by Martha Heller

Words of Wisdom from Leading CIOs

Mar 26, 20137 mins
CareersCIOIT Jobs

CIOs from Best Buy, Motorola, Visteon and more, offer valuable career advice.


A few weeks ago, I posted a blog rich with career advice from leading CIOs. The blog was a hit, so I am at it again. Herewith: round two of career advice from CIOs!

Jody Davids, Former CIO of Best Buy

IT is the place where everything comes together, so we see things through a different lens than other executives. From our unique vantage point, we are able to spot business opportunities, trends, and cultural issues that impact the organization, which other executives may not see.  So, it is wise to remember, as CIO, that your influence expands way outside your functional area.

“We have a big seat at the table, a big voice in the company, and we need to be heard. It is our responsibility to say what needs to be said.”

Probably the biggest learning in my role as CIO of Best Buy is how much the rest of the organization needs to hear what we have to say.  We often get so focused on doing our job operationally, or making sure our projects are on track, that we forget that we have a big seat at the table, a big voice in the company, and we need to be heard. It is our responsibility to say what needs to be said.

Leslie Jones, CIO of Motorola Solutions

I have two pieces of advice for future CIOs. First, always think like a general manager, not like a CIO. If you think like a GM, you will avoid becoming too fascinated with technology for technology’s sake or investing the company’s dollars in nothing but technology projects.

Ask yourself, “Does this technology advance my business goals, yes or no? Is this money better spent in IT or someplace else? If we have X millions of dollars to spend, should we fund another IT program or are we better off strengthening the marketing group in Asia?”

It goes back to my mantra, “We are in the business. Our field just happens to be IT.”

The second piece of career advice is something that I learned during my previous career in academics, just before I was getting ready to take my doctoral exams.  I was having lunch with my advisor and I was a little nervous. He asked me what was wrong and I said, “What happens if I fail my orals?” And he looked at me and said, “Would you kill yourself?” And I said, “Well, no. I guess I’d go home and have a stiff drink and start studying again.” And he said, “Well, there you are.”

This was an absolutely eye opening experience for me. If you fail at something in business, is it life threatening? No. Will it disappoint you? Sure. But it’s not going to kill you. So, go for broke, because nobody learns from success. And the truth is, if you never fail, you’re not stretching yourself enough.  If you go into every decision with the assumption that failure will not kill you, you will embrace more radical solutions than if you were concerned about safety nets. You will stretch yourself and your organization further than you ever thought possible.

Jim Sistek, CIO of Visteon Corporation

In my first job, I was an engineer, and I shared an office with a guy who had 30 years of experience. He always talked about fixing the real issue and not just answering the question that was asked. He would get pressure to answer a question, but he would always take a step back and understand the reason for the question.  He would say, “I‘m going to answer this question in a way that it never has to be asked again.”

When I took this job at Visteon, the company was having issues with errors in financial reporting. Everyone wanted to throw money at a new financial system. They were focused on the end state, which reporting, but they never went upstream to look at what was causing the problem. It turns out, the problem was upstream. There were pricing errors, missing PO numbers, and that kind of thing. By following problem upstream, we could focus on the beginning of the lifecycle, from when we win the business and design the parts. We decided to fix those problems first and the financial systems last. This was a very effective approach for us and it allowed us to stop wasting money.

Read the full interview with Jim Sistek here.

Norm Fjeldheim, CIO of Qualcomm

Probably 20 years ago, I was having an operations review with the COO. At the time, the company was a having issues with a particular product launch, which IT was trying to support.  Everyone in the company was trying to make this thing happen by putting in extra hours and everybody was giving all kinds of excuses as to why it wasn’t working. Then the COO said “Hey, never confuse effort with results. I don’t want you to focus on all the things that you’re doing. I want you to focus on one thing: the results.”

If you’re not getting the right results, it doesn’t matter how much time you are putting into it. You need to change what you’re doing if you expect to get a different outcome.

Read the full interview with Norm Fjeldheim here.

Walter Yosafat, CIO of Wyndham Worldwide

Early on in my career, my strong desire was to have an outside-the-U.S. assignment. I was doing quite well in a previous role when my manager came to me and said  “Hey, great news! You’re going international and you’re going to get promoted as a result.”

I thought this was great, and in my mind, I was packing for the Alps! I was getting my Swiss chocolates ready. I was thinking of a wonderful European assignment or some great location where I could travel and see all of Europe by car with the kids on vacation.

And my boss sat me down and said, “Well it’s not Europe…it’s Japan”  And I said, “Japan? But I don’t want to go to Japan!”

He said  “Listen, Chief, we can keep you here in the U.S. and you can keep doing what you’re doing, but we expect major changes in the IT organization. The activities, costs, the spending will be reduced. If you stay here, you are not going to have any opportunities and you are not going to get promoted. You’ve been talking international experience and here’s a move up to the next level. This move to Japan is perfect for you. You may not realize it now, but this is good for you and your career.  My advice to you is to accept the gift and take the opportunity.”  I did, and it was one of the best moves I ever made.

So, the advice is: Not everything that comes your way will  seem perfect at first. Just because you can’t see it then, don’t miss opportunities that, when you look in the rearview mirror later on, cause you to kick yourself for having passed on them.

More of Walter Yosafat’s interview here.

Until next time,