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“We Have to Get to the Point Where the CIO Is Seen as Being as Important as the CFO.”

How — and why — CIOs can influence the highest ranks of the organization.
The rise of the executive CIO
photo by Quinn Dombrowski

In our enduring search for actionable management advice, The Build Network editors read and hear a lot about CEOs’ board involvement. Far less is ever heard about other C-suite executives acting as board members. That’s why Michael Hickins’s recent story in the Wall Street Journal caught our attention.

Hickins reports that Shawn Banerji, a technology recruiter for Russell Reynolds Associates, has “seen as much demand for CIOs to sit on boards in the last few months as he has ‘in the past 10 years combined.’”

Virginia Gambale, a former CIO who’s currently on the board of JetBlue Airways, explains to Hickens (@Michael_Curator) that “perceptions of technology are changing at the board level. In the past year, directors have gone from looking to CIOs for assessments of cyberrisks to focusing on the opportunities afforded by new generations of technology, including cloud, mobility, and big data.”

So, more CIOs on boards. Good to know. What, then, is the actionable advice for CIOs? Gambale tells Hickins that CIOs should:

Sharpen their business skills by asking to rotate for short stints into other departments, such as finance and corporate strategy.

Get board experience by serving on nonprofit boards;

Develop a strong relationship with the corporate general counsel, who often sits in meetings CIOs can’t attend and who can ‘plant the seeds about risk,’ preparing directors for the messages delivered subsequently by CIOs; and

Ask to attend the dinner the evening before board meetings. “We have to get to the point where the CIO is seen as being as important as the CFO.”



It can be a real challenge for CIOs to serve as board members. “For many, the role forces them out of familiar ‘control-oriented’ behaviors and away from IT and into the business world at large,” Mary Shacklett writes for TechRepublic.com. We recommend Shacklett’s article, “Why CIOs struggle as board members,” which offers four suggestions for how CIOs can provide valuable advice to the boards they serve.

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