by Meridith Levinson

Three Questions for Would-Be CIOs-for-Hire

Jun 01, 20044 mins

YOU’VE LEFT YOUR JOB, and you’re freelance consulting while looking for another CIO post. The problem is, no attractive positions are available, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to focus on your job search, work on client engagements and build your consultancy. So what do you do?

If you’re a committed, connected and self-directed IT professional with a decade of management experience, you could look at joining one of the CIO-for-hire organizations?such as Tatum CIO Partners, Topologe and If & Then?cropping up. These firms place IT executives in short-term positions with small to midsize companies temporarily in need of a CIO’s savoir faire. Sound good? Well, as with every kind of job, there are questions to answer. Here are three.

Question 1: How much business control do you want?

The CIO-for-hire consultancies I talked to are run as partnerships. When Mike Anzis, 59, an independent consultant for three years, was considering a job offer with Tatum in fall 2003, he was initially leery of the company’s partnership business model. Tatum partners share the revenue they generate with other partners, and he was concerned this would be a big change for him.

But now that Anzis has been with Tatum for eight months, he sees the upside of partnership: “Because you’ve got a number of partners looking out for you and your next assignment, you don’t have to spend your time doing marketing while you’re focused on the assignment. [The firm’s] mission is to get you your next assignment.”

Question 2: Can you wield influence without authority?

After two years during which he held three vice president-level jobs with e-business platform provider Genuity (now owned by Level 3 Communications), Pat Gillogly, 60, was delighted to join Tatum as a hired gun where he’d be able to get in, get out and get things done for companies in need.

“As an interim manager who doesn’t have a long-term stake in the [client] company and is therefore much more immune to the politics of the organization, you can take a hard look at the people, the processes, what works, what doesn’t and then make some objective recommendations for the CEO,” says Gillogly.

But effecting change as an outsider isn’t easy. No one knows that better than Jack Maguire, a 55-year-old CIO-for-hire with Topologe in Burlington, Mass. He says he was tested on the first day of his first engagement with Topologe by the client’s IT staff. “Any staff is concerned about any new body. They don’t want to have someone [off the street] telling them what to do when they’re not sure if you actually know what they’re supposed to do,” he says. To earn their trust, Maguire says you might have to show them that you can do their jobs. “Once they realize that you understand their functions, they’ll be behind you,” he says.

Question 3: Can you deal with an uneven work rhythm?

Joining a firm like Tatum or Topologe is a good move for someone who likes the excitement of working with a variety of companies on short-term assignments. But it’s no semiretirement: Many organizations that hire temporary CIOs have growing pains or are in crisis mode. You can expect to work 50 to 60 hours a week when you begin an engagement, Maguire notes.

Other times, the pace isn’t so fast and you can find yourself “sitting on the bench,” says Maguire, who was between clients when I interviewed him in March. Gillogly didn’t take on an interim CIO position until several months after joining Tatum because he was waiting for the right client match. Because you’re making money only when you’re working for a client, you need to have some financial stability to do this kind of work. And when you’re not working for a client, you have to go get new business.

Says Maguire, “If you want a 9-to-5 job, this isn’t it.”

News of other moves

Caterpillar says it will redeploy top IT executives Sidney C. Banwart and John S. Heller effective July 1. Banwart, CIO and vice president of Caterpillar’s systems and processes division, will head up the heavy-equipment maker’s human services division. Heller, director of Caterpillar’s global information technology solutions group, will take over as CIO and vice president of systems and processes. Both are Caterpillar veterans: Banwart joined as an engineer in 1968. Heller has worked at the company since 1973.