A merged CEO and CIO role

Alan Grainer had been thinking of changing the direction of his career for some time.

After seven years as CIO at the Waikato District Health Board, "I had done my round", he says. He was interested to move into a CEO position, but not at any cost. The shift from being CIO of a large organisation to taking the CEO reins at, perhaps, a smaller company seemed too big.

"It felt like down-scaling," he says.

So when the opportunity arose to tackle both roles at the same time, it seemed like the perfect solution for Grainer. Since the end of last year, he has been CIO of the Wise Group, a non-government provider in the mental health sector, and CEO of software company Wild Bamboo, one of 10 charitable entities under the Wise Group umbrella. "The two jobs came as a packaged deal," he says.

Wild Bamboo's product, Recordbase, is a web-based information system for community organisations.Wild Bamboo has a five-year growth plan in place, says Grainer. "That was one of the motivators for me to step into the CEO role -- the opportunity to front a fairly ambitious plan with some growth targets. I wasn't looking for something that was just minding the shop."

A lot of the skills of the CIO are transferrable -- such as budgeting, dealing with stakeholders and achieving goals, he says. Grainer's own expertise is in systems and processes, looking at quality, management and customer service delivery, he says, and all of that is easily transferrable into the somewhat different context of being a CEO. As CEO, he is developing strategy, defining markets, figuring out how to grow the business year-on-year, taking elements such as economy trends and government agendas into consideration.

"It's a different mix and I'm really enjoying that."

Grainer spent the first 10 years of his career as a social worker in Hawke's Bay and Wellington. The role with Wild Bamboo connects a circle for him, he says.

"Our clients are typically working in health and social care -- essentially, it's about health, wellbeing and people. Although the experience [as a social worker] is a long way back in time, the basic, philosophical interest is still current," he says.

"It gives me insight when talking to clients and helps me understand what they are trying to achieve, beyond the technology."

His advice to other CIOs who might be considering a shift to a CEO role is to pursue that ambition. "If you have this aspiration, go for it!" he says. "It's worth it. A lot of things are transferrable [from the CIO role to CEO], particularly the need for the CIO to be on the technology and looking at the whole organisation -- that is a huge asset."

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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