What are CEOs looking for in a CIO? According to headhunters at the Boston Society for Information Management (SIM) annual meeting last night, CEOs are saying they need someone who can speak the language of business and interact with business peers — a business partner, said Jamie Satterthwaite, managing partner and head of the east coast technology practice at Egon Zehnder’s Boston office.*
The word leader comes up a lot when CEOs are looking to fill the CIO role, said Mark Polansky managing director of the information technology officers practice at Korn/Ferry International. And by that, Polansky said, CEOs mean people who “can hold their own and show the courage and conviction for making IT as good as it can be.” Other buzzwords du jour for the CIO role? Transformation and innovation, offered Phil Schneidermeyer, partner at Heidrick & Struggles.
Someone in the audience sagely asked who out there is actually living the role of the innovative, transformative, courageous CIO, but the headhunters — amusingly — sat there, silent. Finally, one of them said FedEx CIO Rob Carter and his trusted partner Sherry Aaholm, executive VP, information technology.
As for getting on the radar screen of the likes of Polansky, Satterthwaite and Schneidermeyer, it seems a phone call will not do. Polansky, for example, is too busy to take phone calls during the day, but he has an hour commute to and from work to field messages and a device that lets him vet emails until his thumbs are numb when he’s airborne. Going to events like the SIM conference is good, they said, provided you have your “elevator pitch” polished and be certain to follow up with a resumé. Once you’re on their radar, if you do get a call from one of them, be sure you take it, “because we will not call you again,” Polansky said. And if you don’t want the job, a referral would be much appreciated.
An unemployed CIO in the SIM audience — a “gray hair,” as he said — wanted to know if he should take a lesser CIO role or hold out for the job that his “vast amount of experience and accomplishments” qualified him for. He was told by the panelists that it is not just the “gray hairs” that feel discriminated against in the current job market. “Unemployment is equal opportunity,” Polansky said. The advice: The job, no matter the title, needs to be challenging. One of the best things he could do for himself? Get away from feeling picked on.
Look for my story next week on what CIOs — employed ones, too! — should be doing right now to ensure their next employer will come looking for them.
* Satterthwaite disclaimer: “Most CEOs don’t have any idea what they are looking for in CIOs.”