Want to Be CEO? CIOs Who Lack the Drive Need Not Apply


A few weeks ago I wrote about the lengthening tenure of the CIO, citing some insights from CIO Dashboard blogger Chris Curran, who believes CIOs tend to stay with the same organization as long as their skill sets mesh well with the organization's overall developmental goals.


So what happens when CIO skills no longer match up well with organizational goals? Curran says some CIOs use their good relationships and a strong IT team to handle changing organizational needs. Others can't satisfy the new needs and end up being asked to leave, while others get bored and decide to leave on their own.


Curran doesn't mention it, but I wondered about a fourth option: CIOs who move to another C-level position at the same company, possibly the CEO. Though this hasn't been a common career path, it seems quite doable for CIOs who aren't just viewed as technologists, but as executives who use technology to achieve business goals. That's the rub, of course. Some folks, including many CIOs themselves, don't see CIOs as executives who perform key strategic functions.


Yet research by Ryerson University and the CIO Association of Canada suggests CIOs share many of the same attributes as their CEO brethren. CIOs have the same smarts and management chops as CEOs, says Ted Rogers, School of IT Management at Ryerson University, in an itWorldCanada story about the research. (Free registration required.) Drive and personal desire for the CEO role are the biggest requirements for CIOs who want to become CEOs, according to 59 percent of CIOs and CEOs surveyed for the research. Other factors mentioned included change-management skills, relevant work experience and mentors who offer good career advice.


Cathy Koop, director of research and advocacy at the CIO Association of Canada, says CIOs who aren't adept at running IT won't find themselves in the running for a CEO job. But that on its own won't be enough. Executives who have successfully made the switch have also demonstrated a willingness to tackle challenging projects.


It's also important for CIOs who want to become CEOs to look for likely successors in the IT department and groom them for the CIO role, says Peter G.W. Keen, founder of Keen Innovations and an author on IT strategy. Keen says this step is often overlooked. I don't doubt it, having written an article last year in which several experts told me many companies neglect their executive succession plans.


Strong communications skills, especially an ability to discuss technology in business terms, are essential for CIOs who aspire to become a CEO, writes Joerg Heistermann, CEO of the Americas for IDS Scheer, in a Forbes column. Heistermann should know. His bio indicates he served as CIO for a previous employer. CIOs with no appreciation for financials also need not apply, he says.


Just like the respondents to the CIO Association of Canada survey, though, Heistermann says CIOs must really want to make the change and be willing to jump through the necessary business hoops. He writes:

Above all else, a CIO really has to want the CEO spot. It is the tallest mountain to climb, but the top of Mount Everest will not be reached without an extraordinary dose of determination. Truth be told, many CIOs simply aren't interested. Business managers are used to the idea of hierarchies and wanting to reach the top. Technicians usually have other goals and achievements that are often not as focused on titles or hierarchies.