Making the Leap from CIO to CEO

These days you hear a handful of stories of CIOs making the jump to CEO. Once a rare occurrence, such a career move has now entered the realm of the possible for some executives. Although it’s certainly not an easy path, if executed correctly, it can be very rewarding. As a former CIO of a large technology company who recently became a CEO, I’d like to share my firsthand experience.

I’m now CEO of Numara Software, a provider of integrated IT management solutions. Before joining Numara, I was general manager of Enterprise Solutions and Cloud Management at CA Technologies, where I was responsible for the creation and development of a portfolio of cloud products and enterprise solutions. And, before that, I led CA’s Security Business Unit and served as the company’s CIO.

Why Make the Jump?

Becoming CEO was not the ultimate goal for me when I began my IT career. I was extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to serve as CIO at CA Technologies. I learned more from that role than I ever could have imagined. Because every single process and department in the company relies on technology, CA CIOs play a role in all lines of business.

As CIO, I was heavily involved in every business process, from research and development to sales and everything in between. Since I was armed with extensive business knowledge, CA began to rely on me to drive other tasks and initiatives within the company. I was tapped to lead the Enterprise
Solutions and Cloud Management business unit–a huge role that came with many responsibilities. All these experiences, in turn, prepared me to make the transition to CEO. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the things  you can expect if you’re looking to make a transition from CIO to CEO in your own career.

Many challenges involve having to “prove yourself.” This won’t happen overnight, so have patience. Some executives may be concerned about your lack of CEO experience. One thing a CIO knows how to do is ask questions. This is equally important as you make the transition to CEO: It is critical to build confidence and engage colleagues, and listen to their ideas and thoughts, before attempting to make changes.

Extroversion can be another big challenge for CIOs looking to make the leap to the top of the C-suite. Let’s face it, as a CIO you proudly held the title of
”Top Geek” and suddenly you hold the title of “Top Dog.” With that new title come new responsibilities: You must possess the ability to represent thought leadership internally and externally. As CEO, you become the face of the company.

So, You Really Want to Be a CEO?

I’ve learned plenty of lessons as I made my own transition from CIO to CEO. Below are my two top tips for you as you consider your own career advancement.

Prove your leadership capabilities: Have patience, engage constantly with your employees and customers, and take steps to educate yourself inside and outside of the company. Get involved in many external leadership groups and opportunities.

Understand, and partner with, the business: It is very difficult to make the transition from CIO to CEO if you don’t already have a reputation for working with all lines of the business. Start laying the foundation now.

As CIO, you face a number of unique pressures and challenges, many of which leave you little room to think about anything as grand as a major career change. Whether or not you’re a CIO looking to make the transition to CEO, having a firm understanding of these industry challenges is crucial to your career longevity. Below are the three key trends that will be priorities for every CIO in 2012.

IT control: With the onset of software as a service-based applications, IT has the potential to lose control. To keep IT relevant, IT must be infused into all of the businesses–from finance to marketing to HR. As CIO, it’s up to you to ensure that IT does not lose control. The downside and security implications are just too risky.

Cloud computing: The cloud is an amazing phenomenon. Remember when you downloaded software via disk? IT remained in control. Now, anyone can subscribe to a cloud-based service. Cloud computing is one of the biggest challenges you face as a CIO today, but it’s also an area that presents huge opportunity. More than ever, you need to align and engage with the business and understand its needs and challenges. By staying on top of the business’s needs, you’ll keep your IT organization in control.

Mobile device management: As corporate and personal devices connecting to the network proliferate, IT loses control. But, this presents a unique opportunity for the business and has the potential to increase productivity and revenue. It’s up to you to manage this correctly. If you don’t, it could be a recipe for disaster in terms of network infrastructure and security risks.

Having a firm grasp on how these three core issues will reshape the way your company does business puts you at a distinct advantage as you consider a climb up the corporate ladder. Transitioning from CIO to CEO is definitely challenging, but it’s not impossible. Use your time as a CIO to become entrenched in technology and business. Engage with folks outside of IT; think strategically and with an eye on revenue; market yourself; and make yourself visible internally and externally. Come up with ways to help your company achieve success outside of the IT realm. If you learn from these experiences, you will have taken a huge first step in preparing yourself to make the transition from CIO to CEO.

About the Author

Dave Hansen is CEO of Numara Software.

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Daily Tech Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.

Latest Articles