by Allan Holmes

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Turnaround CIO?

Aug 01, 20053 mins
IT Leadership

Like the steely-eyed hired gun brought in to clean up the riffraff, turnaround CIOs typically display a take-no-prisoners attitude. But some of their other personality characteristics are surprising.

For sure, turnaround CIOs tend to have confidence and a clarity of thought. They are certain about what works, what doesn’t and what is needed for a quick result.

You can hear it in the words of Robert Moon, CIO at LeapFrog: “I know what the risks are, and I’m not afraid to take risks. The only way to not make mistakes is not to do anything.”

If you are a turnaround CIO, “you are highly prescriptive, you are not a patient listener, and you have a sense of urgency and metrics and a sense of commitment to task at the high end of the scale,” says Stephen Mader, vice chair of executive search firm Christian and Timbers. “There’s no egalitarian environment in that kind of case.”

With that sense of urgency comes a laser-focused set of tactics to quickly fix an IT snafu, says Brad Brown, director of the business technology office at the McKinsey & Co. consultancy. “This person will have deeply felt beliefs about how you manage business alignment operations,” he says. “He has a model in his head that goes very deep on how to identify the five or 10 key problems.”

Turnaround CIOs have no problem firing IT staffers and managers if needed—and often, it is needed. It’s for the greater good of the company.

What’s unexpected, perhaps, is that turnaround CIOs tend to devote significant time to taking care of their IT staff. In Jeff Chasney’s case, that means publicizing a code of ethics that everyone can live by. One of his first acts as CIO at CKE Restaurants was to tell employees what he viewed as the three most important aspects of their lives: health, family and career—in that order.

John Nordin, CIO of Insurance Auto Auctions, met with every one of the 65 members of his new IT staff, shaking hands and trying to put names to faces. “It might sound trite but when CIOs are replaced, people are scared because there is so much uncertainty and doubt,” he says.

Perhaps that points to a sound business reason for turnaround CIOs’ concern for their people: Overly anxious IT staffers aren’t focused on the tasks at hand—namely, fixing IT and getting back to business.