Careers unlimited

Careers unlimited

Today’s IS executives are moving on to other sectors or assuming different, more demanding roles. But those CIO interviewed say the expertise honed by their years in IT is crucial in their current jobs.

View from the top

Ron Hooton, CEO, ProCare Health, ex-NZ Defence Force CIO This is his first appointment as chief executive officer, but Ron Hooton of ProCare Health reckons he could well have been playing the equivalent of this role in his previous job, as chief information officer of the New Zealand Defence Force.

Hooton led a 230-member IT team at Defence. "It was a very, very big organisation from an IT perspective," he states. "You are effectively CEO of an IT shop. You had all the financial and HR functions."

Hooton joined Defence as its first chief information officer, and after four years on the job, in November 2005, resigned to become the CEO of ProCare Health in Auckland.With this move, Hooton joins the short list – at least, there aren't many yet in New Zealand-of CIOs who have moved on to CEO roles, exemplified by Ralph Norris of Commonwealth Bank, Rob Fyfe of Air New Zealand and Garth Biggs, former Gen-i CEO.

Hooton agrees this career path for CIOs is uncommon, but believes being CIO is good preparation for a CEO position.

"The CIO is a role that is pervasive across the entire business. It is very like a CEO role

in that regard. You are looking at the information perspective and you are looking at the business improvement perspective from the application of technology. I think good strategic CIOs make good CEOs because of that."

But CIOs should not expect a smooth transition to the top. People in IT are often seen as "being somewhat backroom" which could affect their CEO job prospects, he says.

"I don't think CIOs just walk into CEO roles without creating a foundation of general management and change management skills. You need very good leadership capability, a good track record of performance in roles as you move through."

Have a game plan

Hooton says being a CEO was part of a "game plan" he hatched in the mid-1980s "when I decided being an IT-intensive ‘geek type of person' wasn't where I wanted to be long-term".

He prepared himself for higher leadership positions by doing a business diploma and then completing an MBA. The latter, he says, provided a platform for taking on a variety of roles. As IT manager for a crown enterprise in the health sector, he was involved in contract negotiations for funding for the hospital and director of one of the joint venture companies.

After four years, his title was IT and business strategy manager. "I went from being 100 per cent the IT guy on day one to being 10 per cent the IT guy and 90 per cent doing all sorts of different business roles on my last day."

By that time Hooton had completed his MBA and his next career move was as CIO of Countrywide Bank. "It was very much a stepping stone towards the ultimate aim of being a CEO," he says. When National Bank purchased Countrywide Bank, he moved into consultancy roles.

He was then offered the job of inaugural CIO for the New Zealand Defence Force. The new post had another attraction for him: "That was a big change management job and I love change management. I was going there as a CIO responsible for making a change and to establish the function-those were great foundations for a CEO role."

In his case, an MBA degree prepared him for the general skills required. He held a position as a company director for 12 years where he gathered a considerable experience in governance. "An area for which CIOs are not that well prepared is finance, he says. "They should work on this skill."

Hooton says being able to align a group of people and provide them with a vision and strategy to implement that vision, encourageing them, and devoting time to them is another vital part of the job. "If you can't be an inclusive leader, you'll fail," he warns. "If all you've run is a team of half a dozen people and you think that can translate to running a business of 200 to 500 people, you can't. You have got to have skills and experience in leading a decent size group of people through others."

Hooton says he has a good relationship with his CIO Ken Leech and they work "cooperatively". "I have the greatest of sympathy for my CIO who has to put up with the prospect of the CEO coming in on Monday morning and saying, ‘We have found this great new tool or technology toy' or whatever."

Hooton says Leech handles this very well. "As a CEO you forget very quickly how hard it is to be a CIO and you become quickly quite unreasonable," says Hooton, laughing. "For that I feel very sorry for him, but it's just part of being a CIO that people place heavy demands on you."

Asked whether working for CEOs who themselves were once in IT makes life any easier, he says, "I think so. Ken's problem is more my unreasonable expectations than his ability to convince me of the value of something. I certainly think that we have a better chance of getting more value from our information systems and the information we hold because we have two senior people in the organisation who are skilled in the practice of information management."

At the time of the interview, Hooton had been with ProCare Health for over nine months, and says there have been a "lot of highs" on the job. "I love the diversity of the job. The sector we work in is very, very complex but very exciting in what it can achieve for people."

He doesn't support the view today's CIOs are spoilt for choice when it comes to career options in the C-suite. "I think there's still a dearth of CIOs in CEO positions and in the boardroom. When I think about the huge investments organisations make in information technology, that they don't have a CIO on their boards is bizarre. They have lawyers to manage their legal risks, they have finance people to manage their finance risks, but they don't have people to manage their change management risks."

Hooton says every board he has sat on needed a CIO's style of strategic expertise and knowledge of change management, successful applications of systems, business problems and the execution of projects. The latter, he says, is one thing IT people do well, despite the rhetoric. "We run big portfolios of projects. There are not many boards that have this expertise, so I would love to see more of us in the boardroom."

Hooton's new role underscores the importance of keeping an eye on dollars and cents. "When you're CEO, the translation of revenue and marginal net revenue against costs and capex investment is a very much more acute responsibility because you know you have to pay people every week."

His dreams have also taken on a different flavour. "I wake up in the middle of the night… dreaming of balance sheets," he says. As a CIO he once dreamed about technology, Hooton confesses. "And some would probably call that a nightmare!"

Running the enterprise

George Adams, managing director, Coca Cola Amatil and ex-CIO of Coca Cola HBC

George Adams says he always been involved with IT, but in an "oblique" way. The managing director of Coca Cola Amatil (CCA) in New Zealand and Fiji, Adams joined the Coke system as an accountant at Coca Cola Bottlers in Ireland. When he became financial controller, IT reported to him.

After two years, he became finance director of Molino Beverages, where he was a member of the IT steering committee for the group that later became part of the Hellenic Bottling Company (HBC).

Among the group's projects was HBC's first SAP implementation. At that time, the company decided to do away with external consultants and did the project in-house. The project was completed in 13 weeks, with the core financial system fully functional. It became the launch pad of SAP implementations throughout the group. HBC merged with Coca Cola Bottlers to become a 26-country bottler, and this required putting two teams together. Adams was appointed Coca Cola HBC's CIO.

Adams says his work as CIO was "pretty much putting all disparate systems together. I had 286 legacy systems, across 25 countries at that stage. It was just really a fantastic opportunity to sit down and create a strategy around what we need, build capability within the team, which we did in four months to restructure".

Having more of a background in finance than IT proved no hindrance. "I don't profess to be an expert in bits and bytes and that sort of stuff, but I know what I need."

"The task for me at that time was to con-solidate an organisation, post-merger," says Adams. "If I'd been sitting in the finance or other support functions, I'd be facing exactly the same issues. There are still people, and you need to address your people issues in IS in exactly the same way you would with HR, finance or whatever."

By this time, Adams had been working in Eastern Europe for nearly six years. His family was based in Ireland and he estimated spending 40 weeks a year "living in a suitcase". He had largely finished the restructuring for the new organisation, and didn't want to keep to the same arduous schedule over the next two to three years. After six months as CIO, he resigned and moved to British Telecom Regions in Ireland as finance director. "Even if it was for a short time, it was a great experience. I wouldn't pass it up for anything else," he says.

But while he was back in finance, "The lure of running your own business really appealed to me," he says. "I have had the business responsibilities for IS and for various things, so really the next step for me was to go back to the Coke world and take my first steps in running a complete business." Adams joined CCA and moved to New Zealand in late 2003.

On whether having been CIO has an impact on the way he deals with the IT department, he says, "I think their information thresholds have to be certainly higher because they know I know the right questions… I think it's probably sometimes hard on them, but I try to make it a positive hard, not a negative hard."

Adams hopes, therefore, that when he talks to his CIO he has a reasonable appreciation of what they do. "I'm pretty supportive… I try to do the same with the finance guys. They know what I'm talking about, but I'm not going to do their job."

Asked for the advice he would give to other CIOs, he is emphatic: "Get out of your office. The value is actually leaving your office, understanding what your customers want and using your skills to deliver."

He says he has seen many CIOs ask their customers what solutions they are after, and sometimes the customers don't know. A CIO who understands the business well will bring their knowledge to deliver the "solutions options", he says. CIOs should move away from their "tell me what you want" passive role and instead tell the customer, "Here's what I can do for you, here are three ways of doing it. I recommend the following…"

He says CIOs should be "willing to get their hands dirty"- to spend time with the business. "They have to recognise the fact the head of sales or the head of operations didn't get the respect overnight. They built up a level of respect and understanding of the business over time. CIOs have to recognise that if they want the same level of respect, they have to do the same hard yards."

So Adams would ask a question of any CIO who complains about not getting any respect from the organisation: "What are you not doing?" He suggests getting into "stuff that's also not pure IS". There are many opportunities for this, he says, such as being involved in customer service or engagement with the staff. CIOs should raise their hand, and say, "Pick me" when these opportunities crop up.

As finance director with IT as part of his brief, Adams put his hand up to join the global procurement group. "You have to be open to the opportunities, grab them, demonstrate the skills that go beyond technology."

The kind of IS person likely to succeed in other disciplines will be a "go-to person" who is comfortable working on cross-business functions. He acknowledges IS people are generally "superb project managers" and are organised and thorough, but says it's vital to supplement these skills with those on the commercial side and people management.

He doesn't believe, however, that a stint in IS leadership is a requirement for roles like MDs or CEOs. "Having some IS understanding is an advantage, but I don't see it as a prerequisite. The fundamentals of business haven't really changed. Business is about buying or making something for a dollar and selling it for two."

Moving from IS to business leader

Joanne Bos, general manager, Designer Technology

After 20 years of various roles with IS or IT in them, Joanne Bos now has the title of GM after her name.

Bos was technical delivery manager for EDS when she moved in the middle of this year to Designer Technology as general manager.

Designer Technology is a medium-sized company with about 28 staff, based in Manukau City, and offers bespoke software development and infrastructure services.

Bos reports to the board of directors, currently numbering five, and has full responsibility for the day-to-day operational management, strategic planning and growth of the company.

The role involves selling directly to customers, commissioning new marketing materials, initiating service delivery performance improvement projects, reviewing and writing company policies, dealing with staff performance issues, creating a business plan for the current year, making financial decisions and writing a report for and attending monthly board meetings.

"So you can see that it is very varied and carries accountability across all aspects of the business," she says. Her previous roles included being IS manager of healthAlliance and health sector sales manager for Vodafone. Her last role was about selling mobile solutions to the health sector. "I enjoyed the company but discovered I'm much better suited to delivery than sales."

So she moved to EDS, where she managed 200 technical delivery staff across New Zealand.

"It was a large delivery role, very demanding," says Bos. She loved the "team leadership aspects" but found "working within the bureaucracy of a large multinational really frustrating in terms of being able to make a difference and effect change".

Her various IS roles are certainly a big factor in her capability to handle the multiple responsibilities of her current job. "My background in service delivery management for vendors (EDS and Unisys) has been really useful," she says.

"I understand what customers expect from vendors and can therefore pass this on to my team and utilise this in my conversations with customers. My cost centre management and budgeting experience from all of my management roles has held me in good stead, as has my people management experience."

At healthAlliance, she reported to the board every month, so that is an area that isn't new to her. "I'm extremely grateful for the sales experience I got at Vodafone. While I'm no salesperson, I do at least understand the process and I'm comfortable talking and presenting in a sales context."

She believes her breadth of experience in both the technology and business side of the enterprise led to her current leadership post. "I enjoy being involved in all aspects of the business. And in order to lead a business, you must have at least a high-level understanding of everything within it, and I've gained that by taking on different roles with vendor and corporate organisations."

Her most challenging experience-and one she continues to deal with-is attracting and retaining the right people. DesignerTech is always looking for well-qualified and experience staff because their work focuses on demanding and challenging customer requirements. But since DesignerTech is not one of the big companies in the field, it has trouble attracting "ambitious and talented staff", she reckons.

"The common perception is that the big companies have the more interesting work and pay the best. Once we get past this perception, we have employed some superb people, but unfortunately that perception often stops these people from coming to talk to us."

She says the challenge for IS leaders who are pursuing different career options is to be seen as business rather than information leaders, and for their skills and experience to be considered generic enough to allow them to move beyond information management.

"I believe there are some IS leaders who are much less skilled in technology and much more skilled in business management and, when this is combined with excellent leadership, these people can move outside of IS. And I'm hopeful that this will become an emerging trend."

True, she says, IS executives today have a range of options when it comes to new roles, but for a lot, these roles are also in the IT industry, as in her case.

But she aims to make a difference in this

area. "Certainly my foray into general management is to broaden my skills so that I can pursue future opportunities outside of IS and the IT industry."

Changing lanes

Garry Collings general manager, Network Appliance, ex TollNZ CIO

Garry Collings says a CIO who wants to become a general manager or country manager needs to answer two questions: Has your executive experience primarily been within your current organisation, or have you had an equal or larger measure of executive experience outside this organisation?

Has your executive experience primarily been in technology functions or have you had an equal or larger measure of executive experience outside technology functions?

"You will struggle to be seen as a hot prospect if the answer is no to either or both of these," says Collings, general manager of NetApp in New Zealand. "You will find it very difficult to correctly sell your capabilities unless you can demonstrate strong versatility and a broader experience base."

Last year, Collings joined the vendor community after working as group general manager of IT for Toll NZ (formerly TranzRail) and CIO of Mainfreight.

He says his CIO roles give him an edge over his counterparts who may only have worked on the vendor side. "They talk the talk but have never had to live that talk." CIOs he deals with know he has "experienced a lot, if not all of their pain and will have a greater understanding of what value add really is and how important it is to them".

As a result, they are very forthcoming with valuable information, he says. "I have seen on a number of occasions their attitude becomes more positive once they know I have a strong successful 10-year background as a CIO. People instinctively feel more comfortable speaking to someone that can truly say ‘I understand' when they describe their issues."

Collings strongly believes everyone should have a career plan, and write it down. "Ask yourself frequently, Will your plan take you to your goal? If you don't have a mentor, find one. If you are aware of people that have achieved similar goals to yours, hunt them down and endeavour to meet with them. Ask yourself what skills are required to meet your goal. If you don't have them, find out how you can."

In his case, Collings worked out a long-term career strategy that included completing an MBA while working at Mainfreight. "The MBA assisted in helping me to create a strong platform in which to move forward. It has improved my capability in business management, but also having met the challenge, I feel an increased confidence in my general business ability." Would he recommend the same thing to his colleagues? "Absolutely," he says, but warns the time commitment would be huge.

His advice to those who are assessing their career options in the long-term: "Work on understanding the organisation's business processes and enhance communication with users to prepare for a career change. User communication processes have to be in place and followed if you are to increase your acceptance within your organisation. Most importantly is that you step out from behind the traditional techie mindsets and start contributing to all business areas by providing new business ideas and strategies that can be backed up using IT as an enabler. Capitalise on your cross-domain knowledge and strengths to start on the path to becoming a GM or ultimately CEO."

Innovation, interpersonal communication, general business know-ledge and technology awareness are valuable traits, he says. "This combination will enhance your attractiveness to a CEO looking for a strong general manager."

Independence day

Alan Moore, principal consultant, Definition NZ

Alan Moore traded the security of a corporate IT job for life as an "independent adviser".

"After spending many years as a strategic technology consultant, I decided it was time to go it alone," says Moore, who set up Definition NZ in mid-2006. "I wanted to provide organisations with more independent and impartial advice than is generally available from within the IT industry." His business card gives his title as principal consultant, and his expertise covers "strategic business planning, IT technology auditing, independent IT procurement advice and IT project rescue".

Moore has been in IT for 25 years, working in senior IT management in television and engineering industries in London, prior to moving to New Zealand in the early 1990s. He has since then worked for Intel, Compaq and Gen-i. He says he is concerned the industry is getting too focused on technology, despite rhetoric to the contrary. Unfortunately the business drive for IT spend, he says, seems to come mainly from the suppliers selling new technologies. He says the role of a strategic consultant can be crucial in assisting internal IT staff "who are sometimes either too busy, or distracted by operational issues, to ask the right questions of their suppliers, whose primary aim is to sell something".

An organisation implementing voice over IP telephony, for example, will rarely be warned that they need to upgrade their entire data network, install new power systems and add a whole lot of extra redundancy in order to replicate the resilience of their old phone system. The supplier, however, "may not mention this until way down the road". That is why, he says, the strategic consultant "has to be involved at the earliest stages of a project".

Moore says he is "technology agnostic" which is crucial if asked to make impartial decisions. "It makes life very difficult if you want to be completely independent of products and solutions," he points out. "It's a lonely road but it is important – you have to be independent."

His advice to those considering the same path: "If you've spent

your career concentrating on operational drivers, then consultancy

isn't for you."

The 'big picture' role

Sam Higgins, research director, LongHaus

Sam Higgins's father may have played a role in paving the way for his son to go into IT.

Higgins, research director for market research firm LongHaus, is a "second generation" IT practitioner. His father, Gary Higgins, is now semi-retired, but was head of corporate services for the Australian Department of Justice in the Northern Territory in the late 1990s, effectively in the CIO role.

LongHaus, based in Brisbane, Queensland, tracks the needs of the ICT industry in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Higgins says LongHaus is a "small firm" so he is heavily involved in day-to-day analysis.

Prior to LongHaus, he was a senior analyst at Forrester. He has a bachelor in business from the Charles Darwin University, where he majored in information systems and minored in marketing.

He chose to become an ICT analyst when he reached a "career crossroad" at Queensland Transport, where he led the strategy and architecture team. He reported to the CIO and was a member of the IT management team for about five years.

"The issue with being second in command to a CIO is that you become faced with a pretty limited number of career choices," says Higgins. "Most people feel the only option is to step up to CIO. I wanted more choice – so looked carefully at my options before deciding to move into the industry analyst arena. Luckily, a previous CIO had done this with a good deal of success, so I knew it was a viable option."

Higgins is referring to Peter Grant, currently state government CIO for Queensland. Grant was CIO at Queensland Transport prior to Paul Summergreene (to whom Grant reported), when he joined Gartner. He then became an independent consultant with the analyst firm IBRS.

Higgins sees various upsides in his current role. As an industry analyst, he gets to work with the entire spectrum of firms and gain greater insight into how great user and vendor organisations perform. "Being an industry analyst is one of the biggest of big picture roles," he says. "You also get the time to think 'What is the implication of this to local companies?' In a senior management ICT role, you often don't get the time to fully assess the impacts of change that emerges within our industry."

If anything, he misses the satisfaction of seeing a project through from inception to completion and being intimately involved with the design – as well as the post-implementation parties.

He says as an analyst it should not be hard to keep in touch with industry and technology trends. "It's core to the job. It practical terms it means reading the trade press and journals for industry trends – not weekly, but almost hourly."

He talks to former colleagues for end-user insights, and they also provide referrals to others who are doing similar or important work.

"This means lots of phone calls and face-to-face briefings, but this is par for the course for most CIOs and senior ICT managers.

"Practical experience end-to-end within the ICT industry is critical. A wise colleague of mine once said you can't say you're a full-fledged ICT practitioner until you've seen a project through to completion. He was right-every decision you make during a project is tested on the day you go live. The results are eye-opening."

Higgins says he was technically prepared for his role in IT, but he felt an MBA in addition to his business degree would have assisted him in bridging some gaps, particularly with private sector executives.

He recommends formal training in public speaking. Speaking skills are important for IS executives, though he notes there are "unfortunately very few good speakers" in the industry. "You'll get called upon to do presentations at short notice and being asked to stand up in front of large crowds-200 people – is not uncommon."

Another asset is to learn good technical writing skills, or to employ a technical writer. "Ensuring you write well makes a big difference when you're communicating to people on paper or online."

He admonishes executives not to be shy: "Question and challenge everything you hear. Some of my analyst colleagues in other firms even joke that something is amiss when I don't ask questions at a vendor briefing!"

Embracing change

Claudia Vidal, group IS manager, Tru-Test

Claudia Vidal says she went into IT because of the possibilities of working in various projects, whatever the industry or environment.

"If you like variety, IT is for you," says Vidal, who is group informaton services manager for Tru-Test. "There is always something to learn, there are so many different ways of doing things."

She was not to be disappointed. In the past 15 years alone, Vidal has held various IS management roles, ranging from the retail industry (as general manager systems and technology at Warehouse Stationery), telecommunications (program manager at Clear Communications, now TelstraClear) to airlines (system project leader at Air New Zealand).

Vidal, who is originally from Argentina, had also worked at one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in South America, Roemmers Laboratories.

And in each role she finds herself getting more and more involved in strategic leadership that involves IS but also helps to support the business strategy. "I joined The Warehouse in the dotcom era," she recalls. "Dotcom was a revolution by itself, and the internet was changing the way we transacted."

Vidal joined an e-commerce project and was responsible for establishing the contact centre for a greenfields operation for Warehouse Stationery. It was a very rewarding project, she says, and won accolades. "It was a process of understanding how a company that was more product-centric could go into thinking customer-centric by wielding tools like CRM."

At Clear Communications, she was involved in strategic IT planning.

At Tru-Test, an agri-tech manufacturer based in Auckland, Vidal leads a 10-member team that supports operations in Australia and the United States. Her group is accountable for an IS budget equal to 2 per cent of total revenues. She is also a member of the company's strategic team. Vidal is currently working on the upgrade of JD Edwards business applications, and applying the lessons from her past roles in handling change management projects.

"It's challenging to convey the value of technology; in particular, guiding organisations through change during projects," she says. "Enough time should be devoted to understanding the problem at hand, and only after this phase should we think about implementation, which, like the tip of the iceberg, tends to be the most visible part."

Tru-Test, which deployed the JD Edwards system in 2003, has already implemented customer service management and is looking into the advanced planning module. The first step, she says, is to make users understand they're changing the current plaform for a future-proofed one, but in a "very safe and risk-averse away". She does this using as little IT jargon as possible, so users will understand the project from the point of view of the business benefits it will bring.

Vidal started with what she calls a "mini-upgrade", the application of a service pack to make the software more stable-but also with her people in mind. "The service pack upgrade will prepare them for change and give them some estimate of how long it will take and the time [needed] for user acceptance training."

As she explains, "It's unfair to put Tru-Test at risk if we want the upgrade and functionality in one go. It's a mission critical system so you plan it very carefully, diminishing risks and putting in contingencies."

The current upgrade involves software so tightly integrated that any change to one module will have an impact on the others. "It requires a lot of testing, configuration and a lot of thinking. What we're trying to do in ERP, like any other software tool, is to support the business processes."

She says at Tru-Test, her peers are supportive and in her case, she always looks at how IT can contribute to the business in the long-term. "When you think long-term, you narrow it down," she states. "It puts into perspective how you can organise these solutions so you can give all the support the company needs in terms of systems and making that visible for decision making."

Vidal is a great believer in "continuous mental exercise". She has a master of commerce from the University of Buenos Aires and is working on her second master's, in business studies.

It's a positive development, she says, to see more IT people moving into positions with broader responsibilities. But IS leaders have yet to surmount the challenge of the way IT is perceived within the enterprise. "IT has gone from being the actual jewel of the crown to the black hole where you put money," she notes. "At times I have the feeling IT has this bad kharma in the sense that you're not seen as part of the business."

Those who wish to get into IT, she says, must be prepared to be driven by transformation. She quotes from Peter M. Senge of the MIT Sloan School of Management, who wrote, "You have to be the change you want to see."

"That's the best advice I would be able to give to any person wanting to work in systems and technology," says Vidal.

"If they believe in what they are doing, they're enthused by the possibilities and they're interested in learning, they'll be able to introduce change and will create opportunities for themselves."

If you would like to share your views and experiences on the various career options for IS executives, please email

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