A Seat on the Board? What's It Worth?

Boyden UK CIO Practice

The Diary of an Executive Search CIO Headhunter

London 31/01/2011
Cathy Holley, Partner and Co-Head of the CIO Practice

I have stayed away, for a couple of years now, from the old chestnut of whether CIOs should sit on boards: frankly it seemed an old topic with little new thinking. Essentially, since the time when the CIO title was coined, top CIOs have striven to be appointed to the board or at least the Executive Committee. The thinking being that any forward thinking company would wish its CIO to be involved at the very heart of the business shaping and decision making. There is still a sense that if you are part of the top team and the finance director and co. are peers, then the span of influence and your opportunity to impact on business direction is far greater.

Over the years, as we have placed CIOs in a range of organizations and sectors, it hasn’t necessarily transpired that CIOs who sit on boards are more effective or more well-regarded than those who don’t. Some of the very senior and heavy-hitting CIOs I know report to finance directors and care not a jot! In fact, for many, the opportunity to do their job without the constraints and politics of board membership is a bonus, as long as they have access to and influence with the right people.

For me the pivotal questions aren’t around whether having a seat at the table is critical. When working with the board directors I’m recruiting for, I’m looking for commitment that IT can be at the heart of business transformation and worthy of continued investment. If the finance director is the most passionate about what IT can deliver in terms of business value, then that’s not a bad place to report; if the CEO doesn’t really get IT then how does reporting to him/her help? When working with candidates I’m looking to see that they can influence boards to ensure successful outcomes and deliver business (not just IT) innovation. Gaining a seat at the top table is more impressive if the CIO has been invited to join it having demonstrated genuine commercial wisdom.

Better, surely, to have a voice in a successful business where IT is pivotal to success than to sit at the board table, known as that bloke from IT, in an organization which is simply paying lip-service to the value of technology.

Cathy Holley; Partner and Co-Head CIO Practice
Boyden UK
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