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.

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The other idea Walden proposed was to expand the company's effort to create a corporate intranet into a portal project that would serve 7-Eleven stores in addition to corporate headquarters. He thought the company could save money on courier costs if retail outlets could get the information they needed about promotions and policies via a portal. To secure the portal, he recommended that the company move from the NTLM authentication protocol to an active directory. Walden says the 7-Connect portal is still in use today.

Thinking broadly and sharing his knowledge is also what led Walden to his first CIO role. He had left his post as 7-Eleven's chief architect and was taking some time off between gigs when a friend who works for TXP began asking Walden for technology advice. The 100-person company, an original design manufacturer for the electronics and communications industries, was experiencing growing pains. It needed someone with IT expertise who could quickly establish the necessary infrastructure to support the company's expansion. The friend relayed Walden's words of wisdom to Michael Shores, the CEO of the publicly held company, and Shores asked to meet Walden. The two agreed that Walden would work for the company part time. After a week, Walden came on board full time in April 2006. So far, the University of North Texas economics major leads a four-person IT group.

Career Goal: Thinking big comes naturally to Walden. It inspires and energizes him. So it should come as no surprise that one of the things he'd like to do in the future involves strategic planning and aligning the business and IT. "I like to go into organizations and outline needs and gaps. I have a keen sense for that. I always have," he says.

Walden isn't sure if his aptitude for strength-weakness analyses will lead him to a career as an independent consultant or if he'll work for an established consulting firm. But he knows that in addition to performing those gap analyses, he's committed to IT's cause. He says, "I want to help technology do what it's capable of doing. All the tools are there. It's the execution part that's lacking. You have business processes here and technology there; we have to bring those two together so they function properly. That's what CIOs are for."

His self-proclaimed shortcoming: As high a level as Walden operates at, when it comes to the skills he feels he still has to hone, he's focused on the tactical and the immediate. He believes that he needs to learn more about Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and the legislation's impact on information security. He's also interested in polishing his communication skills.

Concern about moving up the corporate ladder so quickly: Only that he'll be passed up or overlooked for positions due to his age and not his credibility.

The Boss's Perspective: Walden's former boss, Morrow, who is now the owner and principal of CIO leadership consultancy K. Morrow Associates, says that Walden's grasp of the big picture is one of the things that makes the CIO stand out.

Morrow attributes Walden's rapid rise to Walden's willingness to assume more responsibility than was called for in his job description. "There were no challenges that scared or intimidated him. [He's a] brilliant technologist, [has a] good vision and ability to execute on commitments," wrote Morrow via e-mail. "Once he takes on more roles, he is able to manage the workload of four to five people."

Where Do I Go from Here?

Name: Brad Friedlander

Occupation: CIO, Lightning Golf & Promotions

Age: 25

Age at which he became CIO: 24

Tenure in current position: 15 months and counting

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Fast Track Career Path: Two weeks after Brad Friedlander graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor's degree in business in 2003 at age 21, Legg Mason whisked him into its competitive training program. The Baltimore, Md.-based asset-management firm selects five college graduates twice a year to spend several weeks working in each of the company's operational departments, and Friedlander, a finance major, was one of the elite graduates selected.

Six months into Friedlander's two-and-a-half-year tenure with Legg Mason, the company tapped him for his knowledge of finance to manage the development of a proprietary trade-settlement system that handles all of Legg Mason's international trades. This was no busy-work project, says Mike Abbaei, Legg Mason's EVP and chief information and operations officer and Friedlander's former boss. It was the IT project on which Friedlander cut his teeth. International operations was then a rapidly growing segment of Legg Mason's business. "This project, although technically a very small application implementation, was very critical to our business expansion," says Abbaei.

Friedlander oversaw a small team of programmers that wrote the code according to specs he hashed out with business users. From this effort, Friedlander learned a fundamental tenet of the CIO role: the importance of delivering solutions that drive and enable business growth. He also learned about extracting and managing requirements for software development projects and obtained experience in project and people management.

Two and a half years after Friedlander joined Legg Mason, the company sold its brokerage business to Citigroup. Since Friedlander worked in Legg Mason's brokerage segment, his function was transferred to Citi. The Pikesville, Md.-native had two career options at this juncture: Move to NYC to take a position with Citi, similar to the one he held at Legg Mason, or stay in Baltimore and work for Citigroup in a new capacity. Instead, Friedlander left both options on the table and went to work for a longtime friend, Jimmy Rosenfield, the CEO of Lightning Golf and Promotions, an under-$10 million distributor of golf-related promotional products. Rosenfield had been trying to recruit Friedlander for years. With Citi's acquisition of Friedlander's job, the timing was finally right.

"I thought I had seen enough of the large business world," says Friedlander about his decision to join Lightning Golf. "I wanted to see what a smaller business, a privately held company, was like."

Friedlander's mission with Lightning Golf is to bring the growing 10-person company into the 21st century, technology-wise. He has his work cut out for him. When Friedlander, who is one of a two-person IT department, arrived in December 2005, Lightning Golf didn't own a server. Since then, he's installed a corporate e-mail system, an order management system and a customer database. He's even integrated Lightning Golf's back-end systems with some of its customers' ERP systems, including Legg Mason's PeopleSoft system, to make order management and fulfillment more efficient. He's effectively brought Lightning Golf into 1998—only nine more years to catch up.

Friedlander, who says he is probably the youngest employee at the company by 15 years, notes that his biggest challenge is change management. "It's hard to get people who have been doing something the same way for a long period of time to adapt to new technology," he says. "It's a slow process. I can't just do a sudden overhaul."

Career Goal: With his work still cut out for him at Lightning Golf, Friedlander doesn't have a crystal-clear picture of what he wants to be when he grows up. He does envision continuing to work with a smaller company—possibly one he starts on his own or with a friend—because he thinks an individual's efforts are more visible at smaller companies. Of course, he says, "If the right opportunity came about with a big company, I wouldn't turn it down."

His self-proclaimed shortcoming: Lack of experience and technological expertise.

Concern about moving up the corporate ladder so quickly: "Where do I go from here?" Having shot to the top of the IT management pinnacle—at least in title—so quickly, Friedlander is concerned that it's going to be hard for him to maintain his steep trajectory.

Boss's Perspective: Legg Mason Chief Information and Operations Officer Abbaei expressed via e-mail that Friedlander "is very well rounded in his understanding of technology and how it applies to business." In fact, Abbaei recommended his former direct report for the CIO post at Lightning Golf. He says Lightning Golf needed someone who could assist the company with all aspects of technology, including telecom, networking, infrastructure, applications, servers and the Web. "Brad was the jack of all trades that fit the position."

Abbaei is not at all threatened by Friedlander's spitfire success and expresses pride for having played a role Friedlander's development. "I see this as part of my responsibility and all of my senior managers' responsibilities: We must recognize, encourage and develop our talented staff and give them opportunities to shine," he writes. "I hope to see a 'Young Turk' sitting in my seat someday."

For young IT professionals wishing to emulate Friedlander's, Walden's and Campos's fast tracks, Groce of Christian & Timbers' information officers practice sounds the following warning: "You need to ensure you're prepared [for the role] so that you don't overextend yourself. Once you take the step forward, it's very difficult to take a step back from a pride and ego perspective. I've seen some individuals who moved into a CIO role too soon and suffered the curse of having been number one and never wanting to be number two again."

  • If you think you're ready for your next move, check out the IT job ads at CIO Wanted.
  • For more information on up-and-coming IT executives, stay tuned for CIO's 2007 Ones to Watch coverage on May 1.
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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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