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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.

Before all that, however, in 1999 he cofounded a company that made supply-chain systems for fuel retailers—an experience that seared powerful lessons about decision making into his brain, he says. Each day was vital to ensuring the company would be alive the next. "When it's you and a handful of guys at a card table, you very quickly get strategy."

The nature of the decisions made by a president or CEO differs from those made by a CIO, he says. For example, in May, Mansfield acquired part of a fuel transportation company in Chicago in a deal that means an extra $1 billion in annual revenue. The company's CIO worked during the due diligence phase to figure out the costs of supporting more employees, combining remote offices and serving new customers.

In contrast, as president, Haugh worked with the CEO and other top executives to decide the larger question of whether to do the deal at all. Would the company gain new competitive capabilities? How valuable were they? Could it retain inherited customers and employees? Was it the best way to spend Mansfield's time and money?

Haugh advises CIOs to get exposure to how choices are made by running a division, advising a startup or serving on an external board. Such experiences teach banking, investing, marketing and human resources skills. "Even if it's small-scale, it's so valuable," he says.

Personally, the skill he works on most as president is effective storytelling and motivating others. A leader cannot repeat his message too often, he says. "It might be the eleventh time you say it that a person gets it." He uses casual one-on-one encounters, large forums, email and various other methods to talk to his team. "They have to decide [whether] to support your mission or not with every decision they make."

You're CEO. Now What?

Kevin Horner never intended to be a CEO. He was in Florida with his wife in September 2011, just before retiring from Alcoa after 30 years. He was weighing a couple of manufacturing CIO positions when he got a call from a director at Mastech, where Horner was also on the board. The CEO left "unexpectedly," Horner says, and the board needed to find a replacement. As a board member, he helped with the search in the following weeks, with no success.

Then his fellow board members asked, What about you? "I'm probably the only CEO who got it without [submitting] a resume," he says.

The IT spending of up to $500 million a year that Horner oversaw at Alcoa is almost five times Mastech's total 2012 revenue of $102 million. Horner may be at a much smaller company, but his professional growth has been huge. "I wasn't scared, but it was maybe a little humbling."


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