While it's accurate to call Tesco a retailer, that term simply doesn't do justice to the far-flung achievements and aspirations of the $100-billion British company. Tesco does indeed operate retail stores—more than 5,000 in 14 countries around the globe—but it also offers banking, insurance, travel services, online shopping, mobile phone services, weight-loss consulting, vision care, mobile applications, and more.
To optimize all of those opportunities, and to manage simultaneously its consistent growth not just in its U.K. home base but in China and its other emerging markets, Tesco knows that technology is an indispensable strategic asset in everything from leveraging grocery-shopping affinity accounts with mobile-phone merchandising to overseeing global supply chains to making each of Tesco's many millions of customers feel that the company is willing to reconfigure itself to suit his or her needs.
And to ensure the company has the right blend of leadership and vision to exploit all of those opportunities and to uncover new ones, Tesco is elevating its current CIO and head of international business, Philip Clarke, to chief executive effective March 1.
While that type of CIO ascendancy is unusual—especially at a company of Tesco's size—we seem to be reaching a point where the responsibilities that business-centric CIOs are seeking and receiving will make more and more of them fully legitimate candidates for CEO positions.
As I wrote last month in Global CIO: The Top 10 CIO Issues For 2011, CIOs can no longer operate as second-class C-level leaders whose fancy title outflanks their actual immersion in their companies' strategic direction, revenue growth, customer engagements, and market opportunities.
"Like the cranks who frothily peddled the notion that vaccinations trigger autism, too many uninformed tech-strategy charlatans are still pushing the ancient and empty bromide that CIOs need to 'request a seat at the table,' " I wrote in describing the fully evolved role of the CIO.
"That load of crap will be buried once and for all in 2011 because CIOs who haven't earned that C-suite credibility and autonomy by virtue of their visions and their achievements will be long gone by the time winter turns to spring for the simple reason that businesses without aggressive tech capabilities won't be able to compete in the coming decade.
"No matter how slick their marketing or how rosy their past, and no matter how big their market share or how high their CEO's profile, those IT-stunted companies will be pulverized in the coming year by a lethal combination of faster/smarter/better competitors and uninspired and disengaged customers.
"2011 is the year in which the CIO profession—once and for all, permanently and without any do-overs—casts off all of the residual crutches that have for so long often rendered CIOs last among C-level equals. Among the all-time stinkers in that smelly pile are ones like 'we're a support organization' or 'the business just doesn't understand IT' or 'we can run what we have, or we can innovate, but we can't do both.' " (End of excerpt.)
For Tesco's Clarke, the journey to the top of a global retail powerhouse with almost half a million employees began 36 years as a stockboy in a Tesco store managed by his father, according to a news article in the U.K.'s Telegraph.com.
Here's an insightful excerpt from that piece: