IT not seen as pathway to board governance

IT not seen as pathway to board governance

Vector chair Michael Stiassny tells CIO Summit delegates that IT executives are too detail-orientated.

Chairman of Vector Michael Stiassny champions diversity on boards — but that doesn’t include getting more IT executives into governance roles.

He told a panel at the CIO Summit in Auckland last week that IT executives are generally too detail-oriented, tactical and narrow in outlook to make effective board members of large NZX-listed companies.

“I don’t want to see people come onto boards with specific specialities and being held accountable for them,” he says.

If CIOs and IT managers aspire to governance positions they should look for experience outside of the IT department, he says. He also suggested extra-curricular activities such as getting involved with charities and school boards as a way to broaden experience.

“You have to come to the table wearing different clothes.”

Stiassny is member of the 25-percent Group, which aims to break the “old boys network” in New Zealand company board appointments. Its goal is for 25 percent of board positions in public companies to be filled by women by 2015 – which would be up from around nine percent currently.

According to the New Zealand Institute of Directors, about ten percent of its membershave a technical background, but Stiassny is not going to champion the rise of CIOs onto boards. He says he wants diversity of age, ethnicity and gender on boards — to reflect New Zealand’s population — and “the only way I can start is to talk about women”.

Sam Knowles, whose governance positions include chairing Xero and the Government ICT Council, says that technical knowledge may be generational — that is younger executives have a better IT knowledge — but he urged CIOs to be more strategic in their outlook.

Beca CIO Robin Johansen says IT executives often have a record of failure and their department is still seen as a cost centre. Despite the “tsunami of change” taking place with the rise of cloud computing and the consumerisation of IT, CIOs are not articulating the strategic advantage they can bring to the company.

“If you are not a great communicator you are not going to cut it at the board table.”

Johansen urged the audience — many of whom spoke out about their lack of ability to be heard at the top — to work on their “elevator pitch”. To change the perception of IT as gloomy, detailed, boring and tactical.

Or, as Stiassny put it, “you never seem to be happy with outcomes.”

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