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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.

For example, he says his initial efforts at setting strategy fell short. As a CIO, he defined strategy for his own area and helped shape strategy for the company. But as a CEO, he realized right away that "strategy was mine and mine alone."

Soon after taking over Mastech, he and the board changed how profit-and-loss was managed and eliminated two executive leadership jobs, among other changes. He and the board also developed a three-year plan for growth that de-emphasized acquisitions and focused on "organic" growth, such as improving recruitment. Sales increased 14 percent in his first year.

"I didn't worry whether I was 100 percent right, just directionally right," Horner says. "I made changes and got on with it. Doesn't mean everything we did in the first 18 months has been right."

The constitution to deal with risk—and to make decisions without all, or sometimes even most, of the facts—helps make a CEO effective, says Boushy, who is now a consultant. Lacking those traits will hold a CIO back, he says.

Horner ran IT as a services business at Alcoa, which helped prepare him for the nuances of measuring employee and customer satisfaction as a CEO. But, he says, he soon realized that as exacting as he was at Alcoa, it wasn't "real P&L with real customers." It was important to please Alcoa's internal customers and to price IT services competitively. But his customers were essentially captive, he says. "They could go somewhere else, but what was the likelihood?"

Now his customers can easily switch IT staffing companies if they're unhappy with Mastech, he says, which he is acutely aware of every day.

Other advice from Horner: CIOs should delegate as much day-to-day duty as possible so they can spend time with customers, both internal and external. He estimates he spent 8 percent to 10 percent of his time with internal customers, but that should have been at least 30 percent. "I would have known a lot more about what problems they were trying to solve."

Even when CIOs visit external customers, they don't have the same experience a CEO does when he's there, says Lofgren at Schneider National. "When you go as CIO, they appreciate the fact you're there," he says. "But a customer who is unhappy won't push it as hard as they do to the CEO." CIOs should try to see customers on a trip with the big boss and listen closely to those conversations, he says.

Overall, Horner is happy as a CEO and is satisfied with his performance. Jumping in, he knew he'd have some learning to do. But he describes himself as someone who takes charge when tasks need to be done. He doesn't stand still, waiting for direction.

 

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