Fast Guy, Slow Industry

Meet the Ambassador of eSpeed.

Roger Mowen, 54, is a fast-moving guy in a slow-moving industry. He's chief information officer at Eastman Chemical Co., a $4.6 billion manufacturer of plastics, chemicals, and fibers, based in Kingsport, Tennessee. (Eastman has earned much acclaim in the business world, winning a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1993.) But Mowen also has an unofficial title -- Ambassador of eSpeed -- which is meant to highlight his efforts to Web-ify a company as large as Eastman. In an interview with Fast Company, he shared his thoughts on what it takes to make fast advances over pre-Web ways of doing business.

How fast has Eastman embraced the Web?

We had one of the first Internet storefronts in the chemical industry; we launched it in July 1999. The sales cycle used to take days, even weeks. But with our online-auction technologies, sales negotiations are now completed within hours. And we answer customer inquiries more quickly than before, because what used to be done via fax or mail can now be done via email. Customers can also access information on their own.

What's the chemistry between the Ambassador of eSpeed and his colleagues?

I'm on a mission to change the culture of Eastman. I'm teaching people to become comfortable with executing 80% of solutions quickly, rather than waiting until we've answered every question to the third decimal point. I think I'm getting through to them. Still, every time I get on my soapbox, people roll their eyes and say, "There he goes again."

Who determines how fast is fast enough?

Our customers. I'm the CIO, but my formal title is "vice president of CustomerFirst." Our customers are business customers, but they have plenty of experience as consumers too. Once they've bought a book from Amazon.com or entered an auction on eBay, they want to do business with us in the same way. No matter how fast we go, we have to be one step ahead of them.

Contact Roger Mowen by email (rkmowen@eastman.com).

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