Dual Identity: CEO Takes a Turn in the CIO Role

When the CIO at the Forzani Group left, the CEO decided to try the job on for size.

In July 2006, Debbie Gillis walked into Bob Sartor's office at The Forzani Group Ltd. and told her boss that she was leaving the company for another job. Gillis had been the CIO at the company, Canada's largest chain of sporting goods stores, for almost five years. Forzani had just finished rolling out several new systems, and Gillis told CEO Sartor that she was moving on.

Sartor told her to leave right away. "Anybody who has access to sensitive data or numbers has to go out that day," he says.

But when it came to replacing Gillis, the CEO was less decisive. His first instinct was to promote someone from the IT department to the job, but Sartor soon realized that he wasn't familiar enough with the tech team. "I had placed a lot of faith in my CIO and didn't know the organization," he says. "I dealt exclusively with her."

Sartor needed to get closer to the IT organization and get a sense of how it understood the business. He also wanted to move a member of the team into the top role but felt this would be unfair because he didn't yet have a sense of each member's business acumen. "Headhunting would be the easy way out," Sartor says. "I wanted to evaluate my key players."

So Sartor decided to take the job himself and become the interim CIO.

Dan Gingras, a partner at Tatum Consulting LLC who is both a former CIO and CEO, says he is somewhat skeptical of the idea. "On one hand, it's fantastic," he says. "It's the first time I've seen a CEO really delve into what the CIO domain looks like except when there's a disaster. But I worry about people who think anyone can do IT. It's like do-it-yourself heart surgery: I wouldn't recommend it."

Sartor's board raised questions as well; the directors were prodding him to fill the position. "I was under pressure from the board to hire a CIO," Sartor recalls. "They said, 'You need a CIO.' I said, 'I know I do. Let me see who the natural business leaders are.'" This investigation would take some time. When Sartor drew up the budget for 2007, he didn't include a CIO salary. He was in no hurry.

This was first published in May 2007

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