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CIOs share how they made the leap to CEO

Kim S. Nash | Sept. 26, 2013
CIOs who won the CEO job talk candidly about the relentless pressure for profits, the ultimate accountability and what they wish they'd known as CIO.

And, in the end, CEO is a singular, sometimes lonely job. "You can interact closely with your CEO. But you don't have a full appreciation of what subtleties and demands go with the job until you sit there," Chris Lofgren, CEO of Schneider National, and once its CIO.

Paving the Way

There is some precedent for today's moves. A handful of high-achieving CIOs rose to become CEOs about 10 years ago, as the Web began to rearrange business. Dawn Lepore, for example, was CIO at Charles Schwab at the time and helped invent online trading for everyday investors. She eventually gained the title of vice chairman. In 2004, she quit for the CEO post at Drugstore.com, a pure-play Web company she led for eight years. Now she's a venture capitalist.

Maynard Webb was CIO at PC vendor Gateway, then technology president at eBay, and, later, its COO. After that, he held the CEO job at customer-service vendor LiveOps for five years. Webb is now an investor in startups.

John Boushy is known for his trailblazing work in customer intelligence in the early 2000s while leading operations and IT at what was then called Harrah's Entertainment. He went on to be CEO of rival Ameristar Casinos from 2006 to 2008.

These executives were true pioneers. Surely some CIOs today are CEO material, Boushy says, but they may not be positioning themselves well. He had his sights set on being CEO early on in his career. "Things didn't just happen to me. I managed them to happen to me," he says.

Like Boushy, some who have recently become president or CEO planned their ascensions. Others took unplanned leaps. From their current vantage point, both kinds of CIOs-turned-CEO offer insights about what they had to learn while they led.

Born to Lead

Doug Haugh says he always knew he wanted to lead. He was captain of his high school football team and president of his college fraternity. In his professional life, Haugh has systematically undertaken the experiences necessary to bring him to top management at Mansfield Oil, a private fuel distribution and delivery company with an estimated $9 billion in revenues. He was Mansfield's CIO for four years before being named president in 2011. Before that, he was an entrepreneur, president of a real estate developer and a marketing manager at Exxon.

CIO, he says, was a step on a journey. He wanted to understand technology management and try to apply what he'd learned in other roles to the IT group. Indeed, he was a dual-hat executive at the time, also holding the title of head of business development for Mansfield. His IT team developed profit-and-loss statements and created products that brought in revenue. They sold supply-chain systems to a fuel company in Canada, for example, even sending staff there to work as on-site consultants. "The best way to know if you're great is to see if someone else will pay for it," he says.

 

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