CIO to CEO: Career advice from Rob Fyfe

CIO to CEO: Career advice from Rob Fyfe

‘The CIO can be an incredibly powerful position’ – the relentless pressures of the job are also opportunities to forge a great career and help the organisation outrank the competition.


Rob Fyfe on ‘making the leap from CIO to CEO’ and ‘fostering a customer-centric culture’

Fyfe flew Irish budget airline Ryanair on the way to a wedding in the UK. Back in New Zealand, he asked the local team why they cannot offer similar “one pound fares”.

After two weeks, the marketing team came out with a plan that is now known as grab a seat. The finance team, however, disagreed with the concept, as people may think every seat should be between 10 to 20 dollars. “With a 1 or 2 percent profit margin, there will not be a lot of room for error, it will be a disaster,” they told Fyfe.

He got the two teams in the room and discussed the worst that can happen if they push through with the idea. They decided to run the idea for eight weeks. After that period, if the finance team was right, “and we are haemorrhaging revenue, then we can call it quits and say it is a promotion.”

But what followed was one of the “pivotal moments” for Air New Zealand, particularly the growth of its online channel, says Fyfe. The visitors to the website grew from 30,000 visitors a day before grab a seat to about half a million visitors when running a promotion. The revenue from online sales grew from $150 million a year to $1.3 billion.

More importantly, he says, Air New Zealand was able to position itself in the budget fare territory before competitors like Jetstar and Pacific Blue (now Virgin Australia) entered the market.

Moving from CIO to CEO

When he moved to CEO, Fyfe says the most transferrable skill he had from his CIO days was related to his engineering background. “The systems thinking was really, really valuable to me,” he says.

“It was bringing a systems approach to engineering and problem solving,” he explains. “While we were very humanistic in our approach, we were always looking for method, in particular how we can accelerate the development process and the implementation process.

Fyfe says it is critical for a CIO to be the change agent in the organisation.

“The vast majority of people don’t like change,” he says. “They like change if they are creating it, they don’t like it if they are on the receiving end.

“You have to be comfortable with change both as an agent of change but also as someone that can adapt and change in your own style and your own approach.”

So how can CIOs lead through unrelenting, unceasing speed of change in technology?

You have to be comfortable with change both as an agent of change but also as someone that can adapt and change in your own style and your own approach.

Rob Fyfe

“You do really have to be a Jack or Jill of all trades,” he says. “If you are too firmly entrenched in an IT view of the world, then you won’t necessarily be as successful as those that have a very customer and business commercial context and approach.

“The key for me is having a CIO who has enough understanding of the business to help interpret the business requirements in an IT context, and has enough understanding of IT to be able to present opportunities to the business that they may not have perceived in terms of capabilities of information technology to support their needs,” he says.

“It is about figuring out how to harness the knowledge and intellect of your people,” he adds. “You may not be the most avid user of Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever [new technology], but you will be surrounded by people that are.

“Being a leader is not about having all the answers,” he concludes. “It is about creating an environment where people can fulfil their potential, figuring out how to harness that and focus on in support of the organisation’s goals.” (Photos by Ian Sharp and Jason Creaghan)

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