The CIO-CEO Relationship at Direct Energy

Would you hire a CIO without a technology background? What does the CIO bring to the table that's unique in the organization other than their functional expertise? When a new technology comes along, does your CEO understand what it takes to leverage that technology and work it into the existing infrastructure?

Those were some of the many questions CIO magazine Editor-in-Chief Abbie Lundberg asked Deryk King, the chairman and CEO of Direct Energy, and his CIO, Kumud Kalia, during a session on the CIO-CEO relationship at CIO's Leadership Conference in Huntington Beach, Calif.

The Q&A session was designed to reveal what makes King's and Kalia's relationship tick, to suss out the future of the CIO role, and to extract lessons for the IT executives in the audience on how they can improve their relationships with their C-level colleagues. What follows is an edited excerpt from the session.

CIO: Deryk, when your business leaders get excited about a technology and want to use it, and if Kumud says that the technology is a great idea but the company needs to consider the complexity before moving forward, how do you as CEO weigh those different perspectives and interests?

King: I draw on experience. We put in a $1 billion (Canadian) CRM system into the UK business. We took all that gun power and fired one enormous canon ball and missed because the market had moved on. We learned from that experience with the CRM system. Kumud and I share a passionate desire to not do big IT projects. We would rather redesign business processes than do a big IT project.

CIO: Kumud, how do you avoid saying no to stakeholders, and how do you advance the conversation about implementing a new technology in a positive direction?

Kalia: Sometimes I do say no.

King: I always want to do everything. I have a long to-do list and I don't have a "stop to do" list. Kumud is in control of that sort of thinking.  CIO: Deryk, how did you establish that trust? How did you get to that point where you trust that Kumud knows what's best for the business?

King: Our trust was established when he came on board. He had a detailed and extensive recruitment process. We took great care to recruit someone with a good track record of operational excellence and strategic thinking, and who had worked in customer service and had diverse career.  He's only been on board two and a half years so it's too soon to say whether he's doing okay. [laughter from the audience.]

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