For headhunter firms, CIOs like Joseph Cooper are a catch.
The executive vice-president and CIO of Manulife Financial since 2007, Cooper is originally from Toronto and worked 27 years at IBM. More than half of that time had him based internationally, including a five-year stint in the U.S. “I have Canada in my roots and was thrilled to come back and be the global CIO for a large Canadian multinational,” he said. “One of the key benefits of my past experience coming into this job was the international knowledge I had. When I was at IBM, I had the opportunity to work with insurers in all parts of the world, so I got to see how insurers delivered technology and services related to that.”
That skill set is becoming increasingly relevant in a global economy. Especially since some of the top CIO jobs that have recently come available in Canada have gone to Americans. Headhunter firms say they are increasingly asked to look beyond our borders for IT talent. Companies as diverse as TD Bank, Loblaws and Rogers have all recently hired American CIOs. BMO recently conducted a search that took it to the U.S. Although it ended up going with an internal candidate, RBC also looked to the States for a leader.
With the rising loonie and relative stability of the financial market in Canada compared to the U.S. and U.K., the attraction of Canadian opportunities to candidates outside of Canada has become much higher – and has resonated with recent hires. The concern, according to some in the industry, is that in two years when the economy picks up, those CIOs will get homesick and leave.
And unfortunately, the reverse may not be true. Right now it may be more difficult for Canadians to work in the U.S. than it is for Americans to work in Canada, said Andrew Dillane, group CIO of Randstad Canada Companies and president of the CIO Association of Canada. Aside from immigration challenges, the tumultuous state of the U.S. economy has resulted in a high unemployment rate, and organizations there will be more apt to look for Americans to fill those roles.
It also means Americans may be more likely to look for job opportunities in other countries, even though there are some differences in the two markets, such as a requirement for bilingualism in some Canadian organizations. But the U.S. is a much bigger market, he said, so they’re more likely to have experience working with much larger organizations with much larger IT infrastructures.
But it’s naïve to believe that large Canadian organizations – many of which are global in nature – won’t look across the border, or around the world, to find the best candidate for the job. International experience, whether U.S. or abroad, is becoming increasingly important in an IT capacity. Without that experience, are Canadians missing out? If so, what can they do?
While there are no statistics to prove hiring American CIOs is becoming a trend, it’s safe to say clients are looking for the best-in-class candidate, no matter where that candidate happens to be located. And that means they’re conducting more North American searches, even if they end up hiring a Canadian or internal candidate, said John Mealia, senior client partner for technology with Korn/Ferry’s Toronto office. “Canada has some outstanding technology execs and could compete – and do compete – very well for senior roles, but clients absolutely want the screen across North America now.”