Salary Report: Midmarket CIO climbs the ranks

Tom Kaneshige, Senior Editor Salary Report

One CIO has come a long way in eight years, coolly managing his career in the Arizona heat. The former head of revenue services at a large New Jersey-based firm made a risky move to a struggling midmarket company, eventually becoming CIO of a medical laboratory.

This CIO, speaking on condition of anonymity, wants to return to a bigger company someday, only this time as a

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big fish in a big pond -- that is, as CIO. "I'm interested in going to a bigger company on the senior team doing strategic thinking," he said.

And he isn't alone. A recent survey of 1,058 midmarket IT leaders uncovered a beehive of activity: 22% aspire to move up in their IT organization, 21% aspire to move up in their overall organization, and 18% aspire to move to a larger company. Only 23% plan on staying in their current roles.

During his stint at the New Jersey firm, the Arizona CIO saw the upside of a big company. Executives had nationwide responsibility. Their decisions made tremendous impact. And there were enough resources to be innovative. "But I wasn't at the big table back then," he said. He recalls proposing projects to top-level executives who would tell him to revise it -- along with a haughty "thanks for coming in."

He wanted to have a bigger voice.

Several years ago, he saw his opportunity to move into the executive suite at a joint venture in the health care field. But the midmarket company stumbled out of the gate its first year, wrought with clashing cultures and IT systems. The parent companies refused to sink more money into the struggling venture. Auditors predicted it wouldn't last another year.

Undaunted, the New Jersey transplant took up the challenge, first as a consultant to merge billing and payable systems and later as a full-time employee on the finance side. During a management shakeup shortly after, he became CIO, in large part due to his business chops. "It took a little convincing of the board of directors to take someone out of financing and put them in IT," he said. "But we really needed someone to be able to go to the board and present and make a case."

Over the next few years, the new CIO overhauled the IT infrastructure, continued to consolidate an array of systems (including voicemail) and brought in Six Sigma to improve processes. He flew around the country to meet with vendors and learn about technology.

"The joke around here was that if I wanted to see my wife for two days, then I'd have to take a vacation," he said. "The midmarket CIO is in there every day, helping to make decisions about what avenue to go and what products to choose. It's not as hands off as a CIO in a Fortune 500 company who has quite the staff to make recommendations to him with all the reasons why."

With renewed executive energy and a merged identity, the company went on a success streak. It garnered numerous diagnostics accolades, while the CIO won prestigious technology awards.

Now the CIO wants to parlay his midmarket experience to a bigger company down the road. Why? Not so much for the money -- although large companies tend to pay CIOs more than midmarket companies do -- but for the opportunity to try new things with technology. "We have a tendency in the midmarket that, yes, you want to be innovative," he said. "But I don't have any line item called innovation in my budget."

Innovation, after all, is in a CIO's DNA. "A large company can have skunkworks," said Bert Hucks, CIO of For Eyes Optical Co., an optical retailer with more than 130 stores around the country. "They can invest in innovation that may never see the light of day."

It's true that large companies are often more advanced in their usage of technology than midmarket companies, agreed Keith Bearden, president of Virtual Information Executives LLC, a Portland, Ore.-based provider of consultants to midmarket companies. Bearden's résumé boasts stints at industry bellwethers, such as Dow Chemical Co. "Large companies are more on the leading edge," he said. "Midmarket companies, on the other hand, can't afford to introduce that level of risk."

A midmarket company though, can be just as rewarding. It's a great place to advance your career, the Arizona CIO said, but it's also a challenge itself. "It's great fun to take a company and turn it around," he said.


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