The news that Philip Clarke is to replace Sir Terry Leahy is wonderful news at the very least for event marketers who have tried to sell seats at conferences entitled From CIO To CEO or some such optimistic guff.
Some are trying to punt the story of Clarke’s elevation as rags-to-riches because Clarke once stacked shelves but I’d wager that more former shelf-stackers make it to the top job than ex-CIOs. The grim fact of the matter is that unless you’re in the tech/web business itself, the ability to hold your own in a bit of light banter covering the future of SOA or the likelihood of a useful SLA in cloud computing is viewed with a gimlet eye by those looking for runners and riders with the form to run the company. Let’s not kid ourselves, having been CIO at a company is usually seen as the kind of CV line to be bracketed alongside House Chess Champion.
We know the battle lines or argument, of course. Companies run on tech, are differentiated by tech, so who better than the tech champion to run the show? Trouble is, it’s the stuff of fantasy, or has been until now. Most CEOs and CFOs still think of the CIO as the email guy or necessary evil. Even in sectors such as financial services where IT is pretty much the only asset that isn’t in cash reserves and credit lines, the CIO has to be content with a huge salary and the occasional write-up in a trade newspaper. The CIO might get to run change, innovation or even become COO or run a unit. But CEO? Nah.
Clarke’s appointment will therefore be closely watched and any notable success could create a trend for CIOs to move up in the the same way that CFOs have done over the last couple of decades. The catch of course is that he takes over from one of the most remarkable stewardships in modern British businesses…