My ears always perk up when I hear about a CIO moving out of IT and into operations or general management. A CIO who becomes COO, president, CEO – these people usually have interesting stories to tell.
Doug Haugh,who moved from CIO to president of Mansfield Oil last year, talked about what he learned from his transition, at our recent CIO Perspectives conference in Atlanta. When he first contemplated the change, he asked himself whether he truly understood what makes him happy. “Not satisfied, not comfortable,” he says. “But grin on your face, radio up loud, windows down happy.”
Maybe you should stay in IT if you love “gnarly technical challenges,” he says. “It’s one of the things I miss.” But he decided that what really gave him that cruising-in-the-convertible feeling was developing people. Or, as he puts it, leading people on a journey. As president of Mansfield Oil, he could do more of that on a bigger scale with, he hopes, long lasting results.
Aside from obvious attributes, such as sharp business sense and experience leading companies or large business units and such, Haugh says a CIO needs certain prerequisites to succeed outside of IT:
- Three excellent protégés, any of whom can step into the CIO job. If not, he says, you won’t have the leverage to leave the IT group. “You’ll keep getting dragged in.”
- P&L experience, because there’s nothing that focuses the mind like having to perform as a profit center.
- Optimism, to carry you through the many leaps you’ll have to make in the new realm. Running a company often requires making decisions using imperfect knowledge, he says. Sometimes no data or wrong data. “I don’t believe most people will enjoy making those decisions over and over again without being an optimist.”
The ability to deal with being perceived as evil is pretty handy, too, he says. You have to admire your industry, whether it’s retail, manufacturing, financial services, oil or something else. CEOs and faceless companies are, Haugh says, too often portrayed as villains in cartoons and stories. (Phineas and Ferb fans among us, you know what he’s talking about.) Because ambivalence about capitalism – very, very successful capitalism – can pervade employee ranks, too, introspection is in order: “Do we believe that success at scale is evil? I believe it’s the best thing we can do to improve people’s lot in life [if] it’s based on hard work and ethical pursuit of rewards.”
Mansfield Oil tries to be clear and open about how the company makes its money, he says, for employees and customers, because the company doesn’t want anyone to doubt its actions. “I’m now the bad boy in children’s books,” he says. “Organizationally, that has to be dealt with.”