Disciplined, structured, and fun are words that best describe Standard Bank's Jörg Fischer

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Standard Bank Group's CIO holds his own behind the cockpit, on the racetrack and in the boardroom. The 2023 CIO of the Year Award recipient attributes his success to a blend of experience, discipline, consistency, and relentless hard work.

"And the 2023 CIO of the Year Award goes to Standard Bank Group’s CIO Jörg Fischer”, were the words that came as a pleasant surprise and an early Christmas present for Jörg Fischer, CIO at Standard Bank Group. These were the inaugural CIO South Africa Awards, which made it even more special. Jörg has had a spectacular year, which was evident in the three awards bestowed on him: the Cybersecurity Award, the Strategy and Leadership Award, and the biggest honour of the evening, the CIO of the Year Award. But, he modestly says that a win for him is a win for all – speaking volumes about the IT leader and his team.

“I think it is a great accolade for the entire Standard Bank technology team, a great rubber stamp for the year,” he says. “Winning these awards gave me a great sense of pride and this is because when you work in technology, you often deal with quite a bit of negativity (when things go wrong), so when you, on behalf of the team, are recognised, it feels good.”

“I am all about letting the results speak for themselves, and what’s happening right now in favour of IT is exactly that – the results are speaking for themselves.

In my opinion, the Standard Bank team is a cut above the rest as far as technology divisions on the continent are concerned. The cherry on top was the fact that even our CEO, Sim Tshabalala, COO Margaret Nienaber, and the board were very vocal about how proud they were about these awards,” he adds.

According to Jörg, Standard Bank like many other institutions has had its fair share of challenges in IT, including questions about the amount being spent on IT and the reliability of systems. Therefore, this recognition could not have come at a better time: Standard Bank had overcome the tide, things were turning around sentimentwise and the work that IT was doing was being acknowledged.. Therefore, this recognition could not have come at a better time: Standard Bank had overcome the tide, things were turning around sentiment-wise and the work that IT was doing was being acknowledged.

Turning the tide

High up on the agenda, as part of the turnaround strategy, was focusing on the culture elements in technology, like driving the brilliant basics across the technology domain, which included principles of leadership presence, accountability, deeper collaboration across the technology stack and with third parties and vendors, and implementing rigorous reporting and controls with the most senior people in technology.

“We really put the focus on the people in technology, especially dialling up the voice of our engineers. These levers of coupling the best people (giving them a voice) with the best processes and understanding what frustrates them and what improves their productivity, was a game changer. In fact, our Technology Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) is the highest it’s been since we started surveying them,” he says.

Jörg is one of Standard Bank’s long serving executives, he’s been with the bank for 26 years and has occupied several C-suite positions.

In fact, he did not even start out in IT. He is a CA by profession and found himself in the tech division as a result of working on IT contracts. When the then CIO retired, Jörg was approached to take on the role – he had people skills, the commercial acumen needed for the post and worked well with the executive team.

“I started out in finance, in the Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB) as well as the Retail business units of the bank, and then moved to technology as group CIO between 2006 and 2011. After the stint in IT, I subsequently took up the request to build a shared services capability for the group (all of the back-office operations processing). Following this, I returned to technology for a second time. The variation in roles throughout the group over the years has made my understanding of the organisation immense and invaluable,” he explains.

However, his first segue way into IT in 2006 wasn’t an easy one, Jörg admits that he had to up his IT understanding very quickly, but through the support of vendors who put support programmes in place, he was able to do so. Jörg was also open minded and receptive to that learning – he attended private lessons with a former Unisa professor. They would meet for three hours over the weekend to discuss IT, and it was this two-year process coupled with vendor exposure, having a good team in place and understanding contracting that helped Jörg succeed in this role.

“I would describe myself as a very likeable person and I use that to forge relationships with people and partners. I think it’s very important to build relationships, and in my case, they helped me expand my knowledge,” he notes.

Jörg is both open to learning and teaching and experience has taught him to ask the right questions to get to the right outcome. This is what makes him a deeply respected technology specialist and a sought-after thought leader. He often speaks at international technology conferences and his insights and opinions are valued by many industry leaders.

From a leadership style perspective, Jörg calls “a spade a spade” and is 100 percent transparent as a leader. “I listen to coach and not to judge, and I bring my experience and my level-headedness to the party. I also have the ability to calm the storm and manage on facts and not emotions – I’m very much an integrator,” he explains.

“Furthermore, having 26 years of experience in Finance, Operations, Real Estate, and IT, I am often called the ‘fixer’ and get things back on track,” he adds.

And he has a massive portfolio: Jörg has 12 direct reports, and 5 head up significant technology business units. Each of the five CIOs play massive roles individually, even compared to their competition. From architecture to infrastructure, and applications at Standard Bank, it is all done at a business level so that there is synergy across the group, and not forced on the business.

“The bank’s technology division has more than 5,000 people and is most likely the biggest on the continent,” he notes.

“In running a large technology estate, I spend a lot of my time leveraging capabilities and synergies across the businesses and pulling our third parties and vendors closer so that they are integrated into how the Standard Bank Group operates. I also ensure that I bring the right levels of thought leadership and insights from my various engagements, which include exploring the benefits and risks of cloud computing, AI, and others,” he explains.

Disciplined, structured and fun

Jörg is also a trusted advisor who sits on various technology councils and boards, where he represents Standard Bank. He is the only African representative at Microsoft, and also serves on the AWS, Salesforce and Mastercard technology advisory boards and councils. Additionally, he spends a lot of time with IBM and Google to continuously learn and challenge the status quo.

“A good thing is that the councils and boards are intimate, unlike conferences, and it helps that I can tap into other international CIOs to share ideas,” he says. “It must be said that South Africa is right at the top as far as tech executives and their knowledge is concerned.”

Disciplined, structured and fun are three words that would best sum up Jörg. He is organised, meticulous and approaches life like a pre-flight check, making sure everything is just right – even down to colour coordinating his clothes, making sure everything is neat and in its place.

His responsibilities as group CIO require him to be a disciplined, straight forward and focused leader. However, there’s also a fun and interesting side to him. He is an advanced helicopter pilot, and although he hasn’t flown in some years, Jörg has a strong passion for flying.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” he says. “I’m not sure about the cost to fly today, but back when I was still active, it was an obscene amount to spend for lessons and flying around,” he reveals.

Jörg has always had a passion for flying and being someone who enjoys challenging himself, signed up for lessons. He says that he craved a new and different challenge, and felt like he’d already done enough studying and doing an MBA, for instance, just would not fulfil that craving – it had to be something out of the norm to learn a new skill and challenge himself.

He is also a huge Formula One enthusiast and a lover of sports cars. Although the idea of unleashing his inner Max Verstappen on the racetrack sounds very appealing, Jörg simply hasn’t mustered up enough courage to take his own cars on the track. He was also an avid competitive road cyclist, but now rides more for leisure, not only just to keep fit but to dial-up his energy, focus and stamina which is critical in today’s business world.

Yet nothing trumps his passion for his family.

“I’m very protective over my family time, despite IT being a 24/7 job, I’ve always made sure that I spend time with my two sons during their schooling years to attend their weekend sports events. Even when I had to travel for work, I always made sure that weekends were dedicated to my family. It’s important to live a balanced life, which includes wellness: putting 100 percent into your work and a little bit more into your family, something like 110 percent because in the end, you do need their support,” he notes.

“My advice to young people, who look up to leaders such as myself, would be that balance is key, be committed, block out the noise (the distractions), and build a strong filtering system for negativity – it’s not worth it. Be patient! And honour your commitments, always under promise, but over deliver. I am old fashioned in that way: I believe that hard work will always pay off,” he says.

Jörg adds that the youth should aspire to make a success of both themselves and their teams. They should continue to be curious because “you are never too old to learn, never get too comfortable and challenge the status quo, and always strive for consistency not only at work, but in life too!”

“I’ve been married for 26 years and worked for Standard Bank for an equal amount of those years – that’s the kind of consistency I’m talking about,” he concludes.

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