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In CIO searches these days, 80 percent of the candidate specifications involve building business relationships inside and outside the organization, demonstrating business skills, planning and execution, according to Carl Gilchrist, a CIO practice leader at search firm Spencer Stuart. What companies are looking for, Gilchrist says, are "CIOs with track records of coming into difficult situations and getting things done."
At Georgia-Pacific, executives had the same criteria. But that led them to look within the company's ranks for the next CIO. James Dallas, with his 20 years at the company, came into his new role as CIO with a mission to run IT like any of the company's other unitsmeaning like a business. In addition to cutting costs, he put in a program to create "centers of excellence" around key IT functions such as e-commerce, business intelligence and global platform services. Through these centers, the company can share best IT practices throughout business units.
"We looked across our businesses and started seeing similarities between our consumer business selling to Wal-Mart, our building products that we sell to Home Depot and Lowe's, and, on the paper side, where we sell to Staples," Dallas says. "In each of those channels, on-time delivery and supply-chain management is a competitive differentiator. We realized we could solve similar problems across the company in different business units at the same time."
For Dallas, the differentiating factor as a new CIO was that his long tenure at Georgia-Pacific gave him a leg up when it came to understanding the issues that the company faced in each of its business units. When you're already on the inside, you don't have to wait to implement change by first going through that learning curve.
Elizabeth Wasserman is a Washington, D.C.-based writer. Formerly, she was Washington Bureau Chief for The Industry Standard.