How to Go From CIO to CEO

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 11-07-2013 Email Print this article Print

Does a glass ceiling exist for CIOs looking to rise to the position of CEO? Hardly, as many high-profile names have successfully made this transition. To cite just a few: Kirby Slunaker was CIO at Visa USA, ProCard, Pendum and other companies before being named CEO of Metrolist, a real-estate listing service. Andrew Rashbass was CIO of the Economist before getting promoted to CEO there, and is now CEO of Reuters news. Dawn Lepore made her name as a star CIO for Charles Schwab, and then headed and as CEO. Even with those examples, it's difficult to ignore the reality that CIOs are often perceived as being a different breed than the classic CEO archetype. After all, 28 of the Fortune 100 CEOs pursued a finance-based career track, and 20 came up from operations, according to research compiled by N2growth. (As for IT backgrounds? While N2growth indicates that seven of the Fortune 100 CEOs have engineering backgrounds, tech is apparently so insignificant that it doesn't even merit its own category.) However, CIOs are elevating their profiles as key business contributors, and this is helping overcome obstacles and stigmas that may have prevented their rise to the very top of the leadership chart. If this is their intention, they'd do themselves a favor by adopting the following best practices, according to research from Korn/Ferry International and Ernst & Young. For more about the Korn/Ferry International guide, click here. For more about the Ernst & Young report, click here.

  • Lose the Cost-Center Mindset

    Think in terms of profit and loss now, not just cost. The latter is a functional way of thinking. The former is a strategic way of thinking.
    1-Lose the Cost-Center Mindset
  • Think Big

    When you can speak insightfully about identifying—and deploying—key business growth drivers, you sound like a CEO.
    2-Think Big
  • Don't OD on Analysis

    By the nature of the position, CIOs gravitate toward analysis. But under pressure, top-level company leaders must segue to a quicker, decisive style characterized by swift action.
    3-Don't OD on Analysis
  • Change Your Navigational Default

    It's natural for a CIO to constantly adapt to changing technologies, trends and such, but a CEO is paid to steer their organization, as opposed to simply adjusting to events.
    4-Change Your Navigational Default
  • Embrace Ambiguity

    Given the significance of technical standards in what you do, you're wary of the uncertain. However, CEOs make big decisions based upon the unknown all the time.
    5-Embrace Ambiguity
  • Stay Upbeat

    CIOs are often designated to deliver the bad news. But CEOs are admired for their ability to energize the troops through their optimism.
    6-Stay Upbeat
  • Create Success Stories

    When you drive activity that makes other departments and individuals shine on key objectives, you gain a reputation as a difference-maker whose impact extends beyond "just tech."
    7-Create Success Stories
  • Show 'Em the Money

    That's right. The easiest way to shred that "supporting player" stigma is to demonstrate repeatedly how you expand ROI opportunities for your company.
    8-Show 'Em the Money
  • Follow the Money

    Study up on all organizational fiscals, so you can hold your own during discussions with the CFO. No one ascends to CEO status without a firm grasp of the organization's financial house.
    9-Follow the Money
  • Get With the Board

    Find ways to engage board members—outside of formal presentations when an IT project is proposed.
    10-Get With the Board
Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.


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