Ron Ponder

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Ron J Ponder
Born (1943-02-21) February 21, 1943 (age 75)
El Dorado, Arkansas, USA
Nationality American
Alma mater Louisiana Tech University
Mississippi State University
Occupation Founder of The Ponder Group

Smithsonian Award

Stevie Awards

Ron J. Ponder (born February 21, 1943) has served the past 35 years as a senior information technology executive in several Fortune 100 companies across a number of industries. He has held senior leadership positions at Federal Express,[1] Sprint,[2] AT&T,[3] Cap Gemini Ernst & Young[4] and WellPoint.[5]

One of the first Global CIO's[6] his career has spanned several Industries, helping Federal Express introduce its worldwide package tracking and tracing systems,[7] overseeing the operation and modernization of both Sprint and AT&T's Voice and Data Networks as well as their Product Development, Billing, Marketing and Customer Service systems.[8] As Executive Vice President and CIO at WellPoint,[9][10] he drove the technology, systems integration strategy and operations as the company grew to become the nation's largest medical insurance carrier in the U.S. during his tenure.[11]

In 2006 he founded and currently leads an Information Technology consulting firm, formed by Ponder and several of his former business associates. The group specializes in managing large-scale business and government technology program implementations, information technology group transformations and providing leadership on troubled projects.

The Early Years[edit]

Ponder was born in El Dorado, Arkansas. Shortly after his birth, his father died and his mother, a telephone operator, left to return with him to the family farm. It was there that Ponder lived and was raised by his mother and grandparents who owned a sizeable farm, general store, feed business and service station. Ponder's grandfather served as a mentor and role model. Starting at a very young age, and continuing through his college years, he worked closely with his grandfather in the family business.[12]

When he was in high school, his mother remarried and the family moved to Magnolia, Arkansas, where he completed high school and college. After completing his undergraduate work in Industrial Management and Engineering, scholarships eventually led him to both Louisiana Tech University for an MBA and Mississippi State University, where he completed his Doctorate in Business Administration. He majored in Operations Research and Computer Science, the latter a fairly new and embryonic field of study.

The Academic Years[edit]

Upon completing his work for his Doctoral Degree, Ponder stayed and taught in the College of Business and Industry at Mississippi State University for the next year.

From there, he went to Georgia State University in Atlanta as a University Professor in the College of Business and Quantitative Methods. He left Georgia State to join the College of Business and Industry at the University of Memphis, where he taught quantitative management, statistical decision theory and applied programming languages. He was a Professor at the University of Memphis for five years.

During this time, at the University of Memphis, he was consulting part-time with companies in the area when he met his new neighbor, a young pilot for a fledgling new cargo airline named Federal Express. After some discussion, the pilot suggested that Ponder should meet Charles Brandon and Frederick W. Smith, the Founder and CEO. Their association led Ponder to two years of consulting for Brandon and Smith at Federal Express in the early 70's, performing Operations Research for the company. As the funds ran out, Ponder and one of his graduate student assistants completed their last project pro bono.

The Business Years[edit]

In 1975 Ponder decided to enter industry full-time and accepted a position with Helena Chemical Company. At the time, Helena was a multi-billion dollar agricultural chemical distributor for the southeast, headquartered in Memphis. As Director of Data Processing for the company, Ponder began to build experience in information technology.

In July of his second year at Helena Chemical, Brandon and Smith, his former colleagues from Federal Express called to tell him they were finally able to fund a position for him as Director of Operations Research. Smith wanted to build a world class Operations Research Department to support the airline and package delivery business as early in the development of the company as possible. Ponder eventually assembled a team of 22 Operations Research staff.

Throughout his entire career at Federal Express, Ponder retained responsibility for this function as well as the system strategies, systems simulation and network planning that went with it.

In 1979, Ponder was promoted to the position of Vice President, Operations Planning. In addition to his staff responsibilities in this role, he also had the opportunity to work closely with Smith and COO, James L. Barksdale.[13] As a result he became a lead member of the senior team that conceived, designed and deployed FedEx's electronic package tracking and tracing system. This was a technological breakthrough and key strategic differentiator for the company.[14] The system became the benchmark for FedEx's competitors; won numerous technical and business awards; and was described in business articles and Harvard Business School case studies as a model for the strategic application of technology to create market and competitive differentiation.[15]

While in this position, he also led a major expansion of the company's package sorting facility in Memphis. In 1982, Ponder was promoted to the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO), a position he held for the next decade.[16] Ponder was also part of the senior team instrumental in initiating and implementing the company's quality programs. These programs culminated with the company being awarded the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1990[17]

From 1991 to 1993 Ponder worked at Sprint Communications Company as Executive Vice President & CIO and led the team that created the first network based on optical technology. He was also responsible for Information technology and reengineering for Sprint's local and long distance business, leading several company-wide efforts that improved Sprint's technology and network infrastructure, cost position, and time to market.

In 1993 he was offered the position of Sr. Vice President and Worldwide CIO of AT&T. While AT&T enjoyed enormous wealth and influence, its information technology and network systems were surprisingly lacking. Shortly after joining AT&T, he became Executive Vice President of Operations and Service Management responsible for a good portion of its customer operations, including customer service, AT&T's voice and data networks as well as the company's information technology and development organizations[18] While at AT&T Ponder transformed the entire Information Systems Organization, consolidating data centers, implementing a corporate network worldwide, standardizing technology and changing the culture of the organization to be customer focused. During this period he assisted in planning the divestiture and spin out of AT&T Computer Systems back into NCR Corporation and AT&T Network Systems which became Lucent Technologies.

Ponder also led changes in the company that were fundamental to AT&T's network evolution to address capacity and modernization of their infrastructure.

He brought together what many regard as the finest team of CIOs available to manage the various business units' systems. This group developed the AT&T Foundation Architecture, the first framework in the company that enabled system and data networks to integrate, consolidate and standardize information globally.

In 1996 AT&T had been so thoroughly altered by combinations of court decree, market and political forces that Ponder was wooed away by a new set of challenges. He acquired a position as President and CEO of BDSI, a full-service consulting and systems development firm in New Jersey[19] Under Ponder and his new team, the company thrived and grew at an astounding rate of 30 percent per annum. In 1999 the ownership, including Ponder, agreed to a very generous acquisition by The Cap Gemini Group.[20] Ponder stayed on with the Cap Gemini Group to manage its US-based telecommunications, media and networks consulting businesses as President and CEO. In 2000 Cap Gemini acquired Ernst & Young's global consulting business, greatly increasing Ponder's operational responsibilities. Ponder remained with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young until 2002[21]

When WellPoint Health Networks approached him to become Executive Vice President and CIO, Ponder understood the challenges in the healthcare industries in America to be nothing like any other he had faced during his career.[22] At WellPoint, a company composed of four states' autonomous and decentralized Blue Cross/Blue Shields companies, he was faced with various legacy systems from regional to business line specific technologies and an organization in search of enterprise-wide solutions.[23]

While the health insurance industry was new to Ponder, with the support of his CEO and the Board, he was able to completely transform and focus the WellPoint IT organization.[24] Under his leadership, he facilitated record growth and completion of several acquisitions over the next five years, helping to form the largest health insurance company in the United States.[25] Ponder left WellPoint one year after the final merger with Anthem Insurance was completed with the integration planned and implementation firmly underway.

The Ponder Group was formed shortly after leaving WellPoint. Ponder and his team which includes Tom Frazee spent the next year and a half transforming the IT organization of the NYC Department of Public Education. Partnering with IBM, The Ponder Group assisted with the planning and implementation of the systems required to support the massive education reform programs put in place for the New York City public schools. Following that effort, for the last 4 years, The Ponder Group has provided senior level consulting services to the Department of Commerce and the Bureau of the Census. This work has primarily focused on large scale IT program management for the planning and implementation of the information required for the 2010 Census. This has been an ongoing project through 2011.


Recipient of the Smithsonian Award for Technology Excellence, the Carnegie Mellon Award for Innovative Technology and the Stevie Award for Technology Innovation.

He was also part of the Leadership team at Federal Express to be awarded the first Baldridge Award to a Services company. During his tenure at AT&T, he supported the work that led to AT&T receiving two Baldridge Awards. The Deming Quality Award was also awarded to the Global Network Group under his leadership at AT&T during the same time period.

In 1995, CIO Magazine published a 10th Anniversary issue "Decade of the CIO" and named Ponder as one of the 12 most influential technology executives of the past decade.[26]

Boards Served[edit]


  • Bachelor of Business Administration - University of Southern Arkansas
  • Master of Business Administration – Louisiana Tech University
  • Doctorate of Business Administration – Mississippi State University


  1. ^ Freeman, David H. (May 1985). "Redefining an Industry through Integrated Automation", Infosystems, Hitchcock Publications.
  2. ^ Santosus, Megan (June 15, 1993). "Reengineering I.S. – Keeping Customers Connected", CIO, International Data Group, Pages 36-43.
  3. ^ Thyfault, Mary E. (1995). "AT&T Dream Team", Information Week, CMP Publications.
  4. ^ Wilson, Carol. (July 1998). "Beechwood Tightens Its OSS Focus", Interactive Week, Ziff Davis, Inc.
  5. ^ Valentine, Lisa. (July 2004). "WellPoint Health Networks CIO Ron J. Ponder: Getting and Keeping Customer", CIO Today Magazine.
  6. ^ Hertzberg, Robert. (March 2002). "Retrospect by Ron J. Ponder: The Twin Challenges of Succeeding as CIO", Baseline, Ziff Davis Media.
  7. ^ Walter, Stephanie K. (May 1985). "Corporate Information Systems, High Tech at Federal Express: How Barksdale Runs His Marvelous Machine", Management Technology,International Thompson Publication, pp 22-29.
  8. ^ Harrar, George. (April 10, 1995). "ASAP Interview – Ron Ponder", Forbes ASAP, pp 59-60.
  9. ^ Wherry, Rob. (Jan 7, 2005). "Health Care IT",
  10. ^ Marrietti, Charlene. (April 2005). "IT Health Care Innovators: Quality Technology Meets a Champion", Healthcare Informatics – The Business of Healthcare Information Technology, McGraw Hills Companies, Volume 22, number 4.
  11. ^ Wherry, Rob. (June 20, 2005). "Medical Technology – Data Docs", Forbes Magazine.
  12. ^ Wagnon, Bill (June 1997), "Ron Ponder Leads AT&T into the Information Future", Mississippi Alumnus: Summary 1997. Mississippi State University College of Business and Industry.
  13. ^ VanSimpson, Charleen. (May 16, 1988). "Fedex: American's Warehouse", Information Week, CMP Publications, pp 30-32.
  14. ^ Buday, Robert S. (Winter 1990). "Why Federal Express Flies on the Cutting Edge of Technology", Insights, Index Group, Inc., CSC Consulting Company, Volume 2, Number 1, pp 15-16.
  15. ^ USA Today. (June 8, 1987). (Hillkirk, John), "Winning Managers – American Management Systems – Carnegie Mellon University's First Award for Achievement in Managing Information Technology".
  16. ^ O'Leary, Megan. (February 1990). "Trucks, Ships, Planes, Trains and Brains", CIO Magazine, IDG Communications, Volume Three, Number Five.
  17. ^ Caldwell, Bruce. (January 7, 1991). "MIS and the Pursuit of Quality – Making It Like They Used To", Information Week, CMP Publications.
  18. ^ McCartney, Layton. (March 31, 1997). "AT&T Calling", Information Week, CMP Media, Inc. pp 31-34.
  19. ^ Pearson, David. C. (August 1, 1999), "Trail to the Chief", CIO Magazine Summer Leadership Curriculum, CIO Communications, Inc.
  20. ^ Business News. (August 12, 1999). Goldblatt, Dan, "Beechwood's Big Deal".
  21. ^ Frederick, Rick. (July 2001). "CEO Round Table – The Customer in Jeopardy", Chief Executive Magazine, Number 169 pp 21-29.
  22. ^ O'Donnell, Anthony. (September 2004). "Code Red: Reviving Health Insurance – Transformation Time", Insurance and Technology.
  23. ^ Simmons, John. (September 2004). "Moving IT into the Health Care Mainstream", Advance for Health Information Executives, Merion Publishers, Volume 8, Number 9.
  24. ^ Borge, Richard. (September 2004). "IT Healthcare Innovators", Healthcare Informatics – The Business Of Health Information Technology, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Volume 21, Number 9.
  25. ^ Karlgaard, Rich. (June 7, 2004). "Digital Rules – Cheap Tech Guru", Forbes, page 22
  26. ^ Editorial Staff (September 15, 1997). "Decade of the CIO: Fulfilling the promise of IT – Special Tenth Anniversary Issue", CIO Magazine for Information Executives, IDG Publications.