Exclusive: Building around Burt’s Bees, Clorox is growing its tech hub in Durham

Date Published:

by Rick Smith — July 10, 2019

DURHAM – The Clorox Company is expanding its information technology presence in Durham, building around it’s acquisition of Burt’s Bees in 2007 for more than $900 million.

“We have more than 200 global IT employees, with half of them now based in Durham, plus an additional workforce of contract employees,” says  Jay McNulty, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of The Clorox Company.

“The number of Durham employees has grown six-fold in the past three years, and we’re committed to hiring more.”

In an exclusive Q&A with WRAL TechWire, McNulty, who is a long-time Durham resident, talks about the company, why it is growing a tech hub in Durham, and working with Burt’s Bees.

  • Why choose Durham as a hub for your operations?

The Clorox Company established Durham as an IT hub for our company because we believe the region is a great place to attract talent in this field. We’ve grown the number of IT employees based here to 100 in the last three years — making up half of our permanent global IT operation. As a sign of our commitment to the region, last year I became the first member of the company’s executive leadership team based out of Durham.

The cabin of late Burt’s Bees founder Burt Shavitz sits on the company’s headquarters in Durham’s American Tobacco Campus.
  • What has your career been with Clorox – and what do you like about Durham?

I’ve been with Clorox for about three years, the culmination of a long career in IT management. I was hired as part of the company’s IT transformation initiative, focused on strengthening talent and capabilities within the organization. About a year ago, I was tapped to be the CIO.

I’ve lived and worked in Durham for about 20 years. I love the area; I consider Durham a jewel of the Southeast.  I find the city to be very progressive in attitude and culture. It’s an awesome foodie and hipster town that appeals to many. The performing arts center and the ballpark are right down the street, and I love being able to walk downtown from my apartment on the American Tobacco Campus.

  • Are there plans to grow the presence here? Please explain.

As a sign of our commitment to the region, we’ve already grown our presence six-fold in the past three years. We have plans to continue hiring more people in areas such as IT security, architecture and networks. Some of the roles we will be filling are likely to be in project management, global support operations, business analysis, vendor management, IT procurement and quality assurance.

The Observation Hive is an educational tool at the Durham headquarters to bring people face-to-face with the simple creatures.
  • Are you using AI at this point or Machine Learning or both – and if so, why?

We’re using both technologies as part of a broader effort to build our brands so they meet our consumers’ needs. For example, to be more targeted in our digital advertising, we partnered with our Marketing team to develop a platform that helps optimize the reach of a specific campaign through the use of sophisticated machine learning techniques, delivering the right message to the right person at the right time.

  • What are the biggest challenges your IT team faces on behalf of the company – Security? Constant change?

The very definition of technology implies that you’ll use innovation for problem-solving, so dealing with constant change is a given in our field. In order to bring value to the organization, we need to keep pace with this rapid change to help create innovative products that meet our consumers’ ever-evolving needs, support our employees as we encourage bolder thinking, and keep the company secure.

  • Where is IT giving Clorox an edge?

Our IT organization is helping keep the company on the cutting-edge of digital technology and innovation. To help consumers determine the right probiotic for their gut health, our RenewLife brand partnered with IT’s Durham-based Technology Advancement Center to develop a virtual agent powered by artificial intelligence that can provide personalized product recommendations. The team used cutting-edge natural language machine learning models and recommendation engines to provide this consumer experience. To gain insights that will inform our product development and quality efforts, IT applied natural language machine learning models to gather and classify comments made on online retail sites. Through partnerships with IT, Clorox is able to maintain its digital marketing leadership status within the consumer packaged goods industry.

  • What work is done for Burt’s Bees through the IT group?

Our IT organization does much of the same work for Burt’s Bees as it does for the rest of the company, helping keep the company on the cutting-edge of digital technology and innovation. Working for a well-established consumer packaged goods company — where you work on brands people use every day — makes our roles different than the typical IT job.

One thing that’s special about being co-located with our Burt’s Bees business is that we partner with them to help advance their “Live the Greater Good” mission. IT has spearheaded “Geek-a-thon” events to support the mission, the latest one held earlier this month. IT and Burt’s Bees employees spend a day cleaning and refurbishing old computers while conducting a simultaneous electronics drive. The hardware is then donated to a local nonprofit to give to area students in need.

A dedication to the places where we live and work is something that’s valued here — not just in Durham but throughout the organization. It’s just one of the many things that makes Clorox a great place to work. Across the company, employees volunteer about 100,000 hours of their time every year. The company also donates products to communities in need following natural disasters, gives grants to nonprofit organizations through its foundations, and donates money for causes important to our business. In the last year alone, Clorox gave the equivalent of $20 million in support of these efforts. For our employees, it makes them feel good to know they can contribute to the growth of the company as well as their community.

Article Source: WRAL TechWire