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John Soat
John Soat

CIOs Uncensored: Where Should Your Next CIO Come From?

Is it better to nurture IT management talent within, or look outside for the best possible candidate?

The eminent philosopher Groucho Marx once quipped, "I don't care to belong to any club that would have me as a member." I thought of this anecdote when I read a press release announcing that Cummins, an $11 billion-a-year engine manufacturer in Indiana, had hired a new CIO. His name is Bruce Carver, and he's joining Cummins from auto parts maker Dana, where he had been VP and CIO since 2004.

Not that Carver would espouse the above sentiment. I'm sure he sees Cummins as a terrific opportunity, and rightly so. Here's what he said in the press release: "I look forward to building on the foundation created by Gail during her tenure and working with the talented IT team already in place to support Cummins' plans for profitable growth."

Gail refers to Cummins' previous CIO, Gail Farnsley, and she's the reason I thought of Groucho Marx. Farnsley had been very proactive about developing IT management talent from within Cummins. I saw her give a presentation about it at a CIO symposium in Indianapolis, and I wrote about her efforts in our Innovators & Influencers for 2008 feature at the end of last year.

Here's what she said: "We were looking at where the company's heading in terms of growth, and we wondered, do we have the right leaders in place to meet that growth challenge? Also, in the last six or seven years, the demographics of IT leaders have changed. And we were looking outside the company for IT managers, which isn't a good thing. We weren't developing our people internally."

So it surprised me when I saw that Cummins had gone outside the company for her replacement. Was it the result of an exhaustive search for the best of all possible candidates? Or was it motivated, even just a little bit, by a corporate version of the inferiority complex Groucho joked about? I wrote a blog entry about it that generated many, many responses. Here's a sample:

  • The decision to promote from within or hire from outside (for all leadership positions) is much more a matter of organizational culture than actual talent.

  • I would think companies would try harder to look for talent and promote from within, but usually it's deemed [that] "a change" is needed, and this means bringing in an outsider.

  • Companies need to realize that the challenge is not getting good talent--it's keeping it.

  • Isn't there anyone at the company with leadership skills, relationship skills, and a strong understanding of IT concepts?

  • Hire the best, brightest, and most effective person you can find, wherever they may be.

  • I suspect it might have to do with the common human proclivity to go with the candidate whose faults you don't know versus the candidates whose faults you know.

  • If CIOs aren't promoted from within, where will the next batch of experienced CIOs come from?

Two more questions: If you're a CIO, should you bother to groom someone to take your place? If you aspire to be a CIO, do you wait to be promoted or look for your opportunity somewhere else?

Share your thoughts at our blog, CIOs Uncensored

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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