A Customer Centric Approach to IT with Generac’s Tim Dickson

Leadership Profile
Written by Lauren Garetto

Tim Dickson


Generac Power Systems


The job of IT leaders is constantly evolving as digital technologies continue to change. In order to stay on top of emerging trends and continue to push businesses forward, IT leaders must forge that path. Generac CIO Tim Dickson highlights how his career took an unexpected shift that ultimately turned him into a better digital transformation leader and how he is using his skills to transform a 60-year-old power engineering company into a more global energy technology solution provider.

Can you give me an overview of your career path?

I like to say I am your non-typical technology executive. Over the last 25 years, I've worked for the “big four,” plus a couple startups. I had a pretty transformational change in my career about 20 years ago when I went to University of Texas to get my MBA. The university started a program at that time called the Center for Customer Insight. I was a hardcore developer for HP and IBM before I went to get my Masters, so for me it was hugely transformative for my career because it allowed me to learn how to put myself in the place of the customers, see the things from the customer perspective, a day in the life of the customer -- basically it was the early days of design thinking. It completely changed my career path. I thought I would be a developer for life.  

I started to see things from the customer perspective, and every job that I have had since business school has always had some sort of customer-facing responsibility. I've always been tapped for kind of the next new thing or the new role in the technology organization. 

Not every CIO has the skill set or the interest to be customer-facing from a technology perspective, and I have, so it has been very good for me in my career because it has allowed me to pitch myself a little bit differently than your normal technology executive. 

Tell me more about customer centric focus. How does this skill set you apart?

Seeing things from the customer perspective, I call it the three C's: curious, creative and courage.

You need to be curious. How does this customer experience this thing? Why are they doing this? Why are they clicking on that button? What am I going to do with that knowledge, now that I have exposure to customers, focus groups, panels, things of that nature? As a tech guy, what can I do with that? We have to be more creative and present prototypes and proof of concepts and solutions to my business executives that they may have not gotten from a normal CIO without that exposure.

The third one is courage -- the courage to take things across the finish line. I have been able to use data points that I have gathered from customers in my business case presentations, IT projects, and IT meetings and share something with an executive that they may have not known about the customer. That puts me in a better position to deliver a solution on their behalf. Basically, it’s the courage to use that data point in a real life situation.

Customer data is completely woven into this whole aspect of data, AI, and data as an asset for the company. I have been able to see how powerful data is for a company going through a digital transformation and how important it is to own your data, centralize your data, and present data back to customers in a meaningful way. That led me down the data and AI path, so all of that has been provided to me as a result of having this customer insight interest and then using it in my normal daily life and putting a little bit of a different spin to it than the normal CIO would.

Can you give me an example of using this approach in real life?

Yes, I’ll give you a Generac example. Generac is going through a significant rewrite of our customer-facing applications. Just in the four short months on the job here, I have been able to create a number of customer-facing prototypes, proof of concepts based on some generator dealers, our major source of revenue. I have had exposure to a handful of dealers since I've been here, and I've been able to understand the old Generac and been able to understand what they want from a new Generac user experience. I've been able to parlay that into data points to justify getting certain program investments and funds to redesign a set of digital applications that we will be rolling out next year. So the model is already working here at Generac.

I’m bringing a different way of thinking about how we can deliver digital solutions to customers. The different way of thinking is bringing the customer into the design process, into the feedback process, and making it a much more interactive approach than your typical project would.

What’s in the future for you?

I want to take Milwaukee and make it into a tech town. If I can transform Generac and do it with local tech talent, to me that’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with and give back to the community that has been so good to me. I’m doing a lot in the community to pitch, upscale and recruit talent because I want to make the Generac success story a local one.


Special thanks to Tim Dickson and Generac Power Systems.

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