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CIO job description grows ever more demanding

The CIO job description is morphing. So says Craig Stephenson, senior client partner and managing director of the North America CIO/CTO Practice at Korn Ferry.

As the ability to produce digital revenue has become increasingly important to companies of all kinds, Stephenson is seeing the CIO role at some companies take on more of a technology bent than before: The top technology exec oversees product, engineering and software development, he said.  

Stephenson, whose bio notes that he has placed CIOs and chief digital officers at the likes of Express Scripts, Fannie Mae, and Goldman Sachs among others in the Fortune 500, is also seeing the emergence of hybrid technology executives: chief information and digital officer; chief technology and digital officer.

We caught up with the veteran headhunter at the 2019 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, where he was a featured speaker. In this video, he talks about the evolving CIO job description, noting the winner of the conference's CIO Leadership Award has a hybrid title: Eash Sundaram is chief technology and digital officer of JetBlue Airways. He also touts a leadership framework developed by Korn Ferry that goes by the acronym ADAPT.

"If the leaders of the future can adapt to use the acronym, we'll have a lot of successful tech leaders in the industry going forward," he said.

Editor's note: The following has been edited for clarity and length.

What do you think are the most challenging aspects of the CIO role today?

First and foremost, we're seeing the CIO [job description] morph. We're seeing it become a CTO, which has a bit more of a technology company orientation to it, where you have product and engineering and software coming up through a single person.

We're also seeing the chief information and digital officer, the chief technology and digital officer. In fact, the winner last night of the CIO of the year is a chief technology and digital officer with JetBlue.

But the dynamic of all of that change makes it really hard to manage. And so technology leadership, rather than just a CIO, is having to gain stakeholder alignment, having to drive execution and delivery on large scale environments, going through significant modernization efforts and trying to become much more digitally inclined; they're working at the board level on the more strategic aspects of the firm. And talent is a big challenge. They're spending a lot of time dealing with talent, bringing the right talent on board, and at the same point in time doing everything they can to make sure that they've got succession in place.

What advice do you have for tech leaders?

I think as it relates to all of the talent that we just outlined across the top role overseeing technology … we've done a lot of research in that regard. And we've developed an acronym called ADAPT.

And so what ADAPT means is basically to anticipate what's coming; to drive by executing relentlessly; to work towards accountability and making sure that everyone's aligned and focused on driving the relevant points; to partner and start to reach out. And that's been a theme today, here at MIT, we've seen a lot of partnerships from an organizational perspective and with different enterprises in order to move more quickly. And, lastly, to create trust as an ecosystem. Have one team united with a common mission and common purpose.

If the leaders of the future can adapt to use the acronym, we'll have a lot of successful tech leaders in the industry going forward.

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