Some CIOs were IT professionals from the get-go. Others came to lead IT with a business background, often with MBAs.
Then there's George Brenckle, SVP and CIO of UMass Memorial Healthcare, a Worcester, Mass., seven-hospital healthcare system. Brenckle doesn't even think of himself as an IT professional. Rather, he's a healthcare professional, he says.
At first blush, this view may seem at odds with the way the technology community perceives him. Last month, the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Counsel, as part of its 12th annual Technology Leadership Awards for technology innovation, named him CIO of the Year. (Among the other nominees was iRobot CIO Jay Leader, who is profiled here.)
Yet considering Brenckle's background, his professional identification not only makes sense, it demonstrates that the road to the CIO role can take any form. As an undergrad, Brenckle majored in chemistry. He went on to become Dr. Brenckle, earning a PhD in biochemistry.
It was in the lab where the seeds for a CIO career were planted. As a biochemistry student, the bulk of Brenckle's interest was in the research lab. Working in the early 1980s (he received his doctorate in 1981), Brenckle was an early adopter of computer technology, using it to collect data. His technology expertise developed, but not because of a special interest in technology itself but as a result of his interest in the research. He was curious about his colleagues' work and discoveries. As he tells it, "I'm basically a nosy person."
As more of his fellow students used computers in their research, he became "the go-to guy" for computer help -- which gave him the chance to read their research and satisfy his "nosiness."
Working for the Boss
After working for a pharmaceutical company, Brenckle's IT career began in earnest automating systems for a hospital where a former IT manager at the pharma firm was the hospital's new CIO. Before joining the hospital, Brenckle, who knew the CIO he would report to only superficially while at the pharmaceutical firm, asked everyone he could think of about his soon-to-be boss. "You've got to know, understand, and like the people you work for," says Brenckle. It's something he's insisted on since the beginning of his career.
In the same way, "fit" is a critical requirement for Brenckle in the organization he works for -- not just for job satisfaction but for practical reasons. He believes it's the key ingredient that allows a CIO to get the job done. As many CIOs may have experienced, it's tough to be successful when you're meeting resistance at every turn. "People at the organization you work for have to share your vision and make it their own." It's no false modesty that, on winning the CIO of the Year award, Brenckle says "UMass Memorial really won, not me."