knowledge is not a significant factor
leading to CIO success.
The path to the top for the CIOs in
our sample was also characterized by
frequent position and organization
changes. Consistent with conventional
wisdom, moving to new positions and
firms appears to help mold future leaders. However, contrary to conventional
12 our data shows that one does
not need to have line-of-business experience to attain the CIO position, or even
experience as an IT consultant. The majority of the years of experience of the
CIOs in our sample was spent in traditional IT positions (83%), while only 14%
of the years was in consulting positions,
and only 3% of the years was in non-IT
positions. Many CIOs do not have any
experience outside of IT or in organizations that provide IT services. This indicates that neither non-IT functional area
roles nor IT service provider roles are
prerequisites for a CIO position.
Finally, we observed that modern
IT structures and rapid change have
shortened the time it takes to become
a CIO by nearly 50% compared to 30
years ago. In the new environment,
talent can be recognized sooner than
in the past, and there are more opportunities to display leadership as IT
becomes a strategic tool for competitiveness in the marketplace. That is,
modern IT strategies provide opportunities to demonstrate significant leadership ability earlier in one’s career,
resulting in a much more rapid ascent
to the CIO position.
These initial results can be neatly
summarized into “needs” and “need
nots” for aspiring CIOs. They definitely
need technical expertise, a master’s
degree, and to change positions and
companies. However, they need not
go to a particular school, stay with the
same company, stay in the same industry, or gain non-IT experience. If
IT professionals follow these needs
and need nots, they can become a CIO
in a surprisingly short period of time.
Our exploratory research produced
interesting and useful information
about the characteristics of a specific
group of successful CIOs, including
their career paths, educational back-
grounds, and cross-industry and intra-
firm experiences. Yet more research is
warranted. A primary objective would
be to study a large, random sample of
CIOs from, say, the Fortune 500, For-
tune 1,000, governmental, education-
al, nonprofit, and small and medium-
size business sectors. This would
enable us to move from descriptive
statistics to predictive and prescrip-
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while ensuring internal IT continues to
support the various applications that
are critical to the business.
An interesting by-product of this
evolving IT development cycle is the
opportunities it creates for CIOs to
display leadership. The shorter cycle
times associated with the highly visible projects that support innovation
allow IT professionals to gain more
experience in integrating business and
IT, and become more visibile to senior
leadership in a much shorter period
of time. Increased visibility is a contributing factor in the reduction of the
amount of time it takes an IT professional to attain the position of CIO.
Employee retention and satisfaction
are closely tied to career path development and progression.
18 We examined
the paths several prominent IT professionals followed to achieve a CIO position. This information should be of
interest to those entering the IT field
with aspirations to become a CIO. The
information should also be of interest
to IT leaders recruiting new IT talent
who want to help that talent develop.
However, the reader is cautioned that
the findings from this study are for a
select group of CIOs and may not be
generalizable to all CIOs.
Several patterns emerged from our
look at specific career paths. From an
education perspective, we observed
that the majority of CIOs in our sample
earned a bachelor’s degree in a technical field and a master’s degree in a
business field. As in Bruni,
3 our results
show the school at which the degree is
earned does not appear to have any influence on becoming a CIO. However, it
is important to have both a bachelor’s
degree and a master’s degree, and it is
just as important to have both technical
and business knowledge.
Another interesting pattern is that
experience in a particular industry
does not seem to affect whether one
becomes a CIO. The fundamental IT
skills appear to be applicable to any
industry. On the path to the top, CIOs
often changed both industry and organization. In fact, of those who changed
organizations to attain their first CIO
position, 75% also changed industries.
This implies that either IT skills are industry agnostic, or that tacit industry