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After four-plus years at Cerberus Capital Management, Richard Alexander has spearheaded projects to tap into the cloud, create a data warehouse, and build a new datacenter. And that’s just the beginning. By Anthony Malakian with photos by Amy Fletcher

It is said that in order to create change, you must create discomfort—discomfort is a catalyst for change. After all, comfort breeds complacency.

Richard Alexander is not averse to a bit of discomfort. As CIO of global private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management, with more than $20 billion under management, he has experienced his fair share of it.

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“The biggest pocket of IT resources is around data warehousing right now. We’ve staffed up the database administrators to ensure the cubes and universes are aggregating important data and not collecting redundant data, and that there is referential integrity there.”

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Walking the halls of Cerberus’ new Third Avenue offices in Manhattan, Alexander is sometimes approached by the firm’s much-written-about-but-rarely-interviewed CEO, Stephen Feinberg. These exchanges have been known to develop into impromptu boardroom meetings—in the hallway. “Rich, what’s going on with this project and how is it tracking to the operating budget?” Feinberg might ask. “What can we do better?”

To appear caught off guard is not an option.

If it’s not Feinberg doing the grilling, it’s Cerberus’ CFO, Jeffrey Lomasky, who recruited Alexander from GE Commercial Finance. “What are you doing to enhance our systems and improve our processes?” Lomasky might ask. Answering “We’ve always done it this way” is not a good enough response.

If Feinberg or Lomasky aren’t asking the questions, it might be Mark Neporent, the firm’s COO and general counsel, wanting to know what Alexander’s IT team had done that day.

These conversations usually reserved for the boardroom have indeed taken place in the hallway, the elevator, and the lunch room. The status quo is regularly challenged. Provide some discomfort to create change.

But that’s the team that Alexander wants to be a part of, and he directs that same level of questioning to his team of technologists, quants, programmers and vendors. He wants management to be brutally honest with him, an honesty with which he manages his team.

Follow My Leader
Like most kids, Alexander collected baseball cards. But rather than arrange the cards in a box according to year, the team in the front of the box would be the one that had won the previous season’s World Series. 

Alexander always kept the winning team ahead of his favorite one because he wanted to be able to easily go back and look at the No. 1 team and see how it had won.

“I would look through their stats to better understand what it took to win,” he says. “I’m a real team-oriented guy—it’s important to me to be a good teammate and someone who people can count on.”

He brought those traits with him onto the soccer pitch at school. His team chose him as captain because they considered him to be the leader, even though he was not the most skilled.

“I can assure you, I was never the best player on the field, but when my teammates chose me as a captain, they considered me their leader. I’m the guy they want to go out to the midfield for the coin toss or when there’s conflict on the field to talk it through with the officials,” he says. “So what I didn’t have in the athletic department, I made up for in leadership and we won a lot. Winning is important, too.”

 

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