by George Nott

Australia’s longest-serving CIOs on the changing role and staying engaged

Jul 10, 2017
Business ContinuityBusiness IntelligenceCareers

The majority of CIOs (58 per cent) expect to be in their current role for five years, according to a recent Harvey Nash/KPMG survey.

But there are some IT chiefs in Australia pushing their tenure way beyond the typical, holding the same role for a decade or more.

CIO Australia speaks to three such CIOs on what keeps them at their companies, how the role has changed and why sticking at it reaps big benefits.

Changing status

Deloitte Australia CIO Tim Fleming joined the accounting and consultancy giant in 1999.

“I imagined a five year gig, and here we are 18 years later,” he said. During that time, the role has changed considerably, Fleming explains.

“Today my team is much more directly involved in revenue-earning activities. When I started at Deloitte 18 years ago, IT was very much in the ‘keeping lights on’ business only. Whereas today we are central to the delivery of many new services that are revenue-earning in their own right,” he said.

“My team is much more front and centre due to the strong skillsets in capabilities we have developed that our business units need. To this end we are even more relevant today than we were to the business. And as the team’s role has changed, so has mine.”

The changing status of the IT chief was echoed byTherese Chakour-West, information technology manager (the company’s most senior IT role) at the Australian division of power tool manufacturer Stihl.

“The role has changed significantly from one of compliance to one of true leadership, driving change and adding real value to the business,” said Chakour-West, who has held her role for 11 years.

Andrew Alpe, CIO at aged care provider the Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution (RFBI), agrees.

Alpe first joined the organisation to assist with the implementation of a finance system. He was soon appointed to the CIO role, the company’s first, in 2006.

“When I started it was a bit of fire-fighting, but now it’s really setting the direction and making sure were staying on course,” he said.

“Strategy obviously plays a huge part in it and, being a member of the executive team, I have to have a view across not just IT but what the whole company is doing and try to translate that into those business needs across the IT platforms we use. It’s a very strategic role now.”

Constantly challenged

Despite holding on to the same job title, the changing nature of the work involved kept the long-serving CIOs challenged and interested.

“Before I started at Deloitte I had worked at around 10 other organisations and could not imagine spending this amount of time in one place,” said Fleming. “But Deloitte today is not the same organisation I joined. My job is certainly not the job I originally signed up for. This continual change and challenge keeps the job fresh for me and me fresh for it. I certainly could not imagine myself spending this amount of time in a static role or organisation.”

Alpe said at RFBI there is always a new challenge in hand.

“There’s just always something to do. I’ve been here a long time but I feel like there’s always something else to do. Certainly in the CIO space I don’t think that will ever change,” Alpe said. “I’ve got to be a bit of an all-rounder I’d say now. You’ve got to have your eye over everything, it’s certainly a big challenge.”

Culture counts

All three CIOs noted that the culture of their companies was a big reason for them remaining loyal employees.

“The constant pace of change, the culture of our company, the opportunities for challenges, and a relatively new leader who believes in me and inspires me to strive for better and be the best leader I can be, has kept me here,” said Chakour-West.

Alpe noted the enthusiasm of his co-workers at RFBI and company schemes like head office staff spending a number of weeks each year working from one of the organisation’s residential care homes.

“I’ve never worked for a company that has such a great atmosphere about it,” said Alpe. “The mission of the organisation is really important. The colleagues I work with are outstanding people who are all here for the right reasons.”

Fleming said Deloitte was an “amazing and fascinating organisation”, and has remained so despite being four or five times larger than when he joined.

“I have to say that the culture of our organisation is wonderfully positive and inclusive, which makes it a pleasant place to work!” he added.

Green pastures

Our long-serving CIOs admitted they had occasional considered pastures new, but never for long.

“Every organisation has its disadvantages, but the advantages outweigh the bad, and the grass is not always greener on the other side,” said Chakour-West. “When you accomplish amazing things, it is enough to inspire you to achieve more.When you have a vision and passion, this is why I get up every morning, and have done for the last 13 and a half years, 11 of those as IT Manager. I definitely get an itch ‘sometimes’ but no great opportunity has presented itself and I haven’t been actively looking.”

Alpe said that as long as his interest in the field and belief in the company continues he sees no reason to move. “I’d be happy to stay here for longer,” he said.

Fleming agreed, saying if he were to make a move it would be for something ‘very different’.

“Of course over the years there have been times when things weren’t going so well and the grass looked a little greener elsewhere, but my next move will be something very different. My partner is very keen on a lavender farm!” he said. “The constant stimulation here at Deloitte, and the achievements of my team – of whom I am in constant awe – get me up in the morning.”

Have you been CIO with the same organisation for more than ten years? What keeps you there? How has your role changed over time? What is the secret to sticking at it? Let us know in the comments.