How does the CIO become CEO? I spoke with executive recruiter Alan Mumby to find out how he thinks CIOs can get to the Chief Executive position. [See also: From CIO to CEO - CIOs who made the step up to become CEO]
Pat Brans: How natural is it for a CIO to move into the CEO position?
Alan Mumby: While it's easier now than ever before, it's still not easy. There are a number of aspects of the CEO role that CIOs don't naturally acquire through their job function, or through their career path before coming a CIO.
If you take a look at the different attributes required for the CEO role, and then see which ones the CIO has, you get an idea of what a CIO has to do to become a CEO.
The first attribute is leadership. The CEO needs to be a leader. CIOs also have to be leaders - those who aren't good leaders fail. So successful CIOs have the leadership attribute.
Let's go with strategy as the next one. Ultimately the CEO sets the direction for the entire company. CIOs are increasingly involved in large parts of the business strategy. But while the CEO calls the shots, the CIO generally just informs people of the strategy.
Let's look at other parts of a company. The CEO has to understand all internal aspects of a company - finance, sales, marketing, supply chain management, and operations. CIOs are increasingly becoming familiar with these areas too, because IT now permeates all these parts of a business.
But the CEO also has to control the whole external agenda, and that's where CIOs get very little exposure. In most cases, the day-to-day work of the CIO has little to do with the external agenda. The CEO has to work with customers and with the financial community and analysts.
The other external area CEOs do a lot in, and CIOs do very little in, is brand - the overall corporate brand. The CIO rarely gets involved in developing the ideas about the brand. He or she merely replicates what's already there. And it's the same thing with corporate culture. The CIO, at best, contributes to the corporate culture. But ultimately, it's the CEO who defines that culture.
Then there's the product area. While CIOs may be involved in product enablement, they aren't necessarily leading in new product development. Figuring out what comes after the current product set is another key aspect of the CEO role.
PB: What about managing money?
AM: CIOs typically work with budgets, whereas CEOs typically work with revenue generation and corporate finance plans: "Where are we going to get our funds from?", "Should we borrow?" and "Should we issue more equity?"
Again, that's very rarely on the CIO agenda. If one is lucky, one may have some revenue generation components as a CIO. But far more often the CIO just manages cost components.
PB: What would you recommend to CIOs who want to become CEO?
AM: If you agree that what we just spoke about is a reasonable set of attributes for the CEO role, then you see that there are some areas where the CIO needs to gain experience.
CIOs need to gain an understanding of the financial community and how the "City" works. Understand how to talk to people in that community. I would also suggest CIOs get some action in terms of brand, in terms of revenue generation, and in terms of product development. All of that hones one's leadership and one's stakeholder management skills.
Try and get involved in any higher-level financial discussions and decision making in terms of funding and overall corporate strategy. But the problem is-and it's always been the problem - CIOs get sucked into the funnel. Something comes up, servers crash or something else goes wrong, and the CIO has to go off and fight the fires that are a normal part of the CIO job.
PB: Is it easier for a CFO to become CEO?
AM: Yes, I think so. As CFO, you can make it to chief executive more easily, because you get hold of those external pieces by nature of your job. There are occasions now, of course in the digital world, where a company is communicating directly with other suppliers or customers through digital channels, and the CIO starts to gain more insights into those external worlds than they did before.
But if you look at the backgrounds of CEOs, you'll see there are multiple CFOs and very few CIOs.
PB: What are choices somebody can make early in his or her career to make it easier to move from CIO to CEO?
AM: Look at roles under the CIO to try and get the roadmap figured out at an earlier stage of career. Take for example, the CISO - Chief Information Security Officer. While the role is critical, CISOs are very, very specialised at the moment. When I look at the attributes of the CISO job, I don't see them getting to top positions for a very long time. They're very specialised; and they don't necessarily operate well at board level.
You need to somehow break out of the technical environment, into the "why are we doing this?" environment, the commercial perspective. It's very difficult for the CISO to do that, because the nature of what they do is very complicated, particularly to people at the board level. Why they are there is fully understandable, but what they do is very unclear to most people.
Underneath the CIO role, it's difficult to see the specialists going all the way up to the board. But the more generalist roles-the applications people, the business analyst people-may get there.
How do you think CIOs can step up to become CEO? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter if you have any contributions to add.