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How a CIO can save an incompetent CEO

Rob Enderle | April 22, 2013
When a bad CEO goes down, the CIO often goes down with him.

This is the last in a three-part series that began with the seven habits of highly successful CEOs and continued with the seven ways to could get CEOs fired. I'll end by talking about how the CIO can take an otherwise failing CEO and help him flourish.

Now, you might ask why you'd want to do this. CIOs have a relatively short half-life. According to Gartner, which talk to a lot of CIOs, it's about three years. (This means about half have a shorter career and half have a longer job stint.) CMOs, generally thought to have one of the highest turnover rates in the industry, actually average a much better 43 months, according to Forbes.

What's interesting is that, back in 2007, CFOs had a 28-month average, while CIOs were at about 53 months. Now it appears that CFO turnover is declining, while CIO turnover is going the other direction. I can't help but think that CFOs are pushing a lot of CIOs under the bus as they making changes when new CEOs come in, and there is a lot of CEO churn these days.

It appears, anecdotally, that the longevity of the CIO may be relatively closely tied to the longevity of both the CEO and CFO. It also seems that CFOs have been getting better at protecting their butts, while CIOs have gotten worse. In short, it's likely in both the CFO's and CIO's best interests that the CEO isn't replaced-but the CIO is better able to assure this than the CFO is.

I'm not picking on CEOs, by the way. It's just that almost none of them are trained for the job, and they generally land in it with inadequate support, surrounded by former peers who lost out the CEO job. They need all the help they can get.

How Data Analytics Can Protect the CEO

The CIO is arguably the most critical resource for a CEO. The COO lacks the tools to save the CEO. The CFO can assure that no big financial mistakes take out the CEO, but he can't keep a CEO who isn't competent from appearing incompetent. The vice president of sales will likely brutalize the CEO, and, with the possible exception of Hewlett-Packard, heads of human resources are generally underfunded and overwhelmed and don't have the bandwidth.

CIOs, however, can implement programs that capture data both from internal and external operations. If they focus on drilling through the misinformation that typically surrounds an unsuccessful CEO, they are uniquely suited to save the CEO's butt.

There are three things the CEO needs to better prepare for: Financial analysts, board meetings and to decision-making. She need to know what's going on internally-issues with internal company performance, for example-before these problems adversely impact revenues. (For instance, it's been suggested that the recent firing of J.C. Penney CEO Rob Johnson was likely the result of deep staff cuts that crippled performance). Tracey Keogh, a Harvard alumna and, now, executive vice president of HR at HP, is the IT executive doing thus job better than anyone else right now.


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