by Maryfran Johnson

Many CIOs Yearn for the Corner Office

Sep 25, 20132 mins

Some 42 percent of CIOs say they have the skills to be CEO. Thatu2019s a lot of corner office envy, says Maryfran Johnson. Only a few have the business savvy to make it.

Last spring at our CIO Perspectives New York conference, I watched the former CIO of Alcoa wow a room full of IT leaders with a candid, critical self-assessment of his first year as the new CEO of Mastech, an IT staffing company. The insights that Kevin Horner shared that day sparked the idea behind this month’s highly instructive cover story, “CIOs Share How They Made the Leap to CEO.”

Only 4 percent of the CEOs of the world’s biggest companies are former CIOs, reports Managing Editor Kim S. Nash, yet some 42 percent of CIOs (according to one industry survey) say they have the skills to become a CEO. That’s a lot of corner-office envy.

“I was a pretty good CIO, and still there’s a bunch of stuff I was just absolutely missing,” Horner said. In retrospect, for example, he wishes he had delegated more of the typical day-to-day CIO duties so he could spend a lot more time with customers.

Other former CIOs who now lead companies shared their own lists of mission-critical CEO skills, such as the need for “relentless storytelling” to keep the company’s vision sharp, or rock-solid confidence in your decision-making capabilities.

Mansfield Oil President Doug Haugh advises CIOs to gain vital business experience by running a P&L, serving as a startup adviser or finding a seat on an external board of directors. “Even if it’s small-scale, it’s so valuable,” says the former CIO.

What often works against CIOs, career experts say, is having an internal focus rather than an external one. CEOs spend a lot of time thinking strategically about the future, the competition, the economy and the state of the outside world. CIOs, on the other hand, are more likely to be excelling at their day jobs, concentrating on how systems and data are aligning with business needs.

Yet even so, there is great value in having a CIO’s “helicopter view” of the entire business, so many more of you could be destined for the corner office.

Not surprisingly, the biggest factor in becoming a CEO may be the sheer strength of desire for the job. Former Harrah’s Entertainment CIO John Boushy decided early on that he wanted to be a CEO, which he achieved at Ameristar Casinos, between 2006 and 2008.

“Things didn’t just happen to me,” he points out. “I managed them to happen to me.”