The Diary of a CIO Head Hunter

Boyden UK CIO Practice

The CEO/CIO Relationship

Cathy Holley, Partner and Co-Head of the CIO Practice

London 08/09/2010

Here in the Boyden UK CIO Practice we are often urged to Tweet or blog to share our view of the world so this is our first foray into the world of social media. We thought what might be interesting is to share some of the ideas we hear whilst out and about with our CIO friends. We’ll not break confidences so please don’t take offence if yourself recognise you in anything we write; what we share is real although unattributed. Fact is often stranger than fiction and we hope you’ll find it as interesting as we do. If nothing else, it might stimulate some creative thinking.

One of the real privileges of being a specialist headhunter is that you create your own community in your given field. For Vicky (Maxwell Davies) and me, it is the world of CIOs. Every day, we are fortunate enough to meet CIOs from around the world in a broad range of industries, each with his or her own view of the world. Headhunters are uniquely positioned as trusted advisers; who else do you confide in when you want to change roles, restructure you team or indeed just have a good old moan about your ungrateful customers. Who can you share your successes with, without looking like an egocentric bragger?

Headhunters are generally good listeners and the very best can synthesise everything they hear to create balanced, well-informed views on every topic under the sun that’s of interest to their community. Some of the day to day job of being a headhunter is rather dull; only the most dedicated (and rather strange) really enjoy writing job specs or candidate reports. The exciting bit of the role is meeting new organisations, hearing their aspirations and challenges and knowing that you are going to be part of the team delivering that vision. The stories we hear from CIOs and their top teams and their industry advisors are often funny and something incredibly sad. We’ll share what we can.

We thought it might be useful to start with the topic of our next Claridge’s dinner: Why are some CEO/CIO relationships better than others? I was recently at a Gartner event and Dave Aron was speaking on this topic whilst I was covering “what do CEOs and boards ask for when briefing me on a CIO role?” I won’t steal his thunder here, but the results were a real eye-opener and well worth getting hold of. What struck me most was that in comparing the real interests of a CEO and CIO there is usually a significant mismatch.  Few CIOs today spend much time thinking about technology; generally speaking, that’s what your world class team (have you got one?) should be worrying about.  However, many world-class CIOs think that reshaping business processes is the ultimate achievement and this must surely be what the CEO wants to discuss with you. Infact, CEOs are usually focusing on external issues such as:

  • How can we persuade our customers to buy more things for more money and love us so much they come back for more tomorrow?
  • What are the analysts in the City saying about us?
  • Will our banks give us some more money?
  • How do we scrape through the next FSA audit?
  • What do my peers on the board think of me? Will I last till the end of the year and will I get my full bonus?
  • Can I in all conscience, with our share price at an all-time low, squeeze in a round of golf without being slated?

You will have noticed that the last two issues are rather personal; do you think of your CEO as a human being with very human personal drivers?

So we can see that, what with the external pressures and personal issues going on in their lives, the internal business issues CEO’s worry about are likely to be around politics and their own careers. That leaves little time to chat to you about IT or business process re-engineering. BPR is an operational issue and s/he has a team that deals with that stuff (just as you have a team that deals with technology). No wonder CEOs and CIOs often don’t feel connected.

The internal focus of CIOs is very evident when you read the average CIO’s CV. A CV should be a pithy summary of how you see yourself, so it’s an interesting barometer for the issues I’ve mentioned above. Have you got a copy of yours to hand? You might like to read through a different lens and ask yourself the following:

Have you described the companies you have worked in as if you are one of the few people shaping the company strategy, outlining the key challenges the board was facing during your tenure (be-it striving for world domination, the fight for survival despite harsh external factors, globalisation, rebranding, restructuring etc..)?

  • Have you ensured that your achievements relate directly to these challenges rather than presenting a series of programmes isolated from the real challenges you’ve outlined?
  • As well as covering what you’ve delivered, have you given a little background on why the programme was critical to business success at this point?
  • As well as providing the clear metrics of what the programme delivered, have you explained how it impacted your company’s customers? Shareholders?
  • Is the main focus on generating business value and innovation or on cost cutting? Is that appropriate to where your business is today?
  • What have you delivered that your CEO can talk to the City about? That would make you a more attractive investment for a bank/VC/PE?

Armed with these new perspectives, is it time to book a slot with the CEO to share your views?

Cathy Holley
Partner and Co-Head
CIO Practice
Boyden UK