© iStock/baona
© iStock/baona

A majority of CIOs still come from traditional IT backgrounds, but a large proportion of them are also picking up business experience on their route to the role.

That's according to the members of the 2019 CIO 100, 53% of whom responded they had a technical/IT background prior to becoming CIOs, while almost half reported treading alternative career paths.

Read next: CIO career path: how the UK's top IT business leaders reached their positions

Those whose paths to the position were not rooted in tech were split between business (13%), project (9%) and a wide range of other (25%) backgrounds, from music to the military.

They include CIO 100 high-flyer Andrew Jordan, the Chief Product and Technology Officer at travel management company CWT, who trained as a lawyer before embarking on a career in IT.

"It's always given me a good grounding in commerce, because a lot of the options that I studied in my law degree were very commercial," he told CIO UK. "It's also allowed me to think about communication in a very effective way - this sort of conversation, or how do you write a business plan, or how do you write a very compelling business case if we want to get board approval for something. I'd say it's more of the softer skills that I've taken from my law degree."

Caroline Sands, managing partner and lead for the CIO and technology officers practice at executive recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, previously told CIO UK that both professional and academic backgrounds of successful CIOs can vary immensely.

"This person might have studied computer science or economics - but equally music, or German say," she said. "Intellectual dexterity - the ability to turn your hand to anything - is the important skill. We've found that an interest and passion for any subject is a good indicator that somebody might well have a successful career."

An evolving role

The variety of responses reflects the expanding skillsets required in the profession. If every company is becoming a technology company, they will all need IT leaders who can act as both a digital strategist and a business executive and who are comfortable in the boardroom as well as in the IT office.

This trend is mirrored by other findings about the CIO 100. Over three-quarters (78%) of members said they are in their organisation's executive leadership, while more than half reported that they meet their CEO at least once a week, including Steinhoff UK CIO Chily Fachler.

Read next: More than half of CIOs reporting to CEO and meeting Chief Executive weekly

"As a CIO, I think beyond the traditional technology," Fachler told CIO UK. "We've done all the technical stuff and that's bread and butter. You have to be on top of all that, but beyond of all that. My responsibility is to drive strategy, to enable strategy, to work with my colleagues in the senior leadership team and the board to actually get to that place. For me, that's the exciting bit."

His words were echoed by HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer Jacky Wright, who spoke to the CIO UK podcast at the end of 2018 and said that the CIO role is becoming more business-led.

"Over the past 10-20 years, we've morphed from being a technology-led, business-informed leader to a business-led, technology-informed leader," she told CIO UK. "I think when you think about who we are and what we're required to do, every organisation in this new digital world is a digital organisation and because of that, the role that we play has changed to become more of a trusted advisor around creating the art of what's possible.

"Being really business-led about what things we're trying to do in the world is really important, and then using technology as the underpinning to be able to inform the art of what's possible."


HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer Jacky Wright speaks to the CIO UK podcast at 27min 01sec