"I would always look at the business first and the technology second," says Mike Benson, who until this spring had been the executive vice president and CIO of DirecTV (which was acquired by AT&T Entertainment Group in 2015).
Benson, 60, says that mindset was just the start of what it took to succeed. He says he needed to learn about operations, understand the industries in which he worked and figure out how he could help external customers. He had to forge relationships with his peers and build strong teams.
Those aren't innate skills, nor are they anything revolutionary, he says. But they are necessary to see what needs to be done and to visualize what needs to be accomplished in the future.
Some gumption is necessary, too, Benson adds.
"CIOs have the view of the whole landscape within a company and can see where they can improve and they should suggest ways to improve. They should have the courage and the willingness to take risks," he says.
It's not surprising, then, that this year's Hall of Fame inductees also speak about needing an entrepreneurial spirit in order to pivot as technologies evolve, markets change and the CIO job shifts.
"If there was anything consistent throughout my career, it was that I always thought of myself as an entrepreneur," says Suresh Kumar, CIO and senior executive vice president of BNY Mellon and CEO of iNautix (part of BNY Mellon's Client Technology Solutions unit). "I always thought, 'If I was CEO of this business, what would I do and why?' And then the second question I would ask is how technology could make an impact on the business."
Kumar, 58, says that CIOs are required to understand a host of business and management practices -- from how the business makes money to how the customer's digital experience drives revenue. But even as he mastered those concepts, he says he still went back to the entrepreneurial perspective by thinking like a startup CEO.
"You have to have an attitude that you can build it from the ground up, and if you want to lead, you have to be able to do that," he says, explaining that successful entrepreneurs -- and successful CIOs -- see how to leverage technologies in new ways to get a competitive advantage and then know how to execute on that vision.
Although Kumar and the other inductees emphasize being business leaders first, they don't discount the importance of also being technologists.
No substitute for tech chops
Stephen J. Gold, 57, CIO and executive vice president of business and technology operations at CVS Health, says it's still critical for IT leaders to be technologists.
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