CIOs boost their careers doing double duty

Many CIOs find it exhilarating to take on business functions outside of IT. But CIO-plus roles require a new mindset and trusted deputies.

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In late June, Jefferson began offering more than 17,000 employees and their families a mobile app they can use to schedule 15-minute video-based physician appointments, which, according to Chopra, are “secure and HIPAA-compliant.” While the app is currently just for Jefferson employees, he says “we plan to sell this product to customers like Bank of America and Comcast and others.”

Start With a ‘Beginner’s Mind’

As CIOs move into expanded roles, they find that adapting their leadership styles to effectively collaborate with the new array of professionals they encounter is a major challenge.

CIO-plus executives “need to make sure that they are humble enough,” says High, of Metis Strategy. “Even if they have been intricately involved in the new function, they need to approach their new set of responsibilities with humility. Everything that worked in IT won’t translate to HR or supply chain or other functions. It’s important to have a ‘beginner’s mind’ of sorts,” he says, referring to the mindset of people who are open to learning about new topics, without preconceptions.

Mike Capone, former CIO and head of product development at ADP, says managing diverse people was one of his greatest challenges--and most rewarding lessons--at the financial services company.

“As you get out of more traditional IT and into product management, you have to manage differently. It stretched me a little bit,” says Capone, who is now COO at Medidata Solutions.

For example, he explains, “when you think about core IT, results are typically black and white. Was the system up and running? Did the project end on time?” But Capone says he has learned that you can’t apply that same thinking and management style to, say, a data science team. “They’d constantly remind me that this is a science and not about outcomes,” he recalls. “They had to remind me that they had to test data and experiment with it. It’s the same with user experience teams. They do a lot of experimentation and iterations. It changes the way you think about the world.”

Anne Ayer, CIO and vice president of corporate development at paper company Sappi North America, came to her CIO-plus role as an experienced business executive who was open to learning about technology.

“My background had really been on the strategy and corporate development side before joining Sappi,” Ayer says. “CIO was something the CEO asked me to take on. In my prior experience working in consulting, I had some clients on the high-tech side and in my time at Sappi I had been involved in projects that had a strong IT component, but I’m definitely not a technologist by training or background.”

So she redefined the technology side of her role to one of translator, she says.

“I spend a lot of time focusing on business value and helping the [IT] group articulate what the business opportunities are, whether they’re working on a road map for applications, or infrastructure, or investment opportunities, or cybersecurity risks,” Ayer says. “We want to make sure these things are articulated so the business can understand the cost, benefit and risk, and make the right decisions.”

There’s no such thing as a typical day, Ayer says. “The functions cycle differently. Corporate development can have peaks and valleys, depending on the deals and opportunities we’re looking at. But IT does have an operational day-to-day management of an organization, the control framework and project portfolio and people,” she says. “It is a lot of management-oriented stuff.”

Like virtually every other CIO-plus, she says the only way to function effectively and avoid burnout is to rely on--and empower--her talented team. “There’s a huge amount of delegating,” she says. “We have people working at a very strong level of capability and accountability. It is a lot to juggle though.”

’Major Career Boost’ for Deputies

One of the greatest advantages of a dual title and an expanded set of responsibilities is the vast amount of experience and knowledge you can gain in such a position.

“Managing a more complex portfolio of activities is never a bad thing. You get to hone your skills,” says Capone. “My role today has subsumed all the things I did in the past, plus marketing, professional services and all of the other things you think of as a COO.”

It’s also a major career boost for a CIO-plus exec’s second-in-command and other direct reports.

“It’s absolutely an opportunity for these people because the person with the dual title is grooming their successor,” says High. Frequently, he says, the executive with the dual title goes on to a role that he describes as “beyond CIO,” taking on a COO or even a CEO role.

“What this means is that it opens up one or multiple leadership positions for those under the incumbent,” High points out.

One of the perennial issues CIOs wrestle with is recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest for their teams. It’s here that CIOs with dual titles have one of their greatest advantages, says Scott Sullivan, CIO and CFO at Pitt Ohio, a privately held transportation and logistics company.

“No matter how hard you try, IT experiences a 20 to 30 percent turnover. You have to make sure you have the right team in place and the right people in key positions,” Sullivan says.

“The good news is that in both IT and finance, the next level down has been pretty stable,” he notes. He attributes the stability in part to his own dual role and the expanded responsibilities he has delegated to his direct reports.

“We have only lost two people who report directly to me. Part of the reason is they’re challenged. They don’t have time to go outside.”

At AES, Hugo Vasquez says his role as deputy CIO gives him a global view of the corporation that he did not have in his previous positions as CIO of different business units, mainly in Latin America.

“Being in this [deputy CIO] position is providing me the opportunity to invest time in operations and at the same time connect at the executive level on global strategy,” he says. “It’s an excellent position to be well-connected and learning from corporate strategists and at the same time be close to clients and customers.”

Vasquez also sees his current role as a steppingstone to the corporate CIO position.

“Being a deputy CIO gives me the opportunity to keep growing in the IT world, preparing for the CIO role. It gives me the confidence that whenever I get that position I’ll be better prepared,” he says. “I feel like AES is investing in me and preparing me for a future challenge.”

Opportunities outside of IT also can become a bigger and more common part of career development in organizations with CIO-plus executives.

“I think before I took on the dual role, there had been exactly zero talent migration from IT to product development,” says Capone of his tenure at ADP. “By the time I left, 50 to 75 people had crossed over.”

As for the top tech position, Capone says, “without a doubt, the traditional CIO role eventually gets blended away as IT becomes more integral to everything going on. CIO is no longer a destination job.”

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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