Next Step CEO? - Page 1

Dec 27, 2006

Sourabh Hajela

Most, if not all, CIOs end their careers in that position. Why is the CIO position terminal? Why does it stand for "Career Is Over?"

How many executive search firms, looking for CEOs, are raiding IT departments? Ironically, even major technology firms are not headed by ex-CIOs! Wouldn’t you expect the CEO of IBM or Microsoft to be an ex-CIO?

In my admittedly, limited and unscientific research on the topic, I could not find a CIO who became a CEO of a major corporation. I would not be surprised if there are CIOs who have successfully made the transition but I am convinced they are a rarity.

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So, what prevents technology leaders from becoming business leaders? CIOs have successfully transitioned to the Chief Operating Officer (COO) role. My search came up empty on successful CIO transitions to other “C-level” business roles such as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

Granted, lack of “content” knowledge could be preventing the transition from CIO to CFO or CMO role. Since technology automates processes, the transition to COO is more natural.

But CEOs are generalists who manage or, more appropriately, lead specialists. But, if a CFO — a numbers guy — can become a CEO, why can’t a CIO?

Longevity is a factor; you have to be there to make it to the next step. On average, the CIO tenure is less than 30 months. But I am referring to “successful” CIOs, those who have overcome this “average” tenure. Why have they not made it to the CEO ranks?

Positioning could be another reason. There was a time when the CIO role was not positioned for this transition as they reported to a senior executive, the CFO or COO, who in turn reported to the CEO. With this configuration, one could argue, the CIO did not possess the exposure or experience to make it to the head of the table.

However, of late, in many instances, CIOs report directly to the CEO. They have a seat at the table, so to speak. Now, what is impeding their transition to their boss’s chair? Failing to find a rationale, one is left with one logical question: Do CIOs lack skills required to become CEO?

Until there is a comprehensive scientific study on the topic, I decided to base my answer on my, again, admittedly limited, observations.

Is the CIO viewed as a business leader?

In order to become "someone," one has to be viewed as such. This perception can make all the difference between a dream and its realization.

Business leaders often do not view the CIO role as being business focused. Business is business and IT is IT. CIOs are thought of as techies and “order-takers;” we devise the strategy and you build the systems to support it.

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