by Tom Field


Mar 01, 20028 mins

Doug cormany may be the prototypical CIO. He started in inventory control at the Walt Disney Co. in 1972, and 20 years later left to climb the IT ladder at three other companies. Last May he was hired as vice president and CIO at Spherion, the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based staffing company. And when this job ends, Cormany will move on to the next challenge?but he won’t move out of IT. “I’ve never even thought about leaving IT,” he says. “I like what I’m doing. I enjoy being able to use IT to make a difference across the entire enterprise.”

And so, it seems, do a lot of other CIOs. Contrary to suggestions that huge numbers of CIOs are being lured from outside IT and that incumbent CIOs are eager to leave for business-side management opportunities, CIO’s “The State of the CIO” survey shows that many of today’s chief information officers are just like Cormany?they’re influenced by IT, and they want to stay in IT.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t marketing vice presidents who have made great CIOs, or that there aren’t a slew of former CIOs now among the COO or CEO ranks. But when asked which functional area had the greatest impact on them, the vast majority of survey respondents said IT. And when asked what role they’d like next, 44 percent of CIOs surveyed said…CIO.

The Trail Starts in IT

Executive recruiters who specialize in CIO placement agree with these findings, arguing that the statistics speak to market trends. In the mid-1990s, many CIOs did come from outside IT, says Phillip Schneidermeyer, president of Talent Intelligence Agency, a Darien, Conn.-based recruitment company. “In those days, people thought it was the business-side experience that mattered more in a CIO.” But since then even the most IT-grounded CIOs have refined their business and management skills to MBA level, he says, so that CEOs don’t need to import business acumen for the IT organization. Also, CEOs have come to need more high-level IT counsel in decisions about supply chain management and outsourcing. CIOs today need to be more technically savvy than ever?but with a broad view of how it helps the enterprise, Schneidermeyer says. “They still have to know the different functional areas, but they don’t need to have lived in them.”

And although there continue to be notable CIOs moving into CEO roles?former FedEx CIO Dennis Jones at Commerce One made the leap last year from CIO to CEO?in today’s economy there are fewer COO and CEO opportunities available. Consequently, some CIOs may be sticking to the IT career path just because they have fewer options. But a major factor, according to “The State of the CIO” survey, is that many CIOs share Cormany’s view?they like being CIOs.

Like Cormany, Patricia Morrison has a new CIO job, in her case at Office Depot, the Delray Beach, Fla.-based retail chain. And like Cormany, Morrison built a substantial track record in IT at different companies, spending more than 20 years in senior IT positions at General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Quaker Oats.

Another common aspect of Cormany’s and Morrison’s career path is the transferability of their experience across industries. Cormany, who was brought in when a new CEO took over (see “Executive Relationships,” Page 58), had never worked for a staffing company before joining Spherion. But his major task?to fully integrate 34 companies acquired by Spherion since 1995?plays exactly to his previous IT experience. As CIO of NationsRent, a dotcom startup, he integrated 62 acquisitions. Before that, at supermarket chain Fred Meyer, he reengineered IS concurrently with the company’s growth from a $2.7 billion to a $15 billion enterprise. Cormany made the move to staffing services in part because he feels his expertise in integration will more than compensate for his industry inexperience. “I have an ability to keep growing the company while still integrating the systems,” he says.

Morrison’s career path has taken her through IT at several large companies. She was already a CIO, at both GE Industrial Systems and Quaker Oats, before joining Office Depot in January. She inherited a smooth-running IT organization and brought to it a wealth of business and IT experience?but none of it in retail. “I’ve been in manufacturing my whole career,” says Morrison. “Now I have to learn the retail industry and come to understand the different suite of applications.”

Here’s where Morrison’s career choices have borne out: She’s worked closely with the marketing and sales organizations in her previous jobs, and she’s led her companies through ERP implementations and an acquisition?at Quaker Oats, which was bought by PepsiCo in 2001. She’s also been a major buyer of office products and hopes this customer perspective will help her contribute quickly to Office Depot’s plans to expand its e-business and global retail efforts in 2002.

With such a diverse rŽsumŽ, Morrison had a range of business-side career options when she was looking for a new challenge last year. But the only jobs that appealed to her were in IT. “I love being a CIO,” she says. “I love the pace of change, the opportunity to work across so many avenues of the business?the capability of bridging business and technology.

“I have had the opportunity to leave,” Morrison says, “but I always come back to IT.”

The Path Ahead

At some point, every CIO asks “What next?” Although most CIOs want to remain CIOs, their ideal destination greatly depends on the career path the executive has already followed.

Kent Maurer, CIO of Cook Children’s Health Care System in Ft. Worth, Texas, worked for 11 years as a consultant for EDS and Perot Systems, spending time in sales, customer service and systems operations. By the time he joined Cook in 1999, Maurer knew how to deal with consultants and vendors because he’d been one, and his customer service skills could be a model for a customer-friendly IT shop. “Our job is to understand our customers’ [IT] needs better than the customers do,” he says.

Throughout his career, Maurer has thought about his next step on the path. Today that decision hinges on the outcome of his current projects. He’s in the middle of an IS reorganization, transforming his IT managers into customer-oriented account managers in each of the business units. Cook is also creating a cradle-to-grave integrated delivery network, which will take three years to complete and cost $30 million?plus huge amounts of Maurer’s energy.

Given his consulting experience and project rŽsumŽ, Maurer conceivably could complete these tasks and step up to a COO role. But he enjoys the blend of IT, business and customer service so much that he says another CIO job might be even more enticing.

Judith Shapiro, the recently retired CIO of Bowne & Co., a New York City-based information services company, was hired into that job largely because of her ample IT experience. But she feels that career pit stops in sales and marketing helped as well.

Shapiro started as a programmer at Johnson & Johnson, working in IT and sales from 1977 to 1992. During her time at J&J, however, she moved from IT to the sales side. “I realized the importance of being able to sell yourself and your ideas,” she says.

Upon leaving J&J in 1993, Shapiro moved back into IT as vice president of IT for SmithKline Beecham and then as senior vice president of MIS at Joseph E. Seagram and Sons. Two years later, she was invited to join Bowne’s board of directors, while retaining her job at Seagram’s. It was a good match?Bowne was looking for someone with IT experience, and Shapiro wanted to hone her own general business skills. But a year later, Shapiro quit the board, quit Seagram’s and became Bowne’s new CIO. “I was already involved in making [Bowne’s] strategy,” reasons Shapiro, who wanted to be a top CIO and didn’t see the opportunity at Seagram’s.

As CIO, Shapiro sought to meld her diverse experience in a single role straddling IT and business. The result: an IT group that has been reshaped as an internal services provider, charging business units for its services.

Newly retired, Shapiro wonders “What next?” Consulting is an option, but she’d also consider the right CIO job. “But I don’t think I want to be CIO of a Fortune 500 company anymore,” she says. Instead, she’d rather go someplace a little smaller, with a greater need for a CIO who combines her IT and business background and who can effect serious change. “Today, companies really need someone who is a little bit of both?technology and business,” Shapiro says. “I bring both.”