A colleague once told Doreen Wright that the key to success is not to worry too much about long-term career plans and just seize upon great opportunities. Wright took that advice in her mid 30s, when, as managing director of trust operations at Bankers Trust, she raised her hand to lead an IT project. This career move resulted in CIO positions at Nabisco and Campbell Soup. Wright’s advice, “Be brave enough to go for opportunities that do not necessarily fit into the career path you set for yourself. Sometimes the best career move is just to spot and seize upon great opportunities.”
Geoff Scott has taken that advice. Scott spent his entire career on a solid CIO track and in 2006, he became CIO of the US division of JBS, the mammoth food processing company; in 2012, he joined footwear company TOMS as CIO.
As CIO of TOMS, Scott was a member of the board of ASUG, the non-profit, member-based organization that represents SAP’s user community. In late 2013, ASUG’s CEO stepped down. “I was meeting with the then-COO of ASUG, and she asked whether I would consider applying for the CEO position,” says Scott. “At first, I wasn’t interested, but then I couldn’t get it out of my head. I called her back and said, ‘I’m in.’” ASUG ran an executive search, reviewed six candidates, and selected Scott for the role.
JobToday, Scott is CEO of ASUG, which represents nearly 4,000 companies (with more than 100,000 individual ASUG members) that are all customers of SAP. ASUG provides education, networking and community-based opportunities to SAP’s customer base and represents its membership to SAP on areas including product roadmap and licensing issues. The organization runs on more than 30 full time staff and 400 volunteers.
Why make the move?
For Scott, the move from a CIO career to this CEO position represented a step-up in leadership. “As CIO, I would meet occasionally with the board, to report-out on IT strategy,” says Scott. “Now, I work for the board and have to keep board members informed about what the organization is doing.”
“As CEO of ASUG, my role is to help the entire SAP user community put SAP technology to work,” says Scott. “How does this technology make sense for retail, manufacturing, financial services, high tech? I have a much broader perspective than as a CIO applying technology only to one company. But I also get to see the commonality across industries and how many challenges are actually very similar across sectors.”
Most CEOs are in constant networking mode, which represents both a challenge and an opportunity for CIOs. “I am an accountant by education and a CIO by profession,” says Scott. “I am an introvert by nature, so being in public is not a ‘go-to’ strength for me.” The CEO role at ASUG has forced Scott to develop the ability to network, a skill he now values. “A big part of my job is brokering connections, meeting people, understanding the challenges they face, and giving them a sense of where they can go next,” says Scott. “I am finding that I have more of those extroverted skills than I thought, and I really enjoy that part of my job.”
What advice do you have for CIOs who would like to follow a similar path?
Join a board
“Joining a board like ASUG can open up huge opportunities,” says Scott. “You learn a great deal about organizational structures, business models and new technologies. And you can really develop your networks.” Once you decide which board you’d like to join, let the board members know that you’d like to contribute your time, talents and energies to this group that you are so passionate about.
Stop being a CIO.
Once you have moved into a board position or a CEO role, you may need to change your CIO ways. “As in any organization, we have had our own share of technology problems at ASUG,” says Scott. “With my CIO background, my instinct is to try to understand what is really going on with the infrastructure. But now, as CEO, I have to trust that my technology teams can take care of everything. I am no longer a provider of technology services; I am a consumer.”
Don’t be afraid to switch directions.
Scott is well aware that ASUG CEO role is a departure from the career path he had originally set out for himself. “If you asked me a few years ago, where I was going to be at this point in my life, I never would have envisioned this position,” he says, “but now that I am in this role, I feel like I have been moving directly toward it.”
Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.