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Alessandra Nicoletti

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For Alessandra (Allie) Nicoletti-director of IT at the weight-management company Jenny Craig, Inc.-accepting the obvious without asking ''why?'' is like losing an opportunity to acquire a new skill. Ever since she was very young, Nicoletti has wanted to figure out how things worked. She was never satisfied knowing only that a radio worked or a light turned on. Her mother played a big role in shaping her into the person she is today. Her mother would tell her, ''You are capable of doing anything. If you learn to do your own work, you will never have to wait for anyone to do it for you.''

Nicoletti believes that her open-mindedness, flexibility to change, and quick learning and listening skills have made her who she is today. Spending her childhood in Italy and the United States, Nicoletti learned to adjust to the environmental and cultural differences between the two countries. This helped her become open to change and helped her discover hidden opportunities. Nicoletti’s determination kept her going. “Every day, when I wake up, I ask myself, ‘Why NOT me?’ This drives me to push for perfection, success, efficiency, and new challenges,” said Nicoletti.

Nicoletti enjoys educating herself and believes that her open-minded approaches and unique solutions have always helped her stand out in the organizations for which she has worked. She started out as a technician and worked her way up to management: “I continued to acquire technical engineering skills, and that got me in the door. I quickly learned about all the aspects of the business I worked for, and people started coming to me for solutions, not only in technology, but in various aspects of the business.”

As she continues to grow, Nicoletti believes that no matter how strong your skills are, there will always be opportunities to grow and learn more. When Nicoletti took a technical-management position at a hospital, she had more personnel and hardware to manage and many more customers to look after than at her previous workplace. Instead of being intimidated, she saw an opportunity to grow.

Her desire to learn helped her tackle HIPPA regulations, contracting, insurance regulations, medical and Medicare compliance, and other business regulations. This knowledge helped her implement a hospital-wide, centralized solution for billing, medical records, and laboratories. The hospital customized this centralized, secure database and sold it to smaller hospitals. Nicoletti had successfully converted the IT department from a cost center to a profit center.

For one of her other assignments, she restructured a technical department, decreasing the number of employees from 87 to 48 by introducing new processes, procedures, and SOPs. The department was able to support the same number of customers as before, even with a reduced number of employees.

In 2006, Nicoletti was hired as the IT Director of Jenny Craig, Inc. She was asked to implement a new thin-client WAN which would connect 3,500 users across the company's 600 stores and allow the California-based IT department to centrally manage technology for the first time. The company needed to upgrade its WAN to improve security and the availability of data sent daily to the headquarters from 500 locations in North America. The acting CIO at Jenny Craig asked Nicoletti to rebuild the company's infrastructure and position it for future growth: "I needed to keep today going but also think for tomorrow," she said. "Can we branch out across the world? What can we do in the future? The answer has to be anything."

Before deciding on a path for upgrading, Nicoletti had to consider two important factors. One was privacy, as the data sent from weight-management centers to the headquarters in Carlsbad, CA, contained customers’ private information, including their weights and the steps taken to manage their weights. "We needed to figure out a secure solution for polling data and doing it quickly over the Internet with a failover solution,” Nicoletti recalled. Cost was the other controlling factor, “especially because some of the Jenny Craig locations are run by franchisees that needed the costs to be kept under control.”

Meanwhile, Jenny Craig was taken over by Nestlé, the world's largest chocolate maker, in a deal valued at about $600 million.

Nicoletti had a tough time convincing the new management of the validity of her previous decisions. So she provided Nestlé with detailed information about each element of the network. She explained how the network supported the company's business needs and how its longevity and cost made it a compelling proposition. Reducing hardware and keeping customer data at a central location also made the network more secure. Eventually, Nestlé gave the project a green light.

According to Nicoletti, the new network efficiencies have already eliminated two engineering positions, reducing the IT headcount to 14. And the helpdesk staff of eight can get smaller, too.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I enjoy being active. I enjoy spending time with my family and never expect the next day until it arrives. Riding motorcycles, snowboarding, jet skiing, and working out is all in a weekend in my life.

Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
A. I have rock, country, soul, hip hop, and jazz…I have a Christmas playlist and my son’s playlist just in case I need it to amuse him while I may be doing something else…like strategic planning.

Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. I have been pretty consistent in reading CIO Magazine. I am very interested in continuing to learn more about what it takes to get to the next step.

Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. I am not really a TV person, although I tend to enjoy the Discovery Channel. I continue to educate myself about things that I have no idea of.

Q. Who is your role model?
A. My role model is my mother. She made me who I am today.

Nicoletti has recently undergone downsizing as well. In 2006, when Nicoletti joined Jenny Craig, she was a size 16. A year later, she was a size four. "The program absolutely works," she said. "I believe in everything the company does."

In her current position as the director of IT operations at Jenny Craig, Inc., Nicoletti continues to use many of the skills that she’s acquired and to learn more about the business side of Jenny Craig. She still wants to know why and how things work: “Have passion in what you do. Don’t limit yourself to what you know you are good at. Instead, step outside your department and understand how the company, as a whole, works,” she said.

Nicoletti believes in the power of growing as a professional. She also mentors others and challenges her peers to develop their own careers. Nicoletti strongly advocates that professionals understand their companies’ values and live by them: “I am employed by Jenny Craig and not just the department that I work in. Listen to all of the ideas coming from everyone,” she concluded. “The moment you stop listening, you may have missed your greatest opportunity.”
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