Winnebago’s CIO Is Transforming The Digital Experience For The Connected Consumer

Jeff Kubacki has been a chief information officer for nearly a decade and a half, first as an interim-CIO at Ecolab, then with stints at Kroll, ATK, and Westinghouse Electric. For a bit more than two years, he has been the CIO of Winnebago, based in Eden Prairie. You might not think of this iconic nearly $2 billion recreational vehicle company to be a hotbed of technology, but changing that perception inside and out has been Kubacki’s mission.

He is currently pursuing five strategic objectives as IT leader:

  1. Driving increased automation and integration across the supply chain;
      1. Leveraging IT to drive increased employee performance and productivity;
      2. Modernizing the IT infrastructure and all of our services;
      3. Making improvements around IT risk management;
      4. Transforming the digital experience for the connected consumer.

    With these areas of focus, he is both modernizing the technology footprint of the company, but also planning better ways to harness the data that flows through that technology to make better decisions. He describes his methods herein.

    (To listen to an unabridged podcast version of this interview, please click this link. To read future stories like this one, please follow me on Twitter @PeterAHigh.)

    Peter High: You have been the Chief Information Officer of Winnebago Industries for just over two years. Can you describe Winnebago’s business?

    Winnebago CIO Jeff KubackiCredit: Winnebago

    Several months ago, we purchased Chris-Craft, a huge brand name in the boating industry that has been building boats for nearly 150 years. Furthermore, in November 2016, we purchased Grand Design RV, which is arguably the fastest growing RV company ever. When you combine the recognizable brands of Winnebago, Chris-Craft, and Grand Design, you can see how we are bringing our new purpose and vision to life.

    High: Can you talk about the role of IT in an organization such as Winnebago and your role as Chief Information Officer?

    Kubacki: Many companies in the RV industry want to have low fixed costs, and IT can sometimes be perceived as a department with high fixed costs. As a result, many companies in the industry do not invest substantial money in IT. However, when Mike joined as CEO, he decided to have a CIO on the leadership team because he believed that IT and technology are important drivers of growth and in helping the business make more data-informed decisions. His appreciation of technology led him on a search for a CIO, and through someone in our [shared] network, we found each other. At the time, I was working as the CIO of Westinghouse Electric, and because I wanted to return to the Twin Cities, it was a good fit. When I joined, Mike and I talked about the future of IT and how it was going to look in terms of the people, infrastructure, and architecture. Mike gave me a set of key priorities, one of which was to transform the business into a more data-driven and a business intelligence type of culture. This entailed getting access to information that our executives and their teams could use to make more informed decisions regarding the direction we wanted to go in. Moreover, at the time, there was an ongoing ERP project that was over schedule and over budget. Mike asked me to fix that, and by collaborating with my peers on the leadership team, we have gotten that going in a positive direction.

    High: What are some aspects of your strategic plan going forward?

    Kubacki: When I put together a strategic plan in early 2017, I focused on five key IT strategic objectives, all of which will remain constant for the next several years. The aspects are as follows:

    1. Driving increased automation and integration across the supply chain;
    2. Leveraging IT to drive increased employee performance and productivity;

    Jeff Kubacki: Winnebago is one of the most recognized brands in the RV industry. Sixty years ago, the company was launched in Northern Iowa, and for the majority of our history, we have primarily been a motorhome business. When our new CEO Mike Happe came in a few years ago, he put together a new leadership team, and he started to change the purpose and the vision of the company. This marked the beginning of a transformation that saw our model go from primarily being an RV company to one that is mainly focused on helping our customers explore the outdoor lifestyle. Making this change allows us to look at elements outside of the normal RV industry.


Timothy Davis

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