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By Laton McCartney and Michael McCartney
Some chief information officers seemingly have it made. "They're rock stars...killers," says Stephen Sterett, managing partner with executive recruiter Austin McGregor in Dallas. These CIOs typically report directly to the CEO, sit in on all the important corporate powwows—i.e. serve a member of the executive management team—have their own key to the executive washroom and command what Aretha Franklin describes as R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Question is, how does one move into the upper most echelons of management? Is there a surefire way?
No, but some of the nation's top executive recruiters, whose job it is to fill these positions, provided CIOZone with 8 tips for climbing the corporate ladder-be it from IT VP to CIO or from CIO to CEO.
1. Play Down Your Technical Credentials
The CEO of a major corporation is in the market for a new CIO. He glances at one resume, and almost immediately chucks it into the wastebasket. Why? "If I'm a CIO and I have all my technical capabilities listed on the top of my resume—I'm a C++ expert, or Java, or whatever the hell it says—the CEO is probably going to be like, 'I don't care. I'm hiring you to figure all that stuff out,'" says Jeffery Campbell, managing director of the Fiderion Group in Atlanta.
Even underscoring how much cost you were was able to drive out of the IT organization in the past year, or other operational aspects of your job such as how effective you've been in keeping the network going or keeping the data center running, isn't going to help your case, Campbell says. "In hiring CIOs, today's companies are saying, 'What we really need is a leader.' They don't need technologists—a super technician—and they don't need just a functional IT director," he stresses. "What they do need is someone who can articulate a business strategy that supports the business strategy and helps the [company] get where it wants to go."
2. Interact With The Big Guys
It's not essential that you report to the CEO, says Richard Brennan, who leads the Information Officer Practice at Spencer Stuart of Chicago. "Of the CIOs that we deal with, which is a large cross section, about a third of them report to the CEO," Brennan explains. "Another third report to the CFO, and may or may not be on that senior executive committee. Another third report to the COO, CAO [chief administrative officer] or head of supply chain."
However, while Brennan says most of the CIOs he deals with want to work directly under the CEO, it's equally important to be "on the most senior committee, get exposure to the board and interact daily with the C-level executives whether or not they report to the CEO."
3. Remember The Customer Comes First.
Up-and-comers need to take ownership of business intelligence (BI) and analytics. "CIOs need to get involved in business intelligence," notes Mark Polansky, a New York-based senior client partner and leader of the IT Center of Expertise at Korn/Ferry International. "We think that business intelligence is the next killer app. It's about changing data into information and transforming that to actionable information. It's about customer behavior in both the business-to-business and business-to-customer arenas and being reasonably able to predict and anticipate trends in the marketplace so that you've got the right products and services in the right place at the right time. Everybody is interested in doing that."
Business intelligence, Polansky says, enables companies like Kraft or Johnson & Johnson to build a community of customers, "so you've got people who are interested in cooking and recipes, or babies and parenting." With BI these companies can match customers and let them share information that's of particular relevance to them.
Such companies, as a result, get the consumer to come to them and then can talk to the customer directly without having to go through a retailer.
Sterett, the managing partner at Austin McGregor, adds that fast track CIOs are absolutely being called upon by business unit heads, vice presidents of sales, senior vice presidents of marketing and CFOs regarding BI. "CIOs have an incredible amount of data, especially in the financial services, medical and pharmaceutical worlds—anything that touches customers directly. These guys [the CIOs] are being asked to go back and rethink the way they use business intelligence and predictive analytics, especially the latter. Most of the companies they work for have a multi-channel focus to get to their customers, so the amount of data they collect about their customers is incredible."
For the CIO to be able to take a bunch of customer data, put it in a format that makes sense to senior executives, and lets those decision makers analyze the information and make use of it "is incredibly important today," says Sterett.
Korn/Ferry's Polansky also argues it's essential that CIOs become innovators.
"Innovation is the buzz word of today, and clearly those CIOs who are deeply engaged in the business and business transformation are finding ways to create change and to innovate," he says.
Innovation, he argues, doesn't have to be a huge event. "There are lots of little changes that have made business better."
As an example, Polansky cites a yacht building company in the Carolinas where customer satisfaction was well below expectations. In hopes of bettering satisfaction rates, the company put a Web cam on the shop floor where the boats were being built so that customers could watch the process and bond with their yacht as it was being constructed. "Consumer satisfaction numbers went up, but something they didn't anticipate was that their revenue went up as well." The reason: while their yacht was being built customers could see what it looked like and started adding options they didn't originally select.
Ellen Valentine, chief marketing officer of CIO Partners in Marietta, Ga., also is bullish on CIOs who innovate and effect change. "As an example, Dan Crowe, the CIO of AutoTrader.com, has been placing IT people out in the business department to go out on sales calls and visit with clients," Valentine explains. "This enables them to hear first hand what some of the opportunities are and where IT can get involved in a proactive way in developing new solutions and initiatives that will allow the company to be more responsive to their clients."