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1/4/2012
06:04 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Yahoo's New Chief: A CIO To CEO Story

The IT nation is quick to claim new Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson as its own.

Yahoo's search for leadership has gone down many familiar roads: industry outsider (Terry Semel), return of founder (Jerry Yang), and proven operator (Carol Bartz). But with Scott Thompson, Yahoo is taking one of the least-traveled paths to a CEO, by picking a former CIO.

Thompson has other executive experience, of course, most importantly running eBay's highly successful PayPal business, which doubled revenue to more than $4 billion under his 4-year leadership.

But it's a sign of how rare the CIO-to-CEO career path is that, minutes after the news broke on Twitter about Thompson's appointment, someone chimed in to claim Thompson as part of the IT nation.

Thompson's enterprise IT chops are legit: He was CTO at PayPal, executive VP of technology at Visa's tech subsidiary, Inovant, and CIO at Barclays Global Investors. And he worked in the trenches delivering IT projects at Coopers & Lybrand. Some doubt that Thompson's tech-heavy experience is right for the huge turnaround Yahoo faces, but Wells Fargo equity analyst Jason Maynard likes Thompson's background: "While some may have been hoping for an executive with pure media/advertising experience, we think the hire signals a much needed focus on product and customer experience," he writes in his coverage of the announcement.

Thompson's arc got the editors at InformationWeek thinking about other CIO-to-CEO career paths. Here are some we came up with:

Philip Clarke, Tesco CEO. Technically, this career path is more like 14-year-old Tesco shelf stocker to CIO to CEO. Clarke went through Tesco's management program, was put in charge of supply chain, then added the CIO job, and later operations. He became CEO in 2011.

John Glaser, CEO of Siemens Health Services. Glaser was the long-time CIO at Partners Health Care (where he worked for two decades) and served as an adviser to the federal government on health IT policy, before joining Siemens in 2010.

Dave Hansen, CEO of Numara, which sells IT management software. Hansen had been CIO of CA and had run different CA product lines before joining Numara last year.

Rob Fyfe, CEO of Air New Zealand, which he joined as CIO and led what was called its business transformation team.

W. Roy Dunbar, former Network Solutions CEO. Dunbar was CIO of Eli Lilly, where he was named InformationWeek Chief of the Year in 2003. After a stint leading technology and operations for MasterCard, he did almost two years as CEO of Network Solutions, a domain registry and website hoster. Dunbar works with private companies in the areas of renewable energy and green construction and sits on corporate boards, including Lexmark’s and Humana’s.

David Bernauer, former Walgreen's CEO. Bernauer, trained as a pharmacist, worked up through the ranks at the company, including a four-year stint as CIO, before serving as COO and president, and then CEO from 2002 to 2007.

Michael Cappellas, former CEO of First Data, MCI, and Compaq. Cappellas was CIO at Compaq before taking the helm. He's now chairman of the virtualization joint venture between Cisco and EMC (with backing from Intel and VMware), called VCE.

Much has been written about why more CIOs don't become CEOs. They're often pandering cliches, like CIOs aren't good communicators. True, a CIO likely needs P&L responsibility before getting the CEO nod, but that's not a huge leap given the importance of e-commerce, data-driven marketing, supply chains, and technology-embedded products today.

So instead of more of that, I'll point you to a unique perspective: "What I've Learned As A CEO Working For A CIO." It's a blog post from last year by Adam Brotman, the senior VP and managing director of Starbucks' digital venture business unit, which directs Starbucks initiatives in areas such as digital content, mobile platforms, and mobile payments. Brotman was CEO of several startups before joining Starbucks, where he now reports to CIO Stephen Gillett, who also oversees digital ventures. (Gillett is InformationWeek's current Chief of the Year.)

Brotman notes the skills a CIO brings to an executive role: a focus on scale, organizational design, and solving problems, as the CIO must tap new business opportunities while dealing with legacy systems and processes. As a CEO, Brotman focused on vision, customers, and the tenacity to lead initiatives past problems.

Read the full post, but here's how Brotman sums up how understanding CIO skills has made him a better executive:

Now, built into my vision for an innovative product, platform or customer experience, I am more apt to layer into that vision a point of view around how to implement, scale and maintain a competitive differentiation. Usually CEOs have to confront these realities around implementation and scale a bit down the road after they have used their sheer passion, vision and leadership to get investors and employees to invest money, time and effort in their initial vision. And many would say that if the CEO wasn’t a little "naive," the original idea may never have been presented quite as passionately. Many times that's true. But after working for a CIO for two years, I'm here to tell you that when you can combine the CEO-like raw vision and passion with CIO-like detailed planning around implementation, scale and design, it's a much more powerful initial vision and one that's even more likely to succeed.

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