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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.

Such a "leadership personality" is key to being a successful CEO, says Ernest von Simson, co-founder of advisory firm Ostriker von Simson, which runs the exclusive CIO Strategy Exchange. The catch is that some executives think they have it when they don't. Part of the trouble is that, generally, CIOs are internally focused, von Simson says. That is, they concentrate on how systems run, how technology is installed and how data is analyzed.

CEOs, though, "are about the future and the outside world," he says. That includes customers, yes, but also critical areas such as government, the economy and foreign relations. And they think ahead in terms of decades. Von Simson saw that capacity in Horner and told him so when he called for advice about the Mastech offer. "I told him to take it and don't look back."

Solitary Executive

Chris Lofgren has been looking back lately. Not with regret, but with a certain wistfulness and self-knowledge that comes from many years of experience. He has made a 20-year career at Schneider National, a privately held trucking and logistics company. He joined the logistics business in 1994 and rose to CIO in 1996. In 2000, he was named CEO of the logistics subsidiary, then COO of the whole company in 2001. The following year, he became CEO.

His progression was natural, Lofgren says, because a logistics company is built on technology. But he never intended to be CEO. When the son of the company's founder asked him to take the job, however, Lofgren agreed. He likes the breadth of issues he encounters as CEO, including building Wall Street relationships and the corporate chess of laying out a plan with complex interactions to be played out over time. Most satisfying, he says, is talent management, when he can open up opportunities for people to take on more responsibilities and advance in their careers.

These were all skills Lofgren improved with each of his professional stints.

But he misses being a CIO, "the most fun job in my career." He likes the cause-and-effect and immersing himself in technology and whatever's new. "You deliver something and the world changes," he says. As CIO, your impact "is not just measured in financials."

In the rough-and-tumble world of the CEO, sometimes things don't go the way you want. Last year, Ron Thieme was promoted from CIO to president and CEO of AIT Laboratories, a privately held medical test company, when company founder Michael Evans stepped down but remained chairman. Seven months later, however, Evans was back and Thieme had resigned. Thieme declines to talk about the details of the reversal. But he says that because he had approached the CIO job from a business viewpoint and was a motivational leader, he was well suited to being CEO.


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