Preparing yourself for the top

In recent years, Barry Clavir, executive producer of the CIO Summit, has noticed a discouraging trend amongst upper-ranking corporate executives: Today’s CIO represents an aging workforce, and the technical people meant to succeed the old guards lack the business skills required for the job.

Clavir realized there was a strong need for mid-tier IT executives to not only have the ability to understand and relay technical issues on the job, but to be able to articulate the value of IT to the business minds manning the fort.

From these revelations, the IT Leadership Development Program was born. Spearheaded by Clavir, the program was quickly picked up by Toronto-based Ryerson University. With the help of some bright minds including James Norrie, director of the School of Information Technology at Ryerson, Craigg Balance, partner with E-Finity Group and Keith Powell, former CIO of Nortel Networks, the program was tweaked to offer business knowledge and know-how to technical executives in line for the role of CIO.

However, the course isn’t just another university program. Fundamentally, the goal of the IT Leadership Development Program is to bring the idea of theory and practice full circle. The course is made up of three modules spaced three months apart – each one is four days long. The idea is for candidates to learn the fundamentals of IT business management from both Ryerson academics professors and industry practitioners during the modules, and then apply the theory in their business units during the three-month intervals.

“People don’t learn from sitting in a classroom for four days,” said Ryerson’s Norrie. “The way you change people’s behaviour is by introducing theory and practice and allowing them to experiment with it.”

Norrie explained that the now sold-out program accepts a maximum of 25 candidates and eligibility is based on a minimum of five years in IT management and an undergraduate degree or equivalent education and experience.

Partnering with the CIO Summit was a no-brainer for Ryerson, Norrie added. Combined, the two pair academic rigour with experienced people to share applied information with the candidates.

“The match of what we do has worked out really well,” Clavir said. “I believe what we are offering is truly unique.”

As for the challenges CIOs face today, ex-Nortel CIO and program chairman Powell said that the IT world is suffering from a major morale problem related to succession within the organization.

“Senior, bright IT professionals have come up against a glass ceiling within the IT organization,” Powell said. “The reason for that is because CEOs are looking to bring business people in as the CIO. It is cutting these (technical) people out of that opportunity.”

Powell was one of those business people when he became CIO of Nortel in 1996. He said even within a technically savvy company like Nortel, the IT side was still losing the interest and the understanding of the business minds.

“This program is clearly not going to solve all of these problems,” he noted. “It is clearly the first dipping of the toe into the water. But, it will give some bright IT people some perspectives around how they need to be dealing in the executive office.”

The first of the three four-day modules ran from Nov. 24 to Nov. 27 and focused on strategy, innovation and leadership development. The second session, to be held Jan. 26 to 29, 2004 will centre on aligning IT to the business. The final module, running from April 19 to April 22, will reflect on realistic responses for remarkable results. Course tuition is $7,500 per person, which includes all course materials. Only selected candidates are able to attend.

For more information, visit Ryerson is online at www.