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The Grill: Guess CIO Michael Relich takes on his dream job: COO

Mary K. Pratt | Dec. 17, 2013
This IT leader took the road less traveled to his dream job: chief operating officer.

Is that the CIO's fault? It depends. You have two [types of] CIOs. You have some guys who are tech heads — they love the technology. They're going to use acronyms that confuse business people, and they're the last guys to get called into meetings. And you have CIOs who are more business-oriented. If you're more technically oriented, you need to change or become extinct.

So what makes a strong IT leader today? It's somebody who has a very good grasp of business, who understands the business problems, who makes partnerships with their team, with their colleagues, and who is also able to build a good team to actually implement their vision.

How did you handle the transition to COO? I met with all of the business leaders, and because I had worked here so long, I had the relationships and that helped. I was able to sit down and speak with them and find out what their pain points and challenges were. And the reception I got was pretty good. It was, "You understand my problems."

Half the challenge is to say you really understand what the problems are, and the second half was to put together a road map on how to deal with their challenges.

Did you make any missteps that you'd advise others to try to avoid? I've only been in this job two months, so there haven't been any huge missteps. But being in IT, you have to get into detail, there's no way around it. Sometimes, I think, in the COO role you have to be a little more broad. [You have] to keep it at a higher level. And in projects in IT, you're dealing with one area. But in the COO job there's so much that has to be dealt with at one time, so prioritizing of time is a little bit of a challenge.

The CIO's role has evolved to include more business responsibilities, and other executive positions include technology responsibilities. So what does the future of the CIO role look like? I've been in other companies where you have people in management who fancy themselves as technologists, and they're the ones bringing the technology and the solutions into the company and the CIO is more of an executor — he's not developing strategy. I hated that.

If you're going to bring in, [for example], 10 solutions with 10 databases, you're going to end up with problems. Business people can't always see that. And as CIO, you end up getting blamed for the problems. CIOs get fired for that.

On the other hand, you have CIOs who are very business-savvy and understand the problems and go off and solve them in the best way. Here at this company, no technology happens until IT is involved, and all deals are negotiated by IT. I'm pretty adamant that IT needs to own this because there's this whole architecture component and cost component. At the end of the day, someone has to make sure everything under the hood works. That's why we have technology specialists.


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