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Finding your true north

Finding your true north

John Holley, general manager of operations at Visible Results, is emphatic about preparing for a post-CIO role.

Two years ago, John Holley left his role as CIO of the Auckland Regional Council to pursue his passion. Although Holley started his career as a programmer at Massey University, he says that what he most enjoys about working is interacting with people and growing teams. Following his three-year tenure as the group ICT manager at the Council, and a further three months as acting general manager of operations — Holley started his own IT consultancy, and now works as the general manager of operations at loyalty marketing company Visible Results.

He says moving beyond the CIO role was an easy decision to make.

“By the time you’re a CIO you’d better know where your passions are or you’ll never be satisfied with your job.”

Related:The CIO as peacekeeper

John Holley ventures into an unfamiliar territory to most CIOs - to South Sudan, as a planning officer for the United Nations Mission.

Holley says not all CIOs and IT executives have the same view, and many he has spoken to have told him they are comfortable in their roles if not completely satisfied. Holley says the political nature of some senior executive positions makes it off-putting for some to move up to the boardroom, and similarly not everyone is willing to take the risk to leave their job or start a new business.

“If you can’t let go of the toys and always want to be down with the technology you need to make that decision early on. Most likely if you have a strong technology bent, you may decide you don’t want to go beyond that,” says Holley. “For me there was always a desire to do more than just IT.”

Holley says for those looking to move beyond being a CIO, consulting or operational management roles like his are very well suited to the CIO skill set.

“If you’re a good CIO you’re looking to improve the organisation as a whole. You have probably the most holistic view of the company, which gives you very critical experiences you need as an operations manager,” says Holley.

Holley advises that CIOs should broaden their skill base while working in their current positions to prepare them for the future. Technology update courses are a given, but finance and business courses are a valuable addition. Holley studied for his Diploma in Business Operation Management while working at an Apple reseller in the 1990s.

Leadership and people management skills are critical in higher roles or when starting your own company, says Holley. Unfortunately, New Zealand companies have very poor leadership training processes, he adds.

“If you’re going to be successful at senior management it’s not just about being technically proficient, it’s about being a good leader,” says Holley.

“One of the challenges for CIOs is building leadership competencies. Often companies substitute quality mentorships with conferences on the subject of leadership.”

Holley’s expectation of leadership stems from his several stints in the New Zealand and Canadian military, which began in the late 1980s and continues today in a directorial role.

Holley says that in the army your key performance indicators include how well your subordinates are trained. Mentors are readily assigned in order to train the next generation.

“On the battlefield you need to train up the people beneath you because if you get killed, someone needs to be able to step up and take over. We should have the same mentality in business,” says Holley.

Air New Zealand is one company that Holley ranks highly for doing things right. He says the airline encourages mentorship programmes and also allows staff who are unsatisfied to move across the company, or in some cases move to a different company to learn new skills with the hope one day they will bring those skills back to Air New Zealand.

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