An interview with Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, and Jeff Hutchinson, CIO.

Michael McCain: Maple Leaf Foods is largely a product of acquisitions in the bakery, meat and pasta industries. Because of that legacy, we've been saddled with many different operating systems and processes. To compete in the new reality of Canadian-U.S. currency parity, we need to dramatically reduce cost in the organization by creating one set of business processes and one team.

Jeff Hutchinson: When we started, we had approximately 35 separate ERP systems, and each one has its own processes. What we're going to do is institute one instance of SAP, which will enable one set of common processes across Maple Leaf. A lot of corporations spend six, eight, 10 years trying to do this. We're doing it in four years across the entire corporation, including HR, accounts payable, accounts receivable, supply chain and manufacturing.

McCain: These types of transformation initiatives can involve a high level of risk. It was clear early on that the biggest obstacle we would face in achieving this timetable was ongoing dialog about which business process was to be chosen as the standard. We adopted three golden rules: Don't change the software; adapt our processes to the software, not vice versa; and ensure the integrity of the data that feeds the software. These rules have been an extraordinary facilitator for change management, because there's no debate about standardized business processes. If anybody comes to me and says, "My process is better," the answer is no.

Hutchinson: If someone wants to make a change to SAP, Michael, our two COOs and our CFO and I all have to agree. We've had less than one hundred modifications to date that are core to SAP. Most companies at this point are close to a thousand or more. So this is a very vanilla implementation, which will allow us to more easily upgrade and stay current later, while keeping the total cost of ownership down. And the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can move to a shared services operation, which will produce even more efficiencies and allow us to invest in growth.

McCain: The extent of that executive oversight is critical. My role as CEO is not to be in the stands but to be in the game. I'm not going to be in the game to the extent that I'm calling every individual play. It sounds kind of controlling actually to say that the CEO must approve every change to a piece of software, but the objective here is a vanilla approach.

A CEO is not meant to be just watching the happenings of what goes on in his business; he has to be fully engaged in the details. Not in a doing sense, but in a leading sense.

As told to CIO Executive Council VP Rick Pastore. View a video interview with Maple Leaf Foods' CEO and CIO at www.enterprisecioforum.com.