Compared to the route to CFO, the CIO career path is all over the place. CIOs come out of IT, operations, marketing and more recently, I am finding, out of finance. So if you were to offer advice on how to achieve the dream CIO career, what would you say?
I spoke to three CIOs who have not only traveled their own, unique career trajectories, they’re actively engaged in growing the CIOs of future. I asked them: If you were to write the résumé of tomorrow’s CIO, what would it include?
To read more on this topic, see: Where Personal Finance and Career Management Meet and How to become a CIO?
1. Experience running a big, complex, non-IT operation: “If you’ve run an organization like customer service, you know how to set up performance metrics that make sense to everyone,” says Stuart McGuigan, CIO of CVS Caremark. McGuigan acknowledges that running IT alone brings its share of operational complexity. But if he had to pick a CIO with non-IT experience or one entrenched in IT, “it’s not even close,” he says. “I would prefer someone who’s been outside of IT because not only do they know what it takes to run a business, they understand how challenging it can be to deal with a support organization.”
McGuigan’s own experience illustrates the point. After five years in marketing at Merck “doing product management, business planning and market research,” he was asked to create a new function in the marketing group to establish an IT plan for the U.S. business. “I recognized that IT had been underfunded and
underappreciated for years,” says McGuigan. “There are disciplined ways to map a business strategy to operational improvements to IT capabilities. I realized there is no reason any business can’t have the systems and technology it needs.”
2. A history of change and challenge: For Jeanette Scampas, formerly CIO of MetLife, the best CIOs have always driven their careers toward new challenges and experiences and, as a result, have picked up the broad business and leadership skills it takes to be a divisional CIO for the $50 billion insurance company. “In my business, I want CIOs to have a solid background in IT but also to have had a variety of experiences,” she says. “I value people who have operational expertise and then take on a finance role, or who have finance [experience] and then manage a product line. The specifics are not as important as the drive for challenge and change.”
Scampas put this philosophy into action at MetLife with a CIO leadership program that placed high-potential IT leaders in interim roles stretching across product lines and corporate functions. The result: “Getting these executives out of their day-to-day roles and exposing them to new experiences all the time.”
3. Global leadership experience: MetLife is “a global organization with global vendors, so having led a global team is critical,” says Scampas. While she does not believe a successful CIO needs to pack up and live overseas to gain that experience, she has expected her divisional CIOs to “have had responsibilities for other countries, spent time there and immersed themselves in the culture.”
4. Experience in multiple corporate functions: Kevin Hart, former CIO of Level 3 Communications and now CIO at Clearwire, a wireless broadband company, believes a successful CIO should have experienced as many corporate functions firsthand as possible. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have roles in product management, engineering, finance and sales in my career,” he says. “I believe that tomorrow’s CIOs will have walked a few miles in each of those functional shoes.”
5. Deep technology knowledge: With all of this talk of non-IT experience, CIOs still need to know something about technology. Hart concedes you can gain this experience by working your way up the IT org chart, but a faster path would be through consulting. “As a consultant, you have to know the leading vendors, the pros and cons of each technology, and how to drive business value through IT,” he says. “And you have to reprove yourself every 60 to 90 days.”
Martha Heller is managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at ZRG Partners, an executive recruiting firm. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or read her columns at www.cio.com/author/41283.