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How to build a ‘portfolio career’

How to build a ‘portfolio career’

Getting to the C-level is not always the end goal, and more CIOs are charting their own career roadmap, says Oliver Hawkley of Kerridge & Partners.

'Part of a CIO’s career plan should include preparing the next person who will step up into their role'
'Part of a CIO’s career plan should include preparing the next person who will step up into their role'

Oliver Hawkley says the biggest trend this year that Kerridge & Partners has observed for CIOs is the rise in companies requesting for board members who come from the technology landscape.

More particularly, they are looking for candidates with an understanding of cloud computing, its risks and the security implications, he says.

He is not surprised he is seeing this trend, as SMEs, charitable organisations and corporate boards are cognisant they “need to bolster their expertise within the technology landscape”.

He says the rise of digital platforms is linked to this demand.

“It is giving CIOs a very real option in their careers to seek a board appointment with a variety of organisations.

“More importantly, CIOs have an opening into the world of governance, and they can provide real value to the company they are advising.”

He says a CIO has to factor in the unique challenges each organisation will face.

“Take a look at the individual organisations, how long they have been around, what is the three to five year strategy? Historically, how have they utilised the skills of other board members? How do they intend on utilising your skills? What are the expectations and interactions between the board and the CEO?”

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He says CIOs moving to CEO roles are not as common as those coming from the more traditional routes of other c-suite backgrounds. But he believes more opportunities are opening up for CIOs with CEO aspirations.

He says some of the companies he is working with now are looking for CEOs with a “strong understanding of technology” and this is an exciting time for CIOs in their careers.

“Increasingly, the expectation is not just strong people, financial and operational leadership skills for CEO candidates,” he states. “The leadership angle has to encompass technology, and specifically understanding technology as an enabler of disruptive business strategy.”

He says it is interesting to note how ASB and Air New Zealand, which have both had a CEO who was a former CIO, Sir Ralph Norris, are known for their strength in technology and innovation.

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“It is no coincidence these organisations are now performing so well.

“I predict in the next 10 years, there will be more and more CEOs that will come from a technology background,” says Hawkley.

'You don’t necessarily have to or are expected to go from CIO to CIO role, you are able to lead a portfolio career and then return to the Executive with more nimble business skills.'

Oliver Hawkley

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Succession planning

He says part of a CIO’s career plan should include preparing the next person who will step up into their role, as this displays wider corporate responsibility and strong leadership ability. He says this type of mentoring and coaching is critical to the CIO role and is strategically important to the wider business.

“It is important in the career of the CIO to think about: What talent is emerging behind me? Who is going to take over the reins when I leave the organisation? How can I leave a positive legacy once I have moved onto my next position?”

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For CIOs who have ambitions of being a chief executive, he suggests seeking roles that are part of the executive team rather than reporting indirectly through another c-suite position.

He says several CIOs he has recently met with have embarked upon a “portfolio type” career after leaving their CIO role.

They have enjoyed developing a wider skill set and working with several companies from a consulting position. They are also exposed to wider industries which helps them develop business strategies, he states.

“It is different working within a role on a permanent basis to the role of consultant working with a business team,” he says. “You are often in a position of privilege where they open up challenges they are facing without expectations of people leadership or ‘business as usual’ tasks. You add that highly useful third person external advice, and are able to step back and see the impact of your advice to the organisation.

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“I have seen a trend where some CIOs will do this for 12 months or up to two years, then move back to working in the more traditional permanent executive team role,” says Hawkley.

“These experiences, in the long term, gear them up to better fulfil other roles at the executive table.”

He says what makes the CIO role exciting is that getting to the c-level is no longer the end goal.

“You don’t necessarily have to or are expected to go from CIO to CIO role, you are able to lead a portfolio career and then return to the Executive with more nimble business skills.”

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He says the rather confronting reality is that most people today will be working later in life than our predecessors. “Things are going to change not only in technology, but also the demands on skill sets,” he states.

Everyone’s role will change. “Whether you are an accountant, a plumber, a policeman or a CIO, your role is going to be different as a result of technology in tomorrow’s world.”


Read more: 5 tips for CIOs to better connect with boards


Related: What is next after CIO?

We interviewed current and former CIOs who forged different career paths. They share a common threat - they carefully planned and worked hard to transition into more than just CIO.

Julia Raue of Air New Zealand: Building the next digital milestone
Julia Raue helped create a new role – the chief digital officer – who will take charge of her CIO portfolio when she leaves.

David Spaziani: CIO to Gartner executive
David Spaziani has worked in a global technology company, as CIO of a government agency, and now rounds up his experience as an executive partner at Gartner.

Phil Brimacombe: Technologists to business leaders
The head of corporate services at NorthTec is an example of how CIOs can transition to different sectors and posts in the executive suite.

Rob Livingstone: Helping CIOs take their next career step
“I make sure that anyone or any organisation that crosses my path is better off after interacting with me,” says Rob Livingstone, of his IT advisory and mentoring practice.

Chip Felton: The CIO who built a career on big data
Chip Felton moved from New York to Nelson, and now works with organisations across New Zealand on business intelligence programmes.

Ross Hughson: Into the startup world
The former CIO of Inland Revenue Department and Westpac NZ is now immersed in the world of business incubators, venture capitalists and crowdfunding.
Read more: ​Doing business with Bob Dunn of Hyland Software: ‘Look for integrity first and foremost when hiring people’


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