Tom Lesica is looking for a job. But not in the back office.
Tom Lesica is looking for a job. Until last January, Lesica was group VP of business operations and technology at Avaya, the networking and telecommunications vendor. As CIO, Lesica was responsible for the company's global IT organization and its enterprise business transformation initiative. He also ran Avaya's global business operations, including supply chain management, logistics, procurement, contract manufacturing, and an 800-person help desk organization.
"It was meaty," he says, laughing.
In some ways, Lesica is the epitome of the modern-day, high-aspiring CIO: both a business-savvy technology strategist and a tech-savvy business strategist.
When he was approached by an executive search firm about the position at Avaya in the spring of 2003, it was for a traditional CIO role, he says. But after talking with Avaya's CEO at the time, Don Peterson, who had led the spin-off of the company from Lucent in 2000, and being offered the business transformation initiative as well as the operational functions, he jumped at the job.
Peterson left Avaya in August 2006, in the wake of an earnings slide. Lesica says he left in January when he saw an opportunity to spend extended time with his kids. "I made the decision with summer approaching," he says, but he had it in mind to jump back into the market in the fall.
Before Avaya, Lesica was executive VP and CTO of New Roads, a logistics and fulfillment service for online retailers. Before that, he was CIO of retailer J.Crew, at the time it was struggling with the newfound demands of e-commerce and the Web. Before that, he was the CIO of Pepsi-Cola, where he was a member of the company's executive operating council.
So far, Lesica says he's interviewed for a couple of chief operating officer positions, "with the CIO role embedded in the group." Other positions for which he's interviewed have CIO titles, but Lesica characterizes those as "IT plus--more than IT--which is really what I find appealing."
The operational side is critical. "If I'm engaged with a search firm, I make it known as a criterion that I'm not interested in a traditional back-office CIO role with minimal impact," he says. As for technology expertise, "I stay current," he says. "I actually started my career as a programmer. I want to be able to understand and push back where I need to."
On the other hand, "I don't think CIOs need to get involved in every architectural decision. With the advent of [IT] architects and CTOs, CIOs should probably stay apprised of every [technology] direction and get involved in the bigger bets within an IT portfolio."
Lesica's advice for aspiring CIOs:
• "Be clear on the role you want to play within an organization. Be mindful of how the culture will line up with your career aspirations."
• "Look at the track record of IT, what's the image of IT when you walk into an opportunity. In many cases, it's about relationships, it's about the rapport."
• "Standard to the CIO rank is agility. Their role is one of being agile not just in operations but in how they provide service to the business."
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