The IT World is Not Enough

Ken Michaelchuck, CIO of Philip Morris Cos., was happy to land a divisional CIO who had not previously worked in IT. He came from operations – like Michaelchuck himself. And that’s not as odd as it sounds.

“There’s a lot of demand [from CIOs who hire IT leaders] for getting outside the technical point of view,” says Norman McEachron, vice-president of Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Consulting in the San Jose, Calif., office, who has conducted extensive surveys on the roles and relationships of CIOs and CTOs.

The kinds of people who make good leaders in today’s global economy may be different from those who used to succeed in IT. These days, “people who focus on internal things might not have the necessary understanding of stakeholders’ customers,” McEachron says. “We’ve got a whole generation of people used to administration and systems upkeep and acquisition of infrastructure. Now we have to look at IT as deployment of competitive tools.”

To round out individuals whose technology skills outweigh their business acumen, Anthony Foster, CIO of Imperial Chemical Industries in London, advocates giving them work experience throughout the business. “Either expose them to business issues or put them at the table where business is being discussed,” he advises.

Early in his own career, Foster worked as an operations line manager for a large energy multinational in Canada, which he says was a tremendous learning opportunity that gave him credibility among his business associates.

“In a later assignment,” Foster adds, “I was human resources manager for a division in that same multinational. This allowed me to work very closely with the division president and actively participate as a member of his executive committee. These early career experiences have been critical to my development.”