Sanjay Mirchandani is a rare breed. And to be honest, he can\u2019t quite figure out why.\nFor the last 14 months he\u2019s been the CEO of Puppet, the Portland, Ore.-based company that specializes in helping companies automate the operations of their tech infrastructure.\nWhat makes him rare, he says, is that he\u2019s a CEO who held a major role as CIO. For almost five years ending in 2013 he was global CIO for the data storage giant EMC.\nAnd at a moment when so many companies in nearly every industry under the sun are scrambling to digitize so much about their business, it would seem, he argues, that more CIOs should be aiming for the top job. And yet many don\u2019t.\nWe got to talking about this during a conversation the day after his keynote address at Puppet Conf 2017, the company\u2019s annual customer event in San Francisco two months ago. We continued the conversation in a follow-up phone call earlier this month.\n\u201cWhen every company is forced to be a software company, whether you\u2019re an airline or a railroad or a hotel chain, you\u2019re not naturally a software company to begin with. Who do you lean on?\u201d he says. \u201cMost likely it\u2019s the CIO.\u201d\n\u201cTo me there\u2019s never been a better time to be a CIO,\u201d he says. And his argument makes a certain amount of sense. Nearly every business is struggling to come to grips with the easy-to-say but hard-to-execute digitally driven realities that are transforming their operations.\nOn paper that makes CIOs the people in the C-Suite who are most likely to \u201cget digital\u201d and so it follows logically that this should be their moment in the sun. Yet, it\u2019s not.\nMirchandani is in the early stages of writing a book on this subject. One of his key arguments is that CIOs are in the best position to understand every aspect of the business: the supply chain; customer engagements; manufacturing; marketing. Digital changes are rocking them all.\n\u201cTo me that makes the CIO job the perfect place to groom your next CEO,\u201d he says.\nHere\u2019s how it happened for Mirchandani. After a dozen years running Microsoft\u2019s operations in the Asia-Pacific region, he landed at IT giant EMC, now part of Dell Technologies. First, he ran its global centers of excellence. But in 2008, the company\u2019s longtime CEO Joe Tucci offered him the CIO job, and had to convince him. \u201cI had come out of the business side, and so I wasn\u2019t a career IT person,\u201d Mirchandani says. \u201cJoe said \u2018Sanjay, give me bragging rights.\u2019\u201d In practice it meant sharing everything that EMC did within its own IT environments with customers, including the good and the bad.\u201d He took the assignment as a mandate. EMC sought to show the world its view of not only how IT could be done better, but also how the world could learn from its mistakes along the way. By becoming a customer of his own services, he learned what worked well and what didn\u2019t, and his IT team published white papers and articles to share lessons learned.\n\u201cI wanted to make sure our IT organization was running in a customer-centric way, and so I became a customer too,\u201d he said.\nWhen he saw things that as a customer he didn\u2019t like, he pressured his teams to break out of their old habits. \u201cThere was this old mindset that if you were in IT, you had to roll your own solutions,\u201d he said. \u201cI challenged them to do better by getting competitive bids,\u201d sometimes from the likes of Amazon Web Services or others.\u00a0\nThe experience gave him a feel for the operational cadence of running a business of his own, something he thinks every CIO should do if they want to be a CEO someday.\n\u201cThere\u2019s no shortage of opportunities inside companies. As a CEO I\u2019m always looking for people to take on growth opportunities,\u201d he says. \u201cGo ask for part of the business that you can run. It\u2019s important to be a customer of your own product. You have to understand what you deliver and what you can\u2019t deliver.\u201d\nThe CIO role lasted into 2013 and was followed by other jobs within EMC and its subsidiary, VMware. The call to run Puppet came in 2015. \u201cI had been using Puppet at EMC and I liked it,\u201d he says. \u201cI loved the stage it was at as a company and the space it was going after. When the phone call came, one thing led to another.\u201d He\u2019s been Puppet\u2019s CEO for 15 months now.\nAnd there are other former CIOs who have stepped up to more high-profile positions. One example is Guy Chiarello who in 2013 left a CIO role at J.P. Morgan to become president at the payment giant First Data. Another, Marty Chavez of Goldman Sachs was earlier this year promoted to CFO at the Wall Street financial giant. Other high-profile ex-CIOs include Diane Bryant, once the CIO of Intel who went on to run its $17 billion data center business, and last month was named COO at Google Cloud. Rebecca Jacoby spent 11 years as CIO of networking giant Cisco Systems and in 15 was promoted to senior VP of operations.\nSo, what\u2019s an ambitious CIO to do? \u201cStop talking tech and start talking business,\u201d he said. \u201cStop talking gigahertz about petaflops and maintenance windows and get your head around the shifts that are hitting your business. Figure out how you can play a decisive role in enabling them.\u201d\nAfter that, make sure you\u2019re spending time with customers, both internal and external. \u201cYou have to get that first-hand white-of-the-eyes feedback,\u201d he says. \u201cIn the end you are what your customer thinks of you.\u201d\nFinally, go looking for things that aren\u2019t working. \u201cYou have to see what people are struggling with day-in and day-out. See if you can help fix those things.\u201d\nOverall, he says, now is the time for CIOs to be actively engaged in every aspect of the business. As digital transformation touches everything, the CIO\u2019s opinions can\u2019t help but carry weight on larger strategic decisions.\n\u201cThe fact is, there\u2019s no one left to convince about the importance of digital anymore,\u201d he says. \u201cIf you\u2019re a CIO, the moment is here. You\u2019re the loudest voice at the table.\u201d\nBold advice from an ex-CIO who\u2019s lived it.