CIOs as business leaders

How can CIOs demonstrate their ability to lead business initiatives that transcend IT?

In the last six years, the Bayer group completed more than $60 billion in mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. I’m proud to say IT has been a business enabler. We’ve been ahead of the curve because we were at the integration table early.

At first we invited ourselves to the table, and then it became more automatic. We came with recommendations that sometimes had little to do with IT itself, and people acknowledged that they made a big impact on their business. They were surprised when they realized that IT understands so much about their processes, which we do because we support them all.

Given that, it is certainly possible for a CIO or senior IT leader to run aspects of an acquisition focused on business processes, not just on IT integration activities.

A reputable CIO can also conceivably lead the overall acquisition team or another business initiative. But before that can happen, the CIO and his or her IT function must first be recognized not only in that company but in the broader vertical industry as a group capable of that leadership. Although the reputation of CIOs as good business leaders has improved dramatically, and some CIOs already have become CEOs, IT isn’t widely recognized as a function from which business leaders customarily emerge. For this to change, we have to be much closer to the market of our corporations.

I have often deliberately put myself in roles that allowed me to learn more about Bayer’s business. I am more interested in fulfilling a function or activity that touches the company’s customers than I am in supporting strictly internal activities.

When I had to transform our SAP implementation, I spent at least a year with all the different Bayer business functions and subgroups, learning about their products, their markets and their plans for the future. When I was finished with that project, I had gained a profound knowledge of the pharmaceuticals business and its consumer products. That was a tremendous enabler for me in my career.

But there must be more than just a couple of CIOs in any particular industry who are engaged with their companies’ markets. We have to get more systematic about cultivating a deep business knowledge so that we gain a wider reputation as a profession that understands the market and has the potential to run business activities.

Claudio Abreu is president and CEO of Bayer Business and Technology Services and a member of the CIO Executive Council. E-mail mentor topics to

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