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CEOs disregard CIOs when it comes to strategic changes

Unless you work for a very special CEO, chances are fairly good that yours doesn’t think you’re up to snuff when it comes to the CEO position. Five months ago our resident expert, CEO John Weathington, asked whether the CEO position is impossible for CIOs. He said:

If you’re like most CIOs, your chances of ascending to the CEO position are very slim. When the board is looking for a new captain, in most cases, you’ll see people who hold another senior management position — like chief operating officer or possibly CFO — as the prime candidates. The CIO is rarely included.

Weathington’s analysis matches the findings of a recent Gartner Inc. survey of 229 CEOs on the role of the CIO: Most CEOs believed their CIO doesn’t have what it takes to ascend to the boardroom. Gartner reported that CEOs (45%) see their CIO moving to a CIO role in another company. Only one in 229 of the CEOs polled felt their CIO was primed to be their successor.

This might be a disappointment to ambitious CIOs, but there’s still hope. Gartner’s survey revealed that CEOs are taking financial cues from their strategic changes. When asked to “select two roles that are usually most closely involved with supporting the chief executive in a strategic change to [the] business,” CEOs overwhelmingly selected the CFO (33.2% chose that role first, and 26.6% chose it second). The chief operating officer/head of operations was a close second (19.7% first choice, and 22.3% second choice) while the CIO and IT director roles barely garnered a nod in helping guide the business’ strategic changes (2.6% first choice, and 2.6% second choice). Even in this tough economy, CEOs need their trusted advisers to show them the money.

Gartner analysts commented that while they were not surprised the CIO wasn’t on the top of the list, “we thought that the CIO role might be more relevant.” Gartner analysts also noted that HR directors were seen as more important than CIOs, despite the realities of our technological world having a real impact on a business’ performance.

The takeaway here is clear: If they want to be considered credible innovation leaders and partners in their company’s strategic changes, it’s vital that CIOs look for ways to make sure that information and technology are playing a part in their board’s vision and driving their company’s fiscal growth.

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I'm a CEO of a mid-sized business. In order for a CIO to ascend to the position of President, they would need to establish their credibility to manage the ENTIRE business. For a CIO who ascended through the technical ranks, this is difficult. If the CIO's career involved other business functions ... sales & marketing, finance, and operations ... and the ability to lead line managers, they would be much stronger candidates! Effective CIO's need to be business people. They need to know how the business operates. They need to be able to make IT a competitive weapon ... justified as much by increasing revenue as decreasing costs. In order to move beyond CIO, they need to possess leadership and business insight that exceeds that of other line managers in the other business functions.