One CIO friend of mine is proud to call himself a risk taker. He agitates for technology adoption that his business needs but his users resist. He regularly strolls out on a political limb with a steely attitude and strong convictions. "There are far too many CIOs who are busy keeping their jobs instead of doing their jobs," he says.

I think of this attitude as the CIO version of courage under fire. Considering the longevity issues that plague so many IT executives, it takes a certain moral fortitude to tackle your jobs in the first place. In our story about CIOs transitioning to business leadership roles ("The Promoting Kind"), the contention is that there are three kinds of executives in the top IT role: those who fail and get fired, those who keep their jobs by "pedaling in place," and those who scale up their responsibilities and move into senior business jobs.

That last category has long fascinated and frustrated senior IT management, for only an estimated 5% to 10% of all CIOs climb to those uppermost rungs on the corporate ladder. Of course, not every CIO hungers to leave IT behind. But as executive recruiter Karen Rubenstrunk of Korn/Ferry International notes, it's not just about CIOs having business acumen; it's also about how much value a business puts on technology in the first place. The good news for IT leaders at midsized firms is that you may have an advantage over your colleagues at larger companies. "There's always more opportunity in a smaller to medium-sized company," Rubenstrunk says. Our story shows how that opportunity played out for four midmarket CIOs who made the transition.

Another kind of transition -- an international one -- is the focus of this month's case study ("A Lifetime of Secrets"). We take you inside Lifetime Products, a $500-million Utah-based manufacturer that is expanding its presence in China and putting its intellectual property at nerve-wracking risk in the process. You might not think security would be so critical to a company that makes basketball hoops and foldable picnic tables. But CIO John Bowden has much to tell you about the job of protecting new product drawings and proprietary manufacturing processes, all while navigating the supply chain hurdles of an overseas expansion.

Yet another transition is going on in the midmarket when it comes to customer relationship management (CRM) systems. The CRM disasters weathered by big enterprises in the early 2000s have rained down many good lessons for midmarket companies to heed ("CRM Rising"). As one analyst observes, "Midmarket companies are starting out small ... and getting it right before they move forward."

That quote reminds me of something else. Every few months, my editors and I take advantage of the generosity of this magazine's board of CIO advisers. These executives carve time out of their busy schedules to talk to us about the real-world impact of IT and how it plays out in their midmarket companies. Their only compensation is seeing their names listed in teensy type on our masthead page.

So here in typeface that needs no magnifying glass, I want to extend a special thanks to our CIO reality checkers: Jesus Arriaga, Bruce Barnes, Cliff Bell, Rich De Brino, Gregg Farris, Cathy Hotka, Mike Hugos, Chuck Kramer, Sam Lamonica, André Mendes, Jon Payne, Moti Vyas and Joyce Young. We truly appreciate all you do for us and for our readers.

Maryfran Johnson, is the founding editor in chief of CIO Decisions. To comment on this story, email editor@ciodecisions.com.

This was first published in March 2006

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