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So You Want To Be The Boss?

CIOs have to consider themselves as business people, not just technologists. And their potential successors better be thinking that way, too.
Increasingly, CIOs have to think of themselves as business people first, technologists second. And their potential successors better be thinking that way, too.

"I'm a business person first, and I'm trying to create mini-me's," says Stephen Morin, a 23-year business technology veteran who's currently VP and CIO at TAC Worldwide Companies, a provider of staffing and outsourcing services. Morin says a big part of his job is to make sure all his companies' "mini-CIOs" are aligned with the business.

Morin's advice was echoed by other leaders who hold the top business technology job at their companies and who participated this week on the "Changing Role of the CIO" panel at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

Although many CIOs moved up the ranks from roots as technologists, future CIOs will need to proactively pursue career moves into the business and operations side in order to get hands-on experience in what makes a company tick.

And that can literally mean getting your hands dirty. Donna Slyster, senior VP and CIO at supply-chain services company CHEP, once assembled an engine for a client so she could understand the intricacies of the client's business.

"I'm privileged to have my background," says Slyster, who has also held posts such as systems engineer at General Motors and systems engineer manager at EDS. "If you haven't had the opportunity to have business exposure, it's imperative. If you have a plant floor, spend some time there," she says.

Technologists aren't the only ones expanding their horizons. There are more business people with technology skills moving up the ladder as well, says Rick Broughton, director of IT strategy at Dunkin' Brands, which operates 12,000 franchises in the United States, including Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins.

In fact, at Dunkin' Brands, there are more business analysts than technologists as part of the company's big business-intelligence team, which looks at technologies such as data warehousing to help Dunkin' Brands and its franchisees better understand sales trends and identify new opportunities.

And although it might seem unnatural to work yourself out of a job, CIOs need to prepare their successors. "As a CIO, you have an obligation to prime the next CIO," says Slyster. That includes identifying solid project leaders and rotating these people in the business, she says. "Career-wise, they're developing themselves for when I move onto something else," she says.

CIO-wannabes also need to expand their knowledge of global markets and legal issues, especially as they increasingly lead global teams, including offshore alliances. CIOs need to know what can and can't be "thrown over the wall," including what confidential client data shouldn't be handled by offshore partners, says Rebecca Schechter, managing director of product strategy and development for global markets at State Street Corp.

Future CIOs will also likely have longer job titles and added responsibilities. That's already happening at some companies, which are adding taglines like "VP of Innovation" to CIO titles. In fact, Slyster's formal job title is CIIO--chief information and innovation officer. That reflects a key part of her job to create additional value and help her company become more innovative in its tech-driven services for customers. TAC Worldwide CIO Morin has had new responsibilities added to his job as well. Over the last year, he's become responsible for the company's real estate and facilities. Although he's got double the job description now, unfortunately "I didn't double my salary," Morin jokes.