ATLANTA Jonathan "Jon" B. Bridges, vice president of information technology for Chick-fil-A Inc., today is recognized as the $2.3 billion restaurant company's IT architect and more, but he had to slay a tyrannical project dragon early in his career to achieve that distinction.
Bridges, who is also Chick-fil-A's chief information officer, on Oct. 12 received a Distinguished Career Achievement Award during the awards luncheon staged annually in conjunction with the FS/TEC conference, which this year was held at the Georgia World Congress Center here. He is known as a "gifted and skilled person" who "is always giving credit to others" and "attracting great people to work for us," said Bridges' boss, senior vice president and chief financial officer James B. "Buck" McCabe.
Bridges, 44, joined Chick-fil-A in 1993 after working as a management consultant for accounting giant Arthur Andersen. Earlier, he graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's of business administration degree that included concentrated studies in management information systems.
While with Arthur Andersen, Bridges approached Chick-fil-A about buying upgraded computer capabilities but instead was sold on his potential to have a bright future with the specialty chicken chain by McCabe. Starting out as Chick-fil-A's manager of special projects at a time when the information systems department was home to eight full-time employees, Bridges today oversees more than 100 people and numerous contractors.
McCabe calls Bridges "master of our technology infrastructure" but adds that the CIO's value extends beyond the realm of hardware and software. "He has a real skill set tied to coordinating and bringing out cross functional input from all areas of the company — almost as if he is a management consultant to us who happens to have an expertise in technology," McCabe said.
Chick-fil-A leaders have asked Bridges to guide a two-year initiative beginning in 2008 to enhance the operational efficiency and throughput of the chain's approximately 1,300 restaurants. They have appointed him the task — which goes beyond technology to encompass all aspects of unit-level activities — because they appreciate the breadth of his management skills, according to McCabe.
McCabe laughs when he says that the career of Chick-fil-A's chief information officer "almost ended at the beginning." He made that statement while talking about a turning point in Bridges' Chick-fil-A life that just happened to come early in his tenure with the company and coincided with the public unveiling of Bridges' first major IT project for the Atlanta organization: the deployment of a complex enterprise computing platform.
"It was an extremely challenging transition to go from a stable system that was limited in versatility to a more robust system that could handle future growth," McCabe said, adding that the new system had been billed ahead of time as being much faster at handling payroll and other duties than its predecessor but, for a variety of reasons, initially was much slower.
The resulting nightmare led to a session in McCabe's office at which "we had to sit there and make a choice of whether to abandon the new system and go back or go forward and make it work," the CFO said. Bridges was the tilting factor in persuading the management team not to give up on the enterprise application that "today really hums for us," McCabe said.
The enterprise software initiative ultimately succeeded because of a lot of toiling by a lot of people, McCabe said. Referring to Bridges' part in the triumph, he added, "His greatest accomplishment, really, was pushing on and making it work."
Such tenacity led former AFC Enterprises Inc. chief information officer Ed Brooks to once characterize Bridges as a great strategist who is always seeking best practices solutions.