Q&A with Heidrick & Struggles recruiter

Yesterday I spoke with Gerry McNamara, a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Global CIO Practice, about the dynamics of placing and hiring CIOs and the new skills companies are seeking in CIOs.  Below is an edited version of our conversation.  If you have questions about placement issues or hiring dynamics you’d like me to ask recruiters in future Q&As for this blog, feel free to e-mail me at mlevinson@cio.com. Also check out the Career Counselor section of CIO.com for very specific career questions and answers.

CIO: What’s driving the activity in the executive search industry?

McNamara: After 2001, 2002 and into the middle of 2003, companies hunkered down and took the time to assess their businesses. Once they adopted their strategies, they began to execute them, which meant shedding some businesses, buying others, and from a leadership point of view asking, Do we have the right leadership in place to execute on the strategy that we’ve adopted?  For the past two years, large companies have been on that path to identify the leadership that is going to help execute their strategic plans. 

What does this mean for CIOs?

Several years back, when companies looked for CIOs, they wanted people who had experience as a programmer or systems analyst and who had strong project management expertise. Today, having a programming background is less important. Executives are looking for people with energy, who are smart, who understand technology, who can communicate technical things in terms that non-technical people can understand, who really understand business, the pressure points in a business, how technology can be applied to alleviate those pressure points, and who can operate in a very persuasive way at the highest levels of corporations.

Are there new skills and sets of experiences companies are looking for today in CIOs  that they weren’t looking for a few years ago?

More and more of the companies I work for are looking for CIOs who are comfortable working with third party providers of IT solutions and services.

You mean CIOs who have experience with outsourcing?

Yes. Overseas or domestic.  They’re looking for CIOs who are really comfortable negotiating very complex outsourcing deals. That’s a requirement in most CIO positions that didn’t exist three years ago. 

They’re also looking for international experience--deploying systems overseas.  A year ago I placed Joe Held at Standard & Poors as its CTO.  [Held had previously worked for The Hartford.] What was impressive about Joe is that he was a linchpin in The Hartford’s ability to begin their annuity business in Asia.  He and his team built the systems that enabled The Hartford to establish that annuity business over there. These are fairly complex applications.  This is an individual who had very strong project management expertise.  He had a programming background, too, so he understood the issues with creating those applications. More importantly, he was able to create them in a foreign country and get that business up and running.  As a result, The Hartford now basically owns the annuity business in Asia.  Many companies are looking for CIOs like that.

 Is there a lot of demand for CIOs?

Everybody who does what I do, which is CIOs, CTOs and their direct reports like heads of application development and infrastructure, are all busy. 

For CIOs looking to make a move, is now a good time for them to do so? 

I think so. Now’s a good time to talk because these searches often go 60-90-120 days.

 What are some of the dynamics at work when placing and hiring CIOs?

Most companies late in the fourth quarter or by January have their budget, tactical and strategic plans in place for the next year. Out of that comes a need for an executive here or a new person there. We often start getting busy in the first quarter as a result. 

Companies also often wait to hire executives until February because if they were to recruit a senior executive anytime between now and December, they’ll probably have to cover that person’s bonus since bonuses are usually paid in December or January or sometimes March for banks.  A candidate is not going to walk away from a full year’s bonus so whoever is buying them will have to pay for them.  If a candidate goes to new company in February, they will have just received their full bonus and the new comany won’t have to pay for that. A candidate is more expense at the back half of the year than in the first quarter.

What advice would you give to CIOs who are looking to make a move about the timing, the market or what steps they should take?

If they believe they’re ready to make a move, they need to get to know a recruiter who has relationships with the kinds of companies they want to go to.  It starts with a resume. People need to know about you. And it’s not one dialog. It’s not one cup of coffee. It’s really establishing a relationship with a recruiter who knows exactly what your strengths and shortcomings are and the kinds of companies where you would fit best. 

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