Peter Pedersen traded the corporate world for a coffee shop in Cambridge

Former figleaves.com CTO Peter Pedersen traded the corporate world for his own coffee and chocolate shopPhoto: Jocalatte.com

You might think when IT professionals reach the heady heights of CIO, they’d want to stay there for the rest of their career. But not all CIOs feel that way and a number go on to do quite different things.

Some have made the leap to CEO, such as former Tesco CIO Philip Clarke and former Betfair CTO David Yu who made the same move several years ago.

Others have taken up different roles in the same company, such as Rolls Royce CIO Jonathan Mitchell, who is now director of corporate development for the organisation.

Meanwhile, other CIOs have gone on to work as independent technology consultants and a handful have left the IT profession and corporate world behind completely.

But what motivates people to move on to other roles after being CIO at some of the biggest companies in the world?

silicon.com recently caught up with former figleaves.com CTO Peter Pedersen and former Royal Mail CIO Robin Dargue – both of whom have moved away from the traditional CIO role – to find out the reasons for their change in career path.

Peter Pedersen: Coffee and consultancy

Peter Pedersen decided to leave the corporate world behind in 2009 to pursue a more independent and carefree professional life.

During a long career in tech, Danish-born Pedersen has run a digital agency, masterminded Channel 4’s websites and been CTO of online gambling company Blue Square. He appeared on the silicon.com CIO50 in 2007 when he was CTO at Blue Square’s parent company, the Rank Group, and subsequently joined online retailer figleaves.com.

How things have changed. Pedersen now owns and runs the Jocalatte coffee and chocolate shop in Cambridge, which he combines with being an IT consultant, a business he manages from the office above the shop.

However, it was never a conscious decision to stop being a CTO, according to Pedersen. In 2009, he was forced to take 10 weeks away from his role at figleaves.com due to ill health and returned to “a dramatically changed” business.

The company was feeling the stress of the financial downturn and so wasn’t in a position to invest in technology to drive the business into new areas.

Pedersen had always been involved in innovation and developing new ways of using technology, so the situation at figleaves wasn’t ideal. “I’ve always seen myself as a technology builder and innovator rather than a business-as-usual person – there are people that do that far better than me,” Pedersen tells silicon.com.

“So I didn’t really see my role there as being potentially very significant because it was just a business-as-usual role and I agreed with the board that it was time for me to do something else, which is when I started to think about what I was going to do next and ventured into consultancy straight away with a few assignments,” he adds.

He initially started working from home but soon realised he wanted an office to avoid the distractions of DIY and his garden.

“So I was actually looking for a small office in Cambridge and came across a shop for sale that had an office above it, and thought it would be ideal to start a little coffee and chocolate shop and I could have the office above it. So I bought the shop and refurbished it and started that business and I’m now operating from my office above it.”

Pedersen now spends most of his time…

…working on his consultancy businesses and oversees Jocalatte in terms of dealing with requests and looking after the books. He employs a manager who looks after the day-to-day running of the shop while he works in the office above.

In this way, Pedersen has been able to combine his career with a longer term ambition to run a coffee shop. “I love chocolate so the idea of combining them into a little shop was always in the back of my mind,” he says.

Pedersen and his wife collect art and antiques which they sell via earthcollection.com and in Jocalatte. Some of the items that won’t fit into the Pedersen home are displayed in the shop with some “little curious items” for sale.

The consultancy work Pedersen now does is helping small and medium-sized businesses without a dedicated CIO or IT manager by “reassessing existing operations” and what they can do in the future.

Assignments can take anywhere from a single day to several weeks and Pedersen’s work sometimes takes him to the US and Europe as well as around the UK. “It varies quite a lot. Some weeks I’m flat out with not enough time and other weeks there’s plenty of time to do other things as well,” he says.

Of his new professional life, Pedersen said he’s enjoying the freedom it offers as well as the variety of things he can do in his consultancy work. “It’s a more stress-free way of working. I have greater freedom and obviously no targets to achieve and deliver to. And the targets I do work to are targets I set myself,” he says.

Another benefit of Pedersen’s new way of working is that he can take a more considered approach to work as he’s less bound by the pressures and fast-moving nature of working in a corporate environment.

“I think it’s enabled me to start to look at things from the high ground, to step away and look at things in perspective much more in a much calmer and more rounded way,” he says.

“I’m probably better positioned now because I actually have a little bit more time to evaluate the new information I digest every day and can do it in a more measured way. When you’re running from meeting to meeting, you’re trying to digest stuff and you never know what’s important. I probably do it better now because I have the perspective to do it with. I’m probably more current with my knowledge than I was [when I was CTO],” he adds.

However, he admits he misses some elements of working in a corporate environment, such as being able to motivate a young team of IT professionals to deliver projects on time.

He also misses being involved in projects to their completion, as his consultancy role gives him an input for a short time before leaving the implementation work he has been involved in planning to others.

“I’m missing the achievement of delivering what I’ve visualised and put on the table and walking away to the next thing. That is, weirdly enough, something I find myself missing from time to time but equally it’s horses for courses and I do a greater variety of things now.”

He describes it as a very independent way of life and enjoyable in many respects. “But it doesn’t come without giving up other parts of your working life, which is working more closely with other people and seeing the fruits of your efforts in a more tangible way,” he adds.

Although he decided to work independently when he left figleaves, Pedersen hasn’t discounted the idea of taking up a CTO role again.

He has had a number of opportunities to step back into the corporate world but hasn’t felt they were worth giving up his current professional life for. “I can’t say whether one day I might dive back into corporate life but it would need to be an interesting and fulfilling role for me to do that,” he says.

Robin Dargue: From using tech to selling it

In contrast to Pedersen, Robin Dargue has very much stayed in the corporate world but the big change for him has been moving from a non-tech company in the form of Royal Mail to tech vendor Alcatel-Lucent.

Dargue topped the silicon.com CIO50 list during his time at Royal Mail and was previously CIO at drinks company Diageo.

But in April 2010, Dargue announced his departure from Royal Mail before joining French telecoms and networking technology company Alcatel-Lucent in August as executive vice president of business and IT transformation.

In some ways, Dargue’s role at Alcatel-Lucent is…

Robin Dargue made the move to tech vendor Alcatel-Lucent

Former Royal Mail CIO Robin Dargue has moved from a non-tech business to tech vendor Alcatel-LucentPhoto: Alcatel-Lucent

…similar to his CIO roles as he looks after the technology infrastructure of the company. As his job title suggests, he is responsible for overseeing a business and technology transformation during a tough period for the company.

Dargue said the company now wants to become “an absolute world beater” and his role is to look at how business processes and systems can be improved to serve customers better, drive innovation and make the company more agile.

It was the prospect of a new challenge that tempted Dargue away from Royal Mail as he never had a particular ambition to work for a tech vendor.

“I think I’ve got a defective part of DNA in my body that says the more somebody describes the challenge and makes it sound undoable and difficult, the more I get excited and attracted to wanting to go and help,” he says.

“My passion and energy lie in driving business transformation using IT as the lever to do it. So wherever there’s a big business challenge, that’s where I’ll go. Whether it’s in industry A, B or C is secondary to my personal situation. I just like big business challenges,” he adds.

Alcatel-Lucent’s IT infrastructure had been neglected as the business tried to improve its fortunes, according to Dargue. “When you are short of cash and profit, internal IT is not the place you go investing – you’ve got to get the right products to the customer first. So we’re now embarking on how we really bring our internal IT into the 21st century,” he says.

The first difference between working in a non-tech compared with a tech company, according to Dargue, is the much higher proportion of employees who are experts in technology and willing to challenge the technology decisions taken at senior level.

“When you say, ‘We think the solution to X is this’, you get a lot of comment on why you might not be right, which is very different to a normal company. So you’re really kept on your toes,” Dargue says.

The other major difference with companies Dargue has worked for is that Alcatel-Lucent is a global company operating in 130 countries with manufacturing in China, Europe and the US, and with R&D labs that “follow the sun as they try and drive forwards the innovation”.

The global nature of the business brings some benefits in Dargue’s eyes. “The richness of thinking of that diversity of culture and talent is immense and I think it’s something we’re just beginning to tap into. That’s really a big standout for me.”

Talking of a global business, Dargue felt he needed to be as close to the company’s other senior executives to do his job effectively so he moved his family to Paris – “a beautiful city” – where his new employer is based.

“I just have a belief that to drive business and IT transformation you need to be close with your colleagues on the management team. So I have to be here to make this a success,” he says.

However, Dargue is aware he hasn’t been the only person affected by his decision to leave the UK. “The people that usually suffer in any international move are the spouses and the kids. I’m at work every single day being challenged and driving forwards but it’s also a big change for them. As a family package, it’s a big change and it takes time to get used to it.”

Dargue also admits his French still needs work. “I have to say, my O-Level French isn’t that good so I’m having to improve it rapidly,” he says.