CXO

Going from CIO to CEO and meeting the challenges

Former-CIO CEOs find new hurdles in dealing with executive staff, customers, board members, Wall Street, the media, and other stakeholders. Jennifer Recktenwald looks at how a new CEO can make a graceful entrance by becoming a better all-around manager without giving up that first love: technology.


A freshly-plucked CIO executive will soon find that life as CEO is more chaotic than anything the IT world alone could offer. The job entails a daily game of pitch-and-catch with executive staff, customers, board members, Wall Street, the media, and other stakeholders.

Case in point: Though she’s been CEO of Milwaukee-based Brady Corporation for six years, Katherine Hudson says there are very few typical days at the office.

“I’m always with people,” she said recently from a cell phone, as she hurried from meeting to meeting. “I spend very little time in my office. My assistant had something scheduled for me today that didn’t happen,” and a meeting could be crammed into Hudson’s calendar at the drop of a hat.

“Maybe that’s why a lot of guys are CEOs,” she quipped. “It’s like changing channels with a remote. A typical day is fast-paced, like flipping from channel to channel.”

Like her peers, Hudson, a former CIO and corporate vice president and the general manager of the Professional, Printing and Publishing Imaging Division at Eastman Kodak, can offer many lessons to aspiring CIOs. Read on to learn how the new CEO can make a graceful entrance by becoming a better all-around manager without giving up that first love: technology.
Those CIOs gunning for the CEO's job have many things to consider, including whether such a vertical move is realistic, what path is best for becoming a CEO, and how to manage expectations as a new CEO.
We address these questions in a series of articles on moving from CIO to CEO.Part 1: "Rising to the top: Becoming a CEO"Part 2: "On the Road to CEO: Where should you begin?"Part 3: "CIOs win CEO race by looking outside"Part 4: “Making the transition from CIO to CEO
Let your CIO run IT
The former CIO who moves to CEO may have to dedicate more time to the sales and financial end of the business to avoid the perception that he or she “favors” IT.

According to Marc Lewis, managing director and head of corporate IT practice at the an outplacement and career transition firm of Christian & Timbers, it’s a good idea to “hire a CIO who is even stronger than you were, so you can focus on other areas and not be naturally drawn back to your old stomping grounds. There’s a higher comfort level dealing with the familiar, so it’s important to resist the temptation to simply spend your time in areas that are familiar and comfortable, and stretch yourself to learn new things.”

Along with thinking outside the IT box, a change in management style will be requisite for CIOs who come out of high-tech companies and start-ups and join more traditional organizations.

“The high-tech world is full of highly creative, self-directed, self-motivated people. They tend to work alone in cubicles and create wonderful things,” said Phil Simshauser, regional vice president and president of the Center for Executive Options at Drake Beam Morin, an an outplacement and career transition firm. “Conventional business is more bound by functional know-how, more definitive. Their particular relationship to an organization is usually proportional to the visibility the CEO has. People coming into a conventional organization who’ve come out of high-tech backgrounds will have to get used to the notion that it’s important to be visible.”

James Rutt, former chief technology officer at the Thomson Corporation, said one challenge he faced as a new CEO at Network Solutions was adjusting to that increased visibility.

“Network Solutions was so much in the public eye. The companies I worked for in the past, while they’ve been very successful, there were kind of low visibility by design,” Rutt said. “It took me a little while to realize how important that was in the job. I had to put more effort than I thought into that part of the job.”

Become an open-minded manager
Whether you’ve taken the reins of a small start-up enterprise or a large publicly held company, as a new CEO you’ll have lots of new constituents looking to you for answers. Dominant, vocal shareholders will catch the new CEO's attention quickly. Board members are important, naturally, because they’re the CEO's immediate boss. If the company is public, Wall Street is critical. So are the local, state, and federal politicians who can affect the business. And, of course, customers want their business to go to a company with a capable leader.

With so many people holding the new CEO accountable, Simshauser believes the CEOs “have to present themselves as being credible, as being capable of running the business in a different or better way than their predecessor(s). They do that face-to-face.”

And that accountability is something that scares away many would-be CEOs. When chief executives deal with boards or parent companies, they often do it alone. Says Mary Ann Masarech, product manager of career transitions at Drake Beam Morin, “Sometimes the other officers, even if they have a C in their title, aren’t on the hook for delivering results for the organization.”

Perhaps the best way for a CEO to avoid those pitfalls is to concentrate his or her energies on developing a business savvy, because many former techies continue to see a company through IT-colored glasses.

“I think the key thing is to learn the language of business. More and more CEOs nowadays – especially with the Internet—are getting into the bits and bytes and the telecommunications technology. I think the real key is for a CEO to understand the business needs they’re supporting, work to integrate what they’re doing with IT, and always have it mapped to the business strategies with the company.”

Ron J. Ponder, president and CEO of Beechwood and former CIO at Federal Express, Sprint, and AT&T, warns that many new CEOs can be overly cautious as they try to please everyone. A lack of confidence in one’s own decision-making skills can cost the company time and productivity.

“If there are organizational changes that need to be made, you need to make them,” Ponder said. “You need to trust your instincts about management. If you feel the organization has outgrown the people, your number one priority should be to bring in people who can run the current organization, but also a larger organization, because you always want to grow your company.”

Use your tech savvy to full advantage
Experts say it boils down to this: the former-CIO CEO’s best line of defense in the world of running a company will be technical know-how. Regardless of the industry, e-commerce will play an increasingly important role in business, and companies need the right leaders to achieve their e-commerce initiatives.

“The great leverage point that people who come out of technology backgrounds and disciplines have is insight into Internet applications,” Simshauser said. “That applies to almost any business at this point. The main point of interest for leaders right now is ‘How do I get my business engaged in e-business applications for either my technology, my service, or my products?’ What is causing most CEOs to fail right now is their inability to stay up with the pace of technology or to have the kind of acumen to lead their business in that direction.”

Deepak Amin, CEO of vJungle.com —a Seattle-based application service provider—believes the big growth engine for IT executives will be in entrepreneurship. As one of the four original engineers for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Amin said self-starters like him will find success at the helm of established companies and start-ups.

“I think the prime thing you need…is just a passion,” he said. “You need to have very high energy for what you’re doing. Over and above that, you need to be able to translate your goals into tasks and your tasks into actual action items that are delivered. Execution is the name of the game.”
If you're considering a move to CEO, tell us about your experience by posting a comment below. If you have a story idea you'd like to share, please drop us a note.

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