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Career watch: Why more CIOs are getting MBAs

Career watch: Why more CIOs are getting MBAs

New Zealand CIOs reveal the upsides – and challenges – of getting the additional qualification.

Global data for ICT professionals reveals a steady rise in the number of those getting MBAs (master of business administration) over the past four years.

The Association of MBAs (AMBA) Careers and Salary Survey in 2010 shows 7 per cent of MBA graduates were from the technology sector. Last year, this figure was 12.8 per cent.

Andrew Main Wilson, CEO of the AMBA, says the average salary for ICT professionals who get the additional qualification grew from $167,822 to $173,000 during the four-year period.

While the association has no figures on how many of these ICT professionals are CIO or holding equivalent roles, Wilson points out there are many advantages of the qualification for those holding these strategic posts.

Having an MBA, he says, provides “developmental and reputational” benefits for CIOs.

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“An outstanding CIO fully understands the relationship between the information technology division and the general management of a business, and how they can complement each other,” says Wilson.

“They are skilled at managing stakeholder relationships, forging partnerships and in getting the best from their team. They have a knowledgeable outlook on how digital technology can enhance business whilst keeping a close eye on P&L.”

It’s this enhanced skill set that not only separates the good from the outstanding [but also] allows a CIO to step up to COO or even CEO.

Andrew Main Wilson, Association of MBAs

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The course can help build strong and effective leaders who can coordinate well across administrative departments, and can deliver service and value to both the business and customers, he says.

“It’s this enhanced skill set that not only separates the good from the outstanding [but also] allows a CIO to step up to COO or even CEO, and it is only an MBA program that can provide this skill-set,” he states.

Aubrey Christmas, managing director of Virtus Circle consultancy, says those who got to the CIO role largely through a technical track should consider doing their MBA “to gain a deeper understanding and in depth know-how of how businesses should run”.

“Having an MBA also allows an understanding to the workings of the industry and economy, which ultimately allows a broader perspective of the business world,” says Christmas, who completed his MBA at the University Of South Dakota in the United States.

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Those who got to the CIO role largely through a technical track should consider doing their MBA to gain a deeper understanding and in depth know-how of how businesses should run.

Aubrey Christmas, Virtus Circle

"The benefits of having an MBA can be said to start with the learning journey itself that builds confidence and credibility towards achieving a big-picture perspective and an appreciation for others inputs and point of view,” says Christmas.

David Kennedy, CIO at Orion Health, says his MBA was “a real eye opener”.

“It took me from understanding about delivery of projects and delivery of engagements to how organisations are structured, even things around venture capitalism and the finance side of things, which I wasn't really subjected to or had exposure to during my career, all the way through to marketing,” says Kennedy, who was working with KPMG at that time.

Read more: ICT skills hotspots for 2015: Digital marketing, big data and mobile strategies

It took me from understanding about delivery of projects and delivery of engagements to how organisations are structured, even things around venture capitalism and the finance side of things, which I wasn't really subjected to or had exposure to during my career.

David Kennedy, Orion Health

He finished his MBA over two years, on part time. His then boss gave him lots of time off to be able to study in between.

“They gave me the space and time to do it”, which Kennedy says was critical for anyone wanting to undertake this qualification.

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Building the CIO brand

The MBA gives me academic rigor to the business cases I need to prepare, says Alin Ungureanu, CIO at Oceania Healthcare. “Furthermore, it provided me with knowledge useful in the business management and decision making,” he says, adding “it has enhanced my personal brand.”

The MBA gives me academic rigor to the business cases I need to prepare.

Alin Ungureanu, Oceania Healthcare

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Sam Dignadice, senior solutions architect at Spark (formerly Telecom NZ), completed his executive MBA at the University of Auckland.

“I have been in IT for my entire career and have seen the significant and increasing investments companies have made in technology,” he says on why he opted for the degree. “The MBA broadened my understanding of how business decisions are made and role IT plays in the wider business context.”

Asked for pointers on how to balance MBA studies with full-time work, he proffers: “Lots of personal determination and discipline.”

“You have to be prepared to make personal sacrifices – two years of rearranging your priorities. It is impossible to achieve this without the full support of your family and your employer.”

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You have to be prepared to make personal sacrifices – two years of rearranging your priorities.

Sam Dignadice, Spark

A business course is also a very useful foundation for ICT professionals. This is the experience of Jonathan Iles, CIO at Carter Holt Harvey, who completed a post graduate diploma in business (IT) at the University of Auckland.

“It directly led to me being appointed IT manager and therefore was an essential for my career,” says Iles.

He enrolled in the course as he had just immigrated to New Zealand from the UK “with no IT experience and qualification”.

“I had plenty of management experience (in the British Army and Police) but no specialist domain knowledge in IT. How was I going to break into the IT market?

“I gained the post-grad IT qualification and this enabled me to approach my employer and ask to be given an IT-oriented role – based on the belief that it was sufficient as a qualification and business aptitude was more important than anything.”

I gained the post-grad IT qualification and this enabled me to approach my employer and ask to be given an IT-oriented role.

Jonathan Iles, Carter Holt Harvey

Within 18 months of graduating, he landed an IT manager post, and in nine years, became a CIO.

“The qualification was essential for me, because I had no other IT qualification – and to be honest it was the perfect mix of technical knowledge and strategy,” he says. “I was also very lucky to have a visionary boss, who was prepared to take a risk with me.”

Related articles: CIOs and continuing education

A formal study of business is actually very valuable for IT roles because IT is really the confluence of business and technology and you have to understand both.

Tim Campos, Facebook

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