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.
By Meridith Levinson
A new generation of IT professionals is coming of age in corporate America. They’re young—in their late 20s and early- to mid-30s. They’re astute. They’re moving into executive management positions faster than did their hoary predecessors. Unlike many of their elders, this new generation is not content to make the CIO role the capstone of their careers. And CEOs are very interested in—and willing to take a chance on—this new generation of IT execs.
“The level of interest [among CEOs] in on-boarding people with fewer years of experience is greater today than it was a few years ago,” says Paul Groce, who leads executive search firm Christian & Timbers’ CIO practice. “Age as a barrier has broken down, to a degree. Companies are less hierarchical. Credibility comes from what a person can do, rather than the gray hairs on their head.”
Groce says some companies are considering less experienced candidates because they’re more interested in developing bench strength, doing talent contingency planning for the future, and finding individuals who will be team players for the next 10 to 15 years. “One of the lead criteria we see in searches is, ‘Give me great talent that can be nurtured and grown to the next level,’ ” he says.
There’s another reason why some CEOs seek out younger talent, observes Groce. The CEOs feel that someone with less tenure, who hasn’t tasted success, is more driven and hungrier for it than is someone who’s already experienced its heady rush. When CEOs are faced with a candidate who’s already “struck it big,” they wonder if that individual will still have the drive to work 15-hour days and if that more-experienced CIO will take a less inventive approach to business, the second time around, says Groce.
Eric Sigurdson, the leader of Russell Reynolds’ information officers practice, also notes that some of his clients see new IT execs as less encumbered by history. The seasoned IT leaders contemplate what has and hasn’t worked in IT in the past. According to Sigurdson, the younger CIOs are perceived as more adaptable to current trends in technology than are earlier generations, who are known for uttering expressions like, ‘I remember when we had a mainframe environment.’ This new generation of CIOs is part of the Internet generation—and they know it.
“I grew up with computers. I don’t have the punch card story,” says Timothy Campos, the 33-year-old CIO of KLA-Tencor, a $2 billion semiconductor manufacturer.
By virtue of the fact that this generation of CIOs has moved into the role so early in their careers, recruiters agree that the new CIOs will have more opportunities to move out of IT and into general business management roles than did their predecessors. “If you become CIO by 35, it’s hard to believe you’re going to be doing that for the next 25 years,” says Sigurdson. “They have a longer runway in which to launch into another role, which would likely include [business] operations.”
For all these young CIOs’ perceived strengths and advantages, says Sigurdson, “You don’t get something for nothing. There’s no substitute for experience.”
One of the skills that younger IT executives may be lacking is business management experience, says Rich Brennan, the leader of Spencer Stuart’s information officers practice. He notes that IT professionals who become CIO at a young age probably came up the technical route, so they may not have the business and leadership experience that most companies seek in CIOs today. “The challenge is the business management experience and being treated as a peer by division presidents, the CFO, the general counsel,” he says.
So who are these young CIOs? Over the next few pages, CIO.com introduces you to three of them. Each of them shot up the corporate ladder quickly because they had mentors and sponsors at current and previous employers who saw their potential, provided them with opportunities to grow and covered their flanks in challenging situations. They understand that being a successful CIO requires a combination of technical and business acumen. They’re aware of their individual weaknesses and are driven to improve themselves.
Timothy Campos moved into the CIO position at KLA-Tencor when he was 32. He speaks with the polish and confidence of a seasoned Fortune 500 executive. Robert Walden, 36, is leading IT at TXP, a growing provider of original design manufacturing services to the electronics and telecom industries. He is committed to bridging the gap between IT and the business. At 25, Brad Friedlander, the CIO of Lightning Golf and Promotions, is the greenest of the bunch, but as such, he has the longest professional runway off of which to launch his already rapid-rise career. Read on for more detail on Campos’s, Walden’s and Friedlander’s careers.
Tenure in current position: 18 months and counting
Fast Track Career Path: The irony of Timothy Campos’s career is that he never intended to go into corporate IT, let alone become a CIO. But lo and behold, that’s where he’s ended up—at least at this juncture in his charmed professional life.
Campos began his career at Sybase; he worked as a software developer while studying computer science and engineering at U.C. Berkeley. At the time, he thought he’d climb the corporate ladder to a CEO position through engineering: He’d start off as a rank-and-file engineer and work his way up to manager, then director, then VP before becoming a chief exec. Much of his short career followed the trajectory he had mapped out in his mind, but as they say, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.
Campos left Sybase in 1996, the year after he graduated from Berkeley, to take an engineering job with Silicon Graphics (SGI.) A year into Campos’s tenure with SGI, the workstation company tapped him to succeed his boss, who had moved into a different position inside the company. Thus began Campos’s career in management.
Campos said sayonara to SGI in 1999. Caught up as he was in the dotcom delirium, he took a job with an application service provider (ASP), Portera Systems, as its director of engineering. In three years, he jumped from engineer to director.
When Portera Systems’ (and every other ASP’s) business began to fall apart in 2002, the company hired a new CIO, Bob Quinn, to rebuild IT. Quinn needed someone from the engineering side of the business to help resurrect the company’s infrastructure, which had buckled under the weight of the Internet boom. Portera’s CEO tried to convince Campos to join Quinn, but Campos wasn’t interested in corporate IT—until, he says, the CEO made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. This offer included a promise that Campos would have to work in the IT department for only three months; then he could go back to his beloved engineering function.
What was supposed to be a short-term rescue mission in IT became a turning point in Campos’s career. “After three months, I fell in love with IT,” he says. He thrived on the technical challenges and got on swimmingly with Quinn. Campos stayed with Quinn and the IT infrastructure team until Portera was acquired by Exigen, later in 2002. Quinn moved on to KLA-Tencor, and Campos followed his boss to the $2 billion semiconductor manufacturer a few months later.
Campos ran IT infrastructure for KLA-Tencor for two and a half years before moving into the applications team. There, he oversaw IT applications for KLA-Tencor’s services organization, which accounts for 20 percent of the company’s revenue and a third of its workforce and as such is one of the San Jose, Calif.-based company’s biggest and most important segments. When KLA-Tencor’s previous CIO quit to take a job with Genentech three months into Campos’s stint running IT applications, KLA-Tencor’s senior management team asked Campos to succeed his predecessor. Campos was 33 years old. He now manages a $50 million IT budget and a global staff of 220.
Career Goal: As he progressed professionally, Campos realized he needed to learn “a whole bunch of other skills” than the ones he had honed in engineering to achieve his dream of becoming a CEO. “I hadn’t figured out how to deal with that until I moved into IT,” he says. Corporate IT management gave him exposure to the business that he wouldn’t have obtained had he stayed in software development. The CIO role, he says, has provided him with such a detailed view into processes across a variety of functions, including finance, sales and services, that he feels he could easily move from CIO into a COO position or into a role running a services organization. “I have more paths available to me [now] than had I stayed in engineering,” he says.
His self-proclaimed shortcoming: “The leadership challenge changes as you gain more responsibility and visibility,” Campos says via e-mail. “You impact a larger number of people, and thus you have less opportunity to directly impact their perceptions and understanding of you, your vision, your objectives. I’ve found that it is much more important that I be clear, concise, convincing in my messaging than ever before both to my organization, but also to my customers. My communication skills are a key focus area of personal development for me.”
Concern about moving up the corporate ladder so quickly: Campos doesn’t have any grave worries about his steep ascent. He adds that he doesn’t want anyone to interpret his confidence as impudence. “I know my limitations,” he writes in an e-mail. “I must constantly focus on improving my skills and learning what I don’t know, as I don’t have the same benefit of experience that my counterparts [who are] 10 years my senior have.”
The Boss’s Perspective : Jorge Titinger, KLA-Tencor’s chief administrative officer, thinks Campos’s rapid career success is a result of the following equation: 80 percent perseverance and dedication and 20 percent luck. On the perseverance and dedication side of the equation, Titinger says that what makes his CIO unique are Campos’s understanding of the subtleties of KLA-Tencor’s business and his feel for the dynamics of the semiconductor industry, coupled with his business process orientation and facility with technology. “Tim is a quick learner and continues to invest in his own development; he doesn’t shy away from challenges…even when they might seem insurmountable,” says the CAO.
What’s made Campos fortunate, adds Titinger, are the opportunities the young executive has had “to step into roles that are typically held for more seasoned people.” But the boss adds that Campos has gone beyond dumb luck and succeeded in the roles that have come his way: “In the end, success and opportunities are based on producing results, and Tim has delivered strong results in his different roles here at KLA-Tencor.”
Fast Track Career Path: Robert Walden attributes his success to his ability to see the forest through the trees. He says he’s always had a passion for looking at the big picture, seeing how systems and processes integrate, and understanding the impact of his work on the whole company. “If I’m in a meeting, whether formal or informal, and I have information I can offer to someone working on something else about how their work integrates with the 30,000-foot view, I share it. When you provide that perspective on a regular basis, people see you as someone looking at things from a bigger picture. That more than anything seems to be what has gotten me in the right positions or situations very quickly.”
Walden’s penchant for connecting the dots served him well at his former employer, 7-Eleven. His technical recommendations have had a lasting impact on the company. One of his suggestions, which he proposed during a migration from a mainframe system to Oracle for HR and payroll, was to simultaneously implement a middleware layer and a platform for enterprise application integration (EAI). He realized that establishing a platform for EAI early on would make future integration efforts much easier, as developers wouldn’t have to create one-off point-to-point solutions each time the company wanted to implement a new system; the middleware would allow developers to reuse code.
Walden presented his idea to his boss, the CIO (then Keith Morrow), who saw the value in his suggestion. However, the many stakeholders involved in the Oracle implementation, including developers and business users, weren’t so keen on the idea; it meant prolonging and complicating an already complex effort. The resistance Walden encountered to his idea provided him with an opportunity to do one of the most important and common things a CIO has to do: convince reluctant stakeholders to back his idea. According to Walden, he succeeded in doing so by explaining to the developers—with authority and confidence—how the middleware layer would make their lives easier in the future. Having consultants on staff who agreed that his idea was sensible also helped the cause.
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.”
Tenure in current position: 15 months and counting
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.