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What CEOs Want From Their Next IT Leaders

What CEOs Want From Their Next IT Leaders

Wanted: CIO 2.0

Friedenberg: Bob, as our representative CEO, how do you respond to that?

Badavas: CEOs have the company they deserve. If I say 'get out of the office' and don't give you a travel budget, who are we kidding? I can't say IT is important if I'm cutting initiatives that could enhance the value of our infrastructure. I can't pontificate on how you should transform yourself if I'm not willing to make a personal investment. My responsibility to my direct reports is to have an environment that allows them to blossom to their full extent, and to allow them to make mistakes. I owe them the opportunity to grow and to be part of my succession plan. I have had conversations with them that start: "If you want to be a CEO someday...".

Patrick: There's an opportunity here for the CIO because there's an appetite at the top for people who are different. If you can show that you're different and bring strong business skills, you will be in demand.

Merry: Who has broadest perspective across the business? I say it's the CIO. All the other executives are focused on a particular segment of the business. If a CIO has been around long enough, then nothing is new. I hear the same arguments I heard 30 years ago. We've seen everything done several times over and can give that perspective back to the executive team. But we must have the balls to challenge the people who see themselves as experts in their function area. Speak up or you don't have the right to be in the room.

Reporting to the CFO

Friedenberg: CEOs say they want the CIO to make this broad, strategic contribution as a business partner, yet they continue to have the CIO report to the CFO.

Badavas: The CIO has to report to a CXO who believes that people should not just be focused on their functional silo. It's fine if the CIO reports to a CFO who is tracking to be a CEO. But if it's a functional-oriented CFO, then that flows downhill, meaning the CIO will probably be expected to focus on the IT function only. How can the CIO communicate the value of IT if the CFO has IT sitting in a corner just like the maintenance function of the company?

Patrick: One of the first questions I get from CIOs when I'm conducting a search is "Tell me about the reporting structure". In general, the reporting structure is a good proxy for how strategic the role will be. It's not an absolute -- I meet some highly effective and strategic CIOs who report to CFOs. But it is a good indicator. More important is how the company is structured. Is it in a way that truly leverages the CIO position? It's clear that Steve [Merry] plays a strategic role because he's meeting with the business leaders regardless of who he reports to. It's not black and white.

Gupta: The reporting relationship is just one indicator. Is the CIO involved in the informal dialogue that happens within senior leadership circles? If you are only involved when presenting the IT plan, then the opportunity is missed. I think CIOs do have the broadest possible perspective of the business. But why doesn't the rest of the firm understand that? The answer lies in communication; the ability of the CIO, and just as importantly, his IT team, to speak the language of the business.

Merry: It has to extend to the next level down. If my direct reports can't get out and mingle with the business and speak up and be respected, then I have failed too. So when selecting the next level down, you need to find business-savvy people who can converse with all of the business at the level where things actually get done.

Badavas: The layer below the CIO and the CEO for that matter is the enabler of how high we can fly in our own positions. If my executives can't push me up higher, that will impair the growth of my company. We generally don't spend enough time thinking about and clearly and overtly communicating on succession planning. But it's a key to success. A philosophy I adopted long ago was that to get to the next level you have to behave and think as if you are on that level. If you don't, you won't get there. The same goes for your direct reports.

Gupta: Management must grasp the CEO's agenda. It's not technology. It's growth, innovation, risk mitigation, alliances. The CIO and the management team have to figure out how to feed into that agenda.

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