Young CIOs: They're Smart, Ambitious and They're Going to Take Your Job!

CEOs are hungry for talent they can nurture. Learn how this new generation of CIOs—aged 25, 33 and 36—climbed the corporate ladder so quickly.

A new generation of IT professionals is coming of age in corporate America. They're young—in their late 20s and early- to mid-30s. They're astute. They're moving into executive management positions faster than did their hoary predecessors. Unlike many of their elders, this new generation is not content to make the CIO role the capstone of their careers. And CEOs are very interested in—and willing to take a chance on—this new generation of IT execs.

"The level of interest [among CEOs] in on-boarding people with fewer years of experience is greater today than it was a few years ago," says Paul Groce, who leads executive search firm Christian & Timbers' CIO practice. "Age as a barrier has broken down, to a degree. Companies are less hierarchical. Credibility comes from what a person can do, rather than the gray hairs on their head."

Groce says some companies are considering less experienced candidates because they're more interested in developing bench strength, doing talent contingency planning for the future, and finding individuals who will be team players for the next 10 to 15 years. "One of the lead criteria we see in searches is, 'Give me great talent that can be nurtured and grown to the next level,' " he says.

There's another reason why some CEOs seek out younger talent, observes Groce. The CEOs feel that someone with less tenure, who hasn't tasted success, is more driven and hungrier for it than is someone who's already experienced its heady rush. When CEOs are faced with a candidate who's already "struck it big," they wonder if that individual will still have the drive to work 15-hour days and if that more-experienced CIO will take a less inventive approach to business, the second time around, says Groce.

Eric Sigurdson, the leader of Russell Reynolds' information officers practice, also notes that some of his clients see new IT execs as less encumbered by history. The seasoned IT leaders contemplate what has and hasn't worked in IT in the past. According to Sigurdson, the younger CIOs are perceived as more adaptable to current trends in technology than are earlier generations, who are known for uttering expressions like, 'I remember when we had a mainframe environment.' This new generation of CIOs is part of the Internet generation—and they know it.

"I grew up with computers. I don't have the punch card story," says Timothy Campos, the 33-year-old CIO of KLA-Tencor, a $2 billion semiconductor manufacturer.

By virtue of the fact that this generation of CIOs has moved into the role so early in their careers, recruiters agree that the new CIOs will have more opportunities to move out of IT and into general business management roles than did their predecessors. "If you become CIO by 35, it's hard to believe you're going to be doing that for the next 25 years," says Sigurdson. "They have a longer runway in which to launch into another role, which would likely include [business] operations."

For all these young CIOs' perceived strengths and advantages, says Sigurdson, "You don't get something for nothing. There's no substitute for experience."

One of the skills that younger IT executives may be lacking is business management experience, says Rich Brennan, the leader of Spencer Stuart's information officers practice. He notes that IT professionals who become CIO at a young age probably came up the technical route, so they may not have the business and leadership experience that most companies seek in CIOs today. "The challenge is the business management experience and being treated as a peer by division presidents, the CFO, the general counsel," he says.

So who are these young CIOs? Over the next few pages, introduces you to three of them. Each of them shot up the corporate ladder quickly because they had mentors and sponsors at current and previous employers who saw their potential, provided them with opportunities to grow and covered their flanks in challenging situations. They understand that being a successful CIO requires a combination of technical and business acumen. They're aware of their individual weaknesses and are driven to improve themselves.

Timothy Campos moved into the CIO position at KLA-Tencor when he was 32. He speaks with the polish and confidence of a seasoned Fortune 500 executive. Robert Walden, 36, is leading IT at TXP, a growing provider of original design manufacturing services to the electronics and telecom industries. He is committed to bridging the gap between IT and the business. At 25, Brad Friedlander, the CIO of Lightning Golf and Promotions, is the greenest of the bunch, but as such, he has the longest professional runway off of which to launch his already rapid-rise career. Read on for more detail on Campos's, Walden's and Friedlander's careers.

The CIO Who Never Intended to Be CIO

KLA-Tencor's Timothy Campos

Name: Timothy Campos

Occupation: CIO, KLA-Tencor

Age: 33

Age at which he became CIO: 32

Tenure in current position: 18 months and counting

Fast Track Career Path: The irony of Timothy Campos's career is that he never intended to go into corporate IT, let alone become a CIO. But lo and behold, that's where he's ended up—at least at this juncture in his charmed professional life.

Campos began his career at Sybase; he worked as a software developer while studying computer science and engineering at U.C. Berkeley. At the time, he thought he'd climb the corporate ladder to a CEO position through engineering: He'd start off as a rank-and-file engineer and work his way up to manager, then director, then VP before becoming a chief exec. Much of his short career followed the trajectory he had mapped out in his mind, but as they say, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

Campos left Sybase in 1996, the year after he graduated from Berkeley, to take an engineering job with Silicon Graphics (SGI.) A year into Campos's tenure with SGI, the workstation company tapped him to succeed his boss, who had moved into a different position inside the company. Thus began Campos's career in management.

Campos said sayonara to SGI in 1999. Caught up as he was in the dotcom delirium, he took a job with an application service provider (ASP), Portera Systems, as its director of engineering. In three years, he jumped from engineer to director.

When Portera Systems' (and every other ASP's) business began to fall apart in 2002, the company hired a new CIO, Bob Quinn, to rebuild IT. Quinn needed someone from the engineering side of the business to help resurrect the company's infrastructure, which had buckled under the weight of the Internet boom. Portera's CEO tried to convince Campos to join Quinn, but Campos wasn't interested in corporate IT—until, he says, the CEO made him an offer he couldn't refuse. This offer included a promise that Campos would have to work in the IT department for only three months; then he could go back to his beloved engineering function.

What was supposed to be a short-term rescue mission in IT became a turning point in Campos's career. "After three months, I fell in love with IT," he says. He thrived on the technical challenges and got on swimmingly with Quinn. Campos stayed with Quinn and the IT infrastructure team until Portera was acquired by Exigen, later in 2002. Quinn moved on to KLA-Tencor, and Campos followed his boss to the $2 billion semiconductor manufacturer a few months later.

Campos ran IT infrastructure for KLA-Tencor for two and a half years before moving into the applications team. There, he oversaw IT applications for KLA-Tencor's services organization, which accounts for 20 percent of the company's revenue and a third of its workforce and as such is one of the San Jose, Calif.-based company's biggest and most important segments. When KLA-Tencor's previous CIO quit to take a job with Genentech three months into Campos's stint running IT applications, KLA-Tencor's senior management team asked Campos to succeed his predecessor. Campos was 33 years old. He now manages a $50 million IT budget and a global staff of 220.

Career Goal: As he progressed professionally, Campos realized he needed to learn "a whole bunch of other skills" than the ones he had honed in engineering to achieve his dream of becoming a CEO. "I hadn't figured out how to deal with that until I moved into IT," he says. Corporate IT management gave him exposure to the business that he wouldn't have obtained had he stayed in software development. The CIO role, he says, has provided him with such a detailed view into processes across a variety of functions, including finance, sales and services, that he feels he could easily move from CIO into a COO position or into a role running a services organization. "I have more paths available to me [now] than had I stayed in engineering," he says.

His self-proclaimed shortcoming: "The leadership challenge changes as you gain more responsibility and visibility," Campos says via e-mail. "You impact a larger number of people, and thus you have less opportunity to directly impact their perceptions and understanding of you, your vision, your objectives. I've found that it is much more important that I be clear, concise, convincing in my messaging than ever before both to my organization, but also to my customers. My communication skills are a key focus area of personal development for me."

Concern about moving up the corporate ladder so quickly: Campos doesn't have any grave worries about his steep ascent. He adds that he doesn't want anyone to interpret his confidence as impudence. "I know my limitations," he writes in an e-mail. "I must constantly focus on improving my skills and learning what I don't know, as I don't have the same benefit of experience that my counterparts [who are] 10 years my senior have."

The Boss's Perspective : Jorge Titinger, KLA-Tencor's chief administrative officer, thinks Campos's rapid career success is a result of the following equation: 80 percent perseverance and dedication and 20 percent luck. On the perseverance and dedication side of the equation, Titinger says that what makes his CIO unique are Campos's understanding of the subtleties of KLA-Tencor's business and his feel for the dynamics of the semiconductor industry, coupled with his business process orientation and facility with technology. "Tim is a quick learner and continues to invest in his own development; he doesn't shy away from challenges...even when they might seem insurmountable," says the CAO.

What's made Campos fortunate, adds Titinger, are the opportunities the young executive has had "to step into roles that are typically held for more seasoned people." But the boss adds that Campos has gone beyond dumb luck and succeeded in the roles that have come his way: "In the end, success and opportunities are based on producing results, and Tim has delivered strong results in his different roles here at KLA-Tencor."

Getting to the Top by Thinking Big

Name: Robert Walden

Occupation: CIO, TXP

Age: 36

Age at which he became CIO: 35

Tenure in current position: One year and counting

Fast Track Career Path: Robert Walden attributes his success to his ability to see the forest through the trees. He says he's always had a passion for looking at the big picture, seeing how systems and processes integrate, and understanding the impact of his work on the whole company. "If I'm in a meeting, whether formal or informal, and I have information I can offer to someone working on something else about how their work integrates with the 30,000-foot view, I share it. When you provide that perspective on a regular basis, people see you as someone looking at things from a bigger picture. That more than anything seems to be what has gotten me in the right positions or situations very quickly."

Walden's penchant for connecting the dots served him well at his former employer, 7-Eleven. His technical recommendations have had a lasting impact on the company. One of his suggestions, which he proposed during a migration from a mainframe system to Oracle for HR and payroll, was to simultaneously implement a middleware layer and a platform for enterprise application integration (EAI). He realized that establishing a platform for EAI early on would make future integration efforts much easier, as developers wouldn't have to create one-off point-to-point solutions each time the company wanted to implement a new system; the middleware would allow developers to reuse code.  

Walden presented his idea to his boss, the CIO (then Keith Morrow), who saw the value in his suggestion. However, the many stakeholders involved in the Oracle implementation, including developers and business users, weren't so keen on the idea; it meant prolonging and complicating an already complex effort. The resistance Walden encountered to his idea provided him with an opportunity to do one of the most important and common things a CIO has to do: convince reluctant stakeholders to back his idea. According to Walden, he succeeded in doing so by explaining to the developers—with authority and confidence—how the middleware layer would make their lives easier in the future. Having consultants on staff who agreed that his idea was sensible also helped the cause.

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