By Doug Bartholomew
CIOs who aspire to become CEO have an uphill road ahead, but by taking steps to expand their current role and exploiting new technologies they have a better chance than ever to attain their goal.
As someone who made the transition, Lloyd DeVaux says: “You have to take a broader view of the company” if you want to join the top executive ranks. DeVaux, Chief Operating Officer at BankAtlantic in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and former CIO for the bank and for Union Planters Bank in Memphis, Tenn., says that problem solving is key to advancement. “Whether you are CIO or COO, you have to go out looking for — and asking for — problems to solve. The CIO who wants to get ahead has to say, ‘I can solve that problem; give me the opportunity to solve that problem.’ You do this, and pretty soon you expand your world.”
And aspirations are high. More than half (54%) of the 685 global CIOs polled for a recent CA Technologies-sponsored report, "The Future Role of the CIO-Becoming the Boss",” aspire to senior management spots — including the chief executive’s office. (See related blog here.)
To get there, “the CIO will have to move from being someone who delivers technology to someone who designs and structures new businesses and products,” observes Jacob Lamm, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development at CA Technologies. “In the past, CIOs were seen as parts providers — as plumbers, electricians or other sub-contractors to use the home-building analogy — instead of as the architect or the general contractor of your house,” but the role of the CIO is changing, he says.
This shift is exciting but it presents challenges as well. While demands have always been great, “the requirements for successful CIOs are dramatically different than in the past,” says Rich Pople, Global IT Executive Advisory Practice Leader at The Hackett Group, a strategic consulting firm. “Those traits now include the ability to contribute to profitability, a strong sense of business savvy and the ability to address the technology implications of their business decisions”, he says.
Own the Business Outcomes
With very few exceptions, most product and commercial decisions a business makes are affected by the IT infrastructure, Pople says. “In fact, most things that make up the heart of a business’s revenue have some IT embedded in them.” CIOs who want to climb the corporate ladder, therefore, should flaunt those business achievements to advance to higher C-level jobs, he adds. They “need to take ownership of business outcomes” that result from IT advances. Moreover, because IT is so critical to the business, IT execs can use these results as competitive assets for the business as well as for their own careers. (See related blog about why CEOs need to embrace IT here.)
For all the potential gains, the numbers show that CIOs have yet to start a serious march toward the chief executive position. Just four percent of current global CEOs have been promoted from CIO ranks — a figure that contrasts sharply with the 29 percent of CFOs or 23 percent of COOs who moved up the corporate ladder, the CA Technologies report found. In fact, 16 percent of CIOs believe there is prejudice against them being considered for the chief executive slot, and more than half (58%) say they are hampered by being viewed as technical specialists.
Among the notable exceptions are the CEOs and former CIOs, such as Chris Lofgren at Schneider National; Benjamin Salzmann at Acuity Insurance; and Donald Donahue at Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. CIO Steve Phillips was also recently promoted to Senior Vice President at Avnet Inc. Some others who have reached the top corporate echelons are: Phil Fasano, former CIO who advanced to Executive Vice President and CIO at Kaiser Permanente, and Dawn Lepore, former CIO at Charles Schwab, now CEO at drugstore.com.
Cloud as Catalyst
The report also found that the cloud acts as a catalyst for change because it enables entry to new overseas markets in hours; permits scaling up of resources to launch a new product in minutes, and slashes development time by days. This shift, most observers agree, affords a new and expanded opportunity for CIOs of forward-thinking organizations to build business strategy around technology instead of merely supporting strategy through IT.
“CIOs need to get ahead of this new trend,” Lamm suggests. “They need to recognize that their job is not to create everything in-house, but to leverage the cloud to bring more creativity and innovation to the business.”
BankAtlantic’s DeVaux also sees the cloud as a potential game-changer for CIOs seeking to rise to the top. “The cloud means it’s less about the internal IT shop,” he says, making “it possible for CIOs to start to take the company out of the IT business.”
“Although IT can enable business strategy, remember, the IT department is not in itself generally strategic unless you are in a technology business,” says DeVaux.
Of course, it sometimes helps to look for career advancement opportunities outside of your own organization, too. Organizational structures vary greatly, as does the role IT plays in the enterprise. So when DeVaux left his CIO position at Union Planters in 2001 for the CIO job at BankAtlantic, he saw the chance for greater opportunities. “Here at BankAtlantic I had the title of CIO but I had the head of IT and the heads of other non-IT departments reporting to me, so my role always was technology and operations.” Therefore, when he became COO, DeVaux passed the CIO title to his head of IT.
“At Union Planters, people saw me as the CIO, the tech guy,” DeVaux continues. “But BankAtlantic wanted me to come over as the CIO with the COO role available if I showed the capability.” Sometimes, he advises, you can only shed the CIO stereotype by going into a role that’s viewed as more related to the business. “You have to get that broader view,” even if it means leaving the company.
One way CIOs can prepare to take on a broader business assignment is to develop business skills outside of IT and the job, DeVaux says. Aspiring executives “certainly need something broader than technology,” he says. DeVaux believes that his MBA in finance and marketing as well as his nontechnical positions were big assets. So, too, is a Harvard Business School three-year executive program “that was all about running a business,” he says.
There’s no single way to the top, but it will take effort. “At the end of the day, this change in the role of the CIO looks like an evolution, but I think it’s more profound than that,” Pople says. In his view, even to stay where they are and be successful, CIOs need to be forward-thinking business leaders. “If you can’t step into the new world, you probably can’t stay where you are today,” Pople says, and it certainly will keep IT execs from reaching the top of the org chart.
ASK THE EXPERTS
Lloyd DeVaux, Chief Operating Officer, BankAtlantic
Lloyd joined BankAtlantic in May 2001 as EVP and CIO, and was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in March 2004. Prior to joining the bank, he was Senior EVP and CIO of $35 billion Union Planters Corp. He managed technology and operations encompassing eight divisions, six operations centers and 1,900 employees. Lloyd holds an MBA degree from Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla., and a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Buffalo. He serves on a number of boards, including Southern Florida Express Bankers’ Bankserv Inc., West Broward YMCA, and CBA/BAI Graduate School of Retail Bank Management.
Rich Pople, IT Executive Advisory Global Practice Leader, Hackett Group
Rich is the Principal-in-Charge of Global IT Transformation and Executive Advisory at the Hackett Group. His clients have included Marriott International, Cummins, Cardinal Health, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, JP Morgan, Goodyear and Vodafone. Rich has more than 20 years of consulting and executive experience in IT, strategy, finance and operations. He has worked with executives and CIOs to transform their organizations' performance through strategic deployment of technology, innovative organizational design and development of high-performing service-delivery models. As an executive, Rich has led business operations in both America and Europe. He also is a frequent speaker on creating high-performing IT organizations and has taught at Georgetown University.
Jacob Lamm, Executive VP of Strategy and Corporate Development, CA Technologies
In this role, Jacob is responsible for coordinating the company’s overall business strategy, as well as developing strategy for the selection, prioritization and execution of acquisitions. In addition, Jacob leads CA Technologies’ Business Incubation business units, which are charged with exploring opportunities to build businesses in new markets. He is also a member of the company's Executive Leadership Team, which defines and executes business and technical strategies.
Jacob has held various management positions since joining CA Technologies in 1998, including: EVP of the company's Governance Group, and EVP and General Manager of the Business Service Optimization business unit. He has more than 20 years of industry experience, covering a wide range of technologies and business applications.
He joined CA Technologies with its acquisition of Professional Help Desk (PHD), where he was co-founder and EVP and CTO. Under his leadership, PHD gained industry recognition as having a visionary service management solution.
Prior to founding PHD, Jacob served as a senior manager at Con Edison in New York, where he was responsible for integrating new technologies into the company’s business systems. A graduate of Brooklyn College, Jacob earned a degree in computer information science.