RECAP: TechBrew:AM w/ Joe Riesberg

We were honored to host Joe Riesberg as the featured guest at TechBrew:AM on November 9th, 2023. Joe shared insights on his career journey, collaborative leadership style, and exciting new technologies at EMC Insurance Companies.

Hailing from Dyersville, IA, Joe was inspired by his mother, one of the few women in tech at her workplace, to pursue a tech career. He earned a Computer Science degree from Iowa State University and has been in the technology and insurance field ever since.

As Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer at EMC Insurance Companies, Joe supports the organization’s large technology team of over 350 members across 30 teams. His role is to guide EMC’s strategic vision of digital transformation and advocate for the goal to transition entirely to cloud-based operations by 2027.

Key takeaways from our conversation with Joe –

1.  Inspiring the Next Generation of Technologists

Riesberg champions supporting early-career technology professionals and developing Iowa’s next generation of technology leadership. Joe and EMC Insurance Companies have been instrumental in developing Iowa Tech Connect, TAI’s early-career development program, to provide guidance and a sense of community to these future tech leaders.

His advice for the Iowa Tech Connect cohort members in the room: be passionate, speak up, and embrace diverse opinions. Emphasizing flexibility, he encouraged them to stay adaptable as new technologies emerge, even if they aren’t in technical roles. Technology is no longer confined to specific departments, and he highlighted the increasing demand for transferable technology skills, particularly in data analytics and reporting.

2.  AI Changes Everything

Joe outlined pivotal technology shifts he has seen in his career: internet, mobile devices, and cloud computing. Most recently, he has witnessed the onset of artificial intelligence (AI) and the rise of generative AI. He said, “AI changes everything.” He expresses optimism about AI’s transformative potential and believes in its power while acknowledging the associated risks. 

EMC named a VP of Innovation & Business Process Management this year to oversee AI implementation across their technology teams. The organization is pragmatic about implementation, exploring various use cases and incorporating AI into its existing SaaS tech stack. Joe stressed the importance of robust data for effective AI implementation, highlighting the organization’s ongoing four-year journey toward data democratization for informed decision-making.

3.  Technology to Improve Lives

Joe resonates with EMC Insurance Companies’ mission to improve lives. According to their website, “EMC exists to improve lives—not just the lives of our agents, policyholders and team members—but of those in our communities.”

He interprets this mission as a commitment to harnessing and enhancing technologies to simplify and enrich lives. Operating under his strategic direction, EMC leverages cutting-edge technology, such as AI, to positively impact the lives of both its internal teams and external customers.

4.  Collaborative, Inclusive Leadership

During a Q&A session, Joe was asked, “What is something someone who works for you would say about you?” From the audience, his colleague said, “Inclusive.” Joe defines his leadership style as rooted in collaboration, emphasizing team-based decision-making where he values input from all perspectives before reaching conclusions. Although this may not be the fastest approach, it fosters discussion and welcomes diverse opinions.

As a servant leader, Joe underscores trust and accountability as foundational principles within his team. He empowers his technology leaders to make decisions, advocating for a culture where mutual trust prevails, and each team member holds themselves accountable for their responsibilities. Joe strongly emphasizes organizational alignment within the technology team, fostering open communication rather than top-down communication.

This commitment extends to team meetings, where everyone has a voice and presentation slide decks are discouraged. Joe actively creates space for non-work discussions, exemplified by initiatives like the “30 for 30” challenge, encouraging team members to spend 30 minutes a day for 30 days on personal passions.

5.  Redefining Innovation

As the 2023 Chair of TAI’s Board of Directors, Joe has challenged the Iowa technology community to expand to encompass innovation throughout the tech ecosystem. He challenged the Board of Directors to critically assess the concept of “innovation” and its implications for their organization. Often, there’s a tendency to narrowly interpret innovation in a traditional sense, constraining it to a top-down approach within the IT department.

Joe highlights the imperative for Iowa’s technology community to collectively determine the essence of innovation and actively shape the future trajectory of technology in Iowa. This proactive approach involves redefining preconceived notions of innovation, fostering inclusivity, and recognizing that innovative ideas can emanate from diverse sources within the organization.

Joe concluded the discussion by offering an uplifting message to the audience: “Optimism wins despite uncertainties.” He conveyed that, in the face of challenges and negativity, maintaining a positive mindset is vital, and it’s a perspective he leads within his approach to leadership.

Join us for the final TechBrew:AM of 2023 on December 14th for a conversation with Kathy Kay, EVP & CIO, Principal Financial Group.

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