Still, only some CIOs can make the leap. Certainly, chief information officers who report to CEOs and work on strategy teams with the company's most senior executives can flourish in straight business jobs, according to Vivian Stephenson, a former CIO at department stores Mervyn's and Target. She went on to be chief operating officer at Williams-Sonoma for three years before retiring last June.
Such CIOs know business and know how the company works, says Stephenson, who has also done leadership development consulting and sits on the boards of CarMax and the California State Automobile Association. For example, they can recite the order-to-cash cycle and what's involved from the point of generating a sales lead to closing a deal. The clincher, she says, is that they also know where the inefficiencies are in those areas that hold the company back. Corporate boards pay to find CIOs like that, wanting to groom them for bigger roles.
"As companies become more dependent on technology, the CIO is indeed a potential successor to the COO and even CEO," says Paul Groce, a partner at Christian & Timbers, an executive search firm in New York. Groce specializes in placing CIOs. "Clients are asking for [such] candidates," he says. "That's a very different model than in the past."
And good luck to those CIOs still buried in the technology boiler room as glorified project managers, reporting to the chief financial officer. "A CIO who concentrates on the technical side at the expense of understanding their businessI don't think they'll be around for long, even as a CIO," Stephenson adds. "And they wouldn't fit in the non-I.T. offices."
Yet such a technology leader, dreaming of bigger things, might not realize what he lacks.
Bruce Skaistis, founder of eGlobal CIO, a consulting firm in Tulsa, Okla., tells the story of one information chief who was made president of a new business unit at the travel services company he worked for. Though he had no marketing or sales experience, the former CIO insisted on devising advertising plans and being involved in major sales activities, says Skaistis, who consulted at the company. "The initial marketing and advertising was a disaster, and he couldn't blame anyone but himself," he says. "Sales were very slow at first, and many of the salespeople bailed out." Forced to resign, the executive has left the travel business but is back in I.T., according to Skaistis.
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