CIO magazine’s Hall of Fame started with Joe Levy and his idea to honor the leaders of the information age. Yet the founder and longtime president of CIO didn’t actually have CIOs in mind—at least not at first.
It was 1997, and the CIO title was just gaining recognition and respect in the vendor community. “The truth is, I wanted to get more ad pages,” says Levy, who retired from CIO in 2002 and started Quadragon Group, a business consultancy based in Weston, Mass. “We had a bunch of big advertisers who never did anything with us, and I figured if we created a Hall of Fame for these leaders of the information age…well, they’d have to pay attention!” (For more on this year’s Hall of Fame class, see “2010 CIO Hall of Fame Inductees Tout Business Breakthroughs.”)
The editors took Levy’s original idea and expanded it to include 12 of the most influential IT leaders of the time. This first class to be inducted into the Hall of Fame were CIOs deploying technologies that changed the business landscape at companies such as Wal-Mart, Merrill Lynch, AT&T, Xerox and DuPont.
“It was a really big deal,” recalls Abbie Lundberg, CIO‘s former editor in chief. “We interviewed a ton of people in business and academia to identify the most accomplished, respected CIOs in the country.” Coinciding with the magazine’s 10-year anniversary, the 1997 “Decade of the CIO” special issue was a smash hit on the business side. Levy ordered a limited-edition printing of 5,000 hard-bound copies and delivered them personally to every industry titan on his list. That included Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Sun’s Scott McNealy, Intel’s Andy Grove, Cisco’s John Chambers and many more. Everyone he visited became regular advertisers, driving millions in revenue over the years.
His favorite meeting took place at Ellison’s house, over a lunch that went well past its allotted time while a group of Defense Department officials impatiently waited for their meeting with the Oracle chieftain. “I took the high road with Larry and never even mentioned advertising,” Levy says. “Finally, after this meeting that lasted hours, he’s escorting us out the door and I say, ‘By the way, here’s the latest issue of CIO, I don’t know if you ever see it.’ He says, ‘I read it all the time; it’s my favorite publication.’”
CIO editor Rick Pastore, now vice president of editorial and programs for the CIO Executive Council, coordinated the special-issue project. He remembers the most entertaining twist in the vendor profiles as the part where each CEO was asked to pick an animal that best characterized their companies. Michael Dell went with a great white shark “because it gobbles up its competitors,” while CEO Eric Benhamou of 3Com Corp. (acquired earlier this year by HP) selected a dolphin (for its agility).
That first CIO Hall of Fame induction became a milestone in the rising prominence of the CIO role. “Joe was the first to see the growing role of the CIO and the importance it would and will have on corporate America,” says Michael Friedenberg, CEO of IDG Enterprise, which publishes CIO magazine. “His ability to not only see this trend but develop this high-impact media brand and community of CIOs is a great testament to his innovative spirit.”
“When I created CIO, there were lots of IT magazines on the market, so this had to be something different,” Levy says. “My theory was that it’s not about technology but about the people behind it. For me, it was always about the CIOs.