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Retired CIOs: 5 Rewarding Second Acts

Some CIOs "retire" but then consult. These five decided to do something completely different.

of his former life. Maybe more significantly, there is a big difference in the stress level involved. Even when on vacation, he used to live on his laptop and his BlackBerry, anxious about what might be going on in his absence.

"One of the things as a CIO is you feel such a sense of responsibility and proprietorship of these systems that keep the corporation going. Your entire life as a CIO is dedicated to keeping them up keeping them functioning. Downtime is not acceptable," Moon said. "Today, I'm applying some of the same skill sets but I don't have to worry that because a system goes down a $1.3 billion company can't operate."

He remembers one time at Viewsonic where a database administrator's error shut down a central Oracle system for six hours, during which basic functions like shipping and receiving couldn't operate. "That was the longest six hours of my life," Moon said. "So this is much more fun."

His dilemma is he's been successful enough that now he is being urged to run for office. While he is proud and ambitious enough to be tempted, he also has to think twice, he said. "My life is so perfect now. Do I really want to screw with it?"

Going way, way beyond retirement
When I met Joy Hughes at conference of higher education technology leaders, she was on the verge of retiring from the George Mason University CIO's office, but she had no intention of leaving the university. Instead, she was going to teach in the university's school of engineering. We also recruited her as an occasional InformationWeek contributor.

Turns out her absence from an executive role didn't last. When I looked her up, I was surprised to learn that she was now interim president and provost at a George Mason University in Korea. This outpost is part of the Incheon Global Campus located in Songdo, Incheon, Korea. Songdo promotes itself as the country's high tech "city of the future" and has invited multiple American universities to replicate their programs here. SUNY's computer science program arrived three years ago, Mason launched economics and management in March, the University of Utah just started up in September with public health, psychology, and social services programs. The University of Ghent, from Belgium, has also launched a biosciences program.

"I was asked to take on the role of president because of my long history with China and much shorter history with Korea, my role as founding executive director of 4-VA (a partnership of four Virginia universities supported by the Virginia government and Cisco's CEO), and also because of my involvement in designing the IT facilities for the Songdo campus," Hughes explained via email.

"I am interim because I am way, way past retirement age, at least the age to retire from administration," she added. She is staying for a year while assisting in the search for a permanent president. "Once he or she is hired, you will find me in my Fairfax classroom, marker in hand, drawing equations on the white board for my students."

In other words, she does not plan to start a true rocking chair retirement anytime soon.

Picture perfect
Jerry Johnson gets together with some of his former coworkers about once a month to shoot pool. They tell him about work, and he tells them how happy is not to be doing it anymore. "I have very little passion for that work environment at all anymore," he said.

Johnson retired about a year ago as chief information officer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Prior to that, he often shared his thoughts with InformationWeek and was a member of our advisory board. Johnson said thought he might be one of those people who finds himself drawn back into consulting or some other IT role after retirement, but temptation never struck.

"That's not to say I didn't love my job -- it was a wonderful career," he said. While he was in the job, he was passionate about doing it well, meaning he could work 12 or 14 hours a day and come home still loving his job. "The secret is carrying forward that passion in whatever you do," he said. "You need to be passionate while you're working so you succeed in your job, but you also need to be passionate in retirement and, frankly, in your family life."

One of his longtime passions has been international travel. Although he actually hasn't done any of that in the past year, it was following an adventure travel visit to Manchu Picchu that he stumbled on another enthusiasm. When he realized the best photo he'd taken on the trip was with his iPhone, he decided it was time to get a real camera and learn how to use it.

"I reached out to a friend who was knowledgeable about photography and started buying new cameras, new lenses. I wound up with a digital mirror-less camera that would be good for adventure travel because it's about half the weight of an SLR," Johnson said. He now attends a new photography workshop about once a week and is active in a photography club where he has made many new friends.

"It's rare that someone asks, 'What did you do before you retired?' " he said, but they do care about the photos, and people are impressed by how far he has advanced in about 11 months. On the other hand, some of the people who knew him as an IT guy say they are surprised that he is so creative. The sad thing there is that IT is a creative business but most people don't see that, he said. "They confuse being creative with being artistic."

Johnson is another retiree who devotes a fraction of his energy into volunteer and charitable causes, sitting on the boards of The ARC, a social services organization for people with mental or developmental disabilities, Catholic Family Child Services, and Columbia Basin Dive Rescue, for which he is the board president.

Like others on this list, Johnson finds his CIO experience translates well into volunteer leadership. For example, as The ARC is struggling with cuts in public funding, he has taken on a business development role seeking out new sources of revenue to make up the shortfall and also provide employment for some of the agency's clients who are able to work. He has even been able to make that dovetail with his enthusiasm for photography, working on a video promotion for The ARC.

What's his advice to those CIOs coming up on retirement?

"The best advice is do it," Johnson said. "I've yet to meet anyone who said I wish I had worked longer." Yes, there is a period of adjustment. For the first few months, Johnson found he kept himself working hard at the kind of home improvement chores he used to do over the weekend -- as if retirement was going to be one endless and exhausting weekend. "I had to tell myself, hey, you don't have to get all this stuff done right away. You have to seek some sort of balance," he said.

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