by Maryfran Johnson

The Global CIO Job Description

Nov 12, 2009

How the CIO role breaks down.

Let’s take the glamorous title of “Global CIO” and break it down into some of the job realities. What do multinational CIOs have to do that their domestic counterparts don’t?

First, overcome language and cultural barriers. Then rethink “normal” business practices while coping with IT skill shortages and inexperienced labor pools. Next, build something from nothing. Now connect it to the global corporate infrastructure. Finally, leap tall buildings in a single bound.

That last one might just be the easiest task on the to-do list for IT executives in emerging global markets. “It requires some creativity and new thinking,” says Cadbury CIO Wayne Shurts, in a vastly modest understatement of the challenges he and his international colleagues face.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have an IT “tabula rasa” in some far corner of the world, our cover story (“Global Balancing Act”) will take you on a revealing whirlwind tour. We visit the business strategies and unfolding technology initiatives of three companies: $7.8 billion Cadbury, the London-based confectioner; Terrasearch, a small engineering firm in Dubai; and Stiefel, a midsize skincare company acquired last summer by pharma-giant GlaxoSmithKline.

I came away from this story convinced that, in some cases, CIO really stands for Chief Imagination Officer. “You have the ability to completely rethink the norms,” says Ed Holmes, VP of Global IT for Stiefel. “This lets you create new solutions that would not have otherwise been viable.”

Fresh approaches from less-developed corners of the world can become testing grounds for new technologies that scale back up to the corporate parent. The emerging markets teams at Cadbury, for example, came up with a salesforce automation tool for smartphones that could end up as part of the candymaker’s global applications set. As CIO Shurts notes, the innovative IT mind-set springing up in these green-field markets can be a valuable upgrade for the company’s entire global organization.

And as many executive recruiters will tell you, CIOs who “go global” somewhere along their career paths develop business muscles their domestic colleagues can’t match. The sheer variety of experiences in dealing with developing markets ultimately forges an IT chief who thinks very differently about the world of business. Will a global tour of duty become a necessity for CIO success in the future? Drop me a note at and share your opinion.

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