What was it like to be the CIO of Tesla? A conversation with Jay Vijayan

By: Brian Clendenin, Contributing Writer for IT World Canada

Tesla Inc. … One of the fastest growing and most disruptive companies in the world today. I wonder what it must be like to have experienced being an IT leader in that rapid pace environment.  Well, it turns out that Jay Vijayan, CIO of Tesla prior to founding his own startup company, will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming CIO Association of Canada’s 2017 Peer Forum in Edmonton, Alberta, April 26th & 27th. I connected with Jay to get a glimpse of the unique insights he will share with attendees about his time as the CIO of Tesla and how he adapted and changed his mindset to support the rapid pace of growth.

Tesla was founded in 2003 by a group of engineers in Silicon Valley who wanted to prove that electric cars could be better than gasoline-powered cars. Today, Tesla has a market value of US$47.8 billion.


Brian Clendenin: Tell me about your time at Tesla?

Jay Vijayan:  My time at Tesla was the best time in my career before starting my own company. It was a very intense experience, in a good way, especially because of the challenges we had to resolve, make progress in super rapid pace and deliver towards the targets that normally will be considered as mission impossible to achieve in almost any circumstances.


Brian: What did you quickly come to learn with regards to industry disruption?

Jay:  Industry disruption is something that brings huge number of unknowns in many aspects, because there is not precedent to most cases. The big challenge was to design, develop and implement systems and processes that worked not only for the current context, but would continue to serve in the globally expanding and growing future that was approaching more rapidly than planned. In addition, these systems and processes needed to be at an industrial grade reliability and scalability.

Brian: How did you adapt and change your mindset to support the rapid pace of growth?

Jay: I trained myself and my teams to accept the fact that change is constant and anything we did – from systems, process and organization  – needed to be designed to evolve and adapt rapidly to that change. When we expect that things will stay constant there is disappointment and potential frustration when change occurs. Having the right mind-set, we were prepared for it and we were in a better position to handle it. 

Brian: What would you advise other IT Leaders that may be facing a similar environment?

Jay: Based on my experience, here are a few key points that helped me to be successful:

  1. Everything in IT aligned to a larger company/business goal.
  2. Identify the core business flow of the company. Validate with the CEO and key business leaders and then prioritize and focus resources and efforts to the initiatives enabling and helping the core business
  3. On an ongoing basis, communicate clearly to all the right people within the company on the top IT initiatives/projects, their progress, success metrics and how they are contributing to the larger company goals.
  4. Keep the team motivated by drawing a line of sight to the larger company goals, showing how their contributions are making a difference.


The CIO Association of Canada 2017 CIO Peer Forum is April 26th & 27th in Edmonton, Alberta. The theme of this year’s conference is “DIGITAL LEADERS: CREATING THE DIGITAL BUSINESS”. Jay Vijayan will be delivering the closing keynote address, Leading IT transformation into an Industry Disruption