Greg Smith became the CIO of the World Wildlife Fund five years ago at the age of 37. As he climbed the career ladder, he worked as a programmer, a consultant, and a senior IT manager and taught at a local university. In Straight to the Top: Becoming a World-Class CIO, Smith describes what he learned along the way.
His purpose is to advise up-and-coming IT executives about the skills they should have in order to land their first CIO position—among them, experience with project management, outstanding communication skills, expertise in managing vendors and a strategy for working with executive recruiters. The book is partly a review of existing literature on best practices in IT management and partly a forum for Smith and other CIOs to communicate their observations about how to succeed. (Full disclosure: Smith is a member of the CIO Executive Council, a professional community managed by CIO’s publisher, and he has written for this magazine.)
Smith is best when he analyzes his personal experiences. In combing that terrain, he delivers an unusual insight: One of the most valuable career experiences an aspiring CIO can have is to work as a consultant. Consultants, he argues, earn their bread by listening closely to their clients. They develop top-notch communication skills, gain experience in multiple aspects of business and assimilate best practices for system development. It’s good preparation, he thinks, for a job in which success depends on one’s ability to establish strong relationships with business users.
Smith also argues that one key to advancing is to network. But it’s a challenge for technologists who are typically introverts. Smith explains how he does it. He also prescribes golf as a way to build relationships. (He says it saved his sanity by getting him out of the office.) Even aspiring executives need to have fun once in a while.