by Meridith Levinson

Does Globalization Create More Competition for CIO Jobs or More Job Opportunities for CIOs?

Feb 01, 20085 mins

In December, I riffed on a New York Times story that predicted that the C-suites of American companies would soon be filled with more and more foreign-born executives.

At the time, I wasn’t sure I saw The New York Times‘ prediction playing out for CIOs. Though I easily rattled off the names of four CIOs born outside the U.S. to support the NYT‘s thesis, I just as quickly compiled a list of American CIOs who had been tapped by foreign companies for positions abroad to represent the other side of the argument.

Since I wrote that blog entry, I’ve spoken with three executive recruiters about the NYT article. CIO practice leaders at Korn Ferry International and Heidrick and Struggles agree that more companies are looking far and wide for CIO talent.

“I see more foreign-born CIOs for several reasons,” says Mark Polansky, North American Managing Director of the Korn’s IT Center of Expertise. “Number one is globalization. Companies that used to be American are now truly global, and many of them are becoming owned by foreign companies,” he says. “I also think that because of the over-demand for and under supply of great CIOs, American companies have to look further afield.”

Gerry McNamara, managing partner of Heidrick’s CIO practice, says his clients are “agnostic” when it comes to the location of talent. Last year, four global, Fortune 300 companies told his firm to source the world for their CIO searches, he says. “They want the best talent globally.”

Of the four companies that retained Heidrick for its searches, one hired a European for a job in Asia; an Australia company hired an American; a third company hired an Australian who had lived and worked for many years in America; and although the fourth search hadn’t been completed when I spoke with Gerry last week, he said the company was probably going to chose an American.

But Reynold Lewke, a recruiter with Egon Zehnder International, doesn’t see American companies flocking to hire CIOs born outside the U.S. today. Whether or not an organization selects an American or a foreigner depends on the company’s “center of gravity,” he says. “If the center of gravity is international, then international, foreign-born candidates will legitimately have a better chance of getting the top slot.”

Many of the foreign-born CIOs working in the United States for American companies, such as Northern Trust’s Nirup Krishnamurthy, have spent the majority of their career here and even been educated at American colleges and universities as well, notes Lewke. Given the amount of time they’ve spent in the United States, he says, they might as well have been born in Kansas. “Where you happen to be born is not as important as where your career has developed,” he says.

Equally important is a candidate’s ability to speak the native language, adds Lewke. “I don’t see a Chinese company being able to have a non-Chinese person, someone who doesn’t speak Chinese fluently, in that business environment,” he says. “They can’t be truly effective even if you have all the official discussions in English. The real action is around the water cooler, the informal communications and day-to-day interactions, and those are going on in the native language, whether it’s Dutch, German, Chinese, Italian, Russian or Japanese.”

So what does all this mean for American IT executives competing for jobs on a global scale? More competition or more opportunity? The answer is both.

Just as filling functional positions in IT has become more

global with the popularity of offshore outsourcing, sourcing for high-level positions in IT is also being impacted by globalization.

“There are lots of companies in America where you can’t get into the C-suite without having had an international assignment,” says Polansky. “That’s been true for a while, but it’s become more of a reality deeper into the Fortune 1000.”

Polansky recommends American IT leaders volunteer for assignments overseas and develop strong relationships with foreign business units by working closely with them. He adds that American IT executives need to demonstrate sensitivity to other cultures and have global work experience on their resumes if they want to compete for jobs in the US and abroad.

Just because the competition is heating up for Americans doesn’t mean it’s getting easier for foreigners to get jobs in the U.S. “The foreign-born CIO candidate is not just competing with the stereotypical white male,” says Lewke, “they’re competing against really bright, capable women, too. The chance to make it in an American corporation as a foreign executive is even more difficult today than it was 10 years ago because there are a lot more really qualified women in IT now.”

McNamara thinks American CIOs have even more opportunities to parlay their experience beyond the U.S., especially in emerging economies. “The opportunity will be greater for American CIOs who have the size, scope and complexity experience and want to work overseas,” says McNamara.

Do you see the impact of globalization on CIO job searches as an opportunity or a threat?