in and get their questions answered."

Beginning in design
Skala grew up in a suburb of Chicago, IL and went to college at Winthrop University (Rock Hill, SC). She completed a BS in interior design in 1984 and joined Odell Associates, an architectural firm in nearby Charlotte, SC.

She worked on designs for hospitals, airports, hotels and retail office buildings, and moved to Odell's Richmond, VA site. But meanwhile CAD had become a tool of the trade, and the new discipline was more and more interesting.

Odell became a beta test site for its CAD software vendor, and Skala found herself chasing bugs in new software releases. "I determined that I had a much more logically oriented than creatively oriented brain," she says.

Then Intergraph Corp (Huntsville, AL), the CAD company, offered her a job in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb. She started there doing pre-sales presentations and training and consulting.

"It was a good transition," she says. "I had a lot of credibility."

On her own
As she progressed at Intergraph, she became involved in facility and document management. She started her own company, Synergy Focus Inc, in 1995, beginning with a large AT&T; project.

Other clients soon followed, including Abbott Labs. Eventually she kept about twenty independent contractors busy.

"I had always had this dream of starting my own company," she says. "It was a lot of fun, but I got it out of my bloodstream."

There just wasn't time for everything. She was engaged to be married, and working on an MBA at Keller Grad School of Management (www.devry.edu/keller/).

Off to Abbott
In 1996 Abbott asked her to work directly. She joined as a senior business analyst in the corporate engineering division, responsible for the IT systems that maintained more than 100 buildings and new construction. She moved to project manager in 1997 and application development manager in 1998.

In 2000 she became business systems manager at Abbott's hospital products division, which now makes up most of Hospira. In 2002 she became order and fulfillment systems manager in the Abbott health systems division, handling IT support and development for all the division's apps. About half that division went along to Hospira to handle order entry and distribution.

Skala married another IT pro who travels a lot. The arrival of their son five years ago changed her view of how to balance work and personal life. "I'll take time to do some things during the day with my son, but then I'll bring my PC home and work at night," she says. "I always more than make up the time.

"I'm the one who has to control my work/life balance, as opposed to it controlling me," she says. "It took my son to motivate me."


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