October 2015 Issue

Finding the courage for career transformations

Adam Dennison admires IT execs who tackle the challenges of moving into dramatically different industries


We talk a lot about transformation in this industry: digital transformation, IT transformation, business transformation, and so on.

But what we often overlook are career and personal transformation. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Koures, CTO at the University of California, San Diego's Clinical and Translational Research Institute. What I heard was an inspiring transformation story.

Koures started out in the sciences. He earned a Ph.D. in computational chemical physics from the University of Utah and went on to work as a practicing scientist at several organizations, including Honeywell. Then his career took a turn toward Wall Street, and he spent 16 years in various executive IT positions (including CIO) at companies such as UBS and Lehman Brothers.

Yet for all his professional accomplishments, something was still missing. Koures wanted to get back to his roots as a scientist. He also wanted to feel like his work was improving people's lives. You might think someone with his résumé could hook up with a well-connected recruiter and have several job offers in no time.

Turns out recruiters had a hard time figuring out how to interest health sciences companies in a scientist turned Wall Street IT exec. So Koures took the search into his own hands, using his own network to find openings at research institutions in Southern California. He spotted an ad from UC San Diego, answered it and landed his current job. The transition wasn't easy. It meant changing the way he communicates, to fit the laid-back SoCal university style rather than the aggressive Wall Street approach. It also meant readjusting to the resource-constrained university IT environment after growing accustomed to the big IT budgets of the finance world.

I call attention to Koures' unusual career path because I admire people who reassess their lives, decide on a new course and make it happen. My wife of 15-plus years did something similar when she left advertising to become a nurse. (And with three little kids underfoot, we have more of a need for nursing skills than advertising savvy around our house these days.)

I know many of you make similar career transformations. You move across diverse industries with IT and business leadership skills that evolve as constantly as technology itself does. I find that kind of courage inspiring.

Congratulations to those who make things happen.

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