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CIOs boost their careers doing double duty

Julia King | Sept. 1, 2015
Many CIOs find it exhilarating to take on business functions outside of IT. But CIO-plus roles require a new mindset and trusted deputies.

But today, the challenges are both more numerous and more complex. CIOs with multiple titles and responsibilities need to juggle more priorities. The danger of getting spread too thin is very real. In fact, people in these diversified roles say one of their greatest challenges is to keep their focus on strategy and stay clear of the pull of day-to-day operations.

“That’s been the biggest transition--to really, really let go,” says Hackenson.

But at the same time, dual-role IT executives need to deeply immerse themselves in additional parts of the business where a whole new set of challenges lie in wait. Incumbent managers and staffers may resist the insertion of an outsider who didn’t grow up in that business function. CIO-plus executives also need to adapt their management and leadership styles to their broader, non-IT constituency.

Not all CIOs are up to these challenges. “Only an executive who is ambitious takes this on,” says High. “This is such a complex set of responsibilities. If they don’t have a desire for additional responsibilities, or haven’t been active enough to suggest that they could do it, it’s not likely that [expanded titles and duties] will be suggested to a passive CIO.”

AES’s Hackenson agrees, saying she doubts that her CEO would have asked her to take on her other roles if she wanted to simply remain in the CIO’s position.

The new energy solutions group she heads is a disruptive business in the 125-year-old, somewhat stodgy power industry. That’s likely the main reason she was assigned to lead the group. “I had been in other industries like telecom that went through transformations,” says Hackenson, a former CIO at Alcatel-Lucent and MCI Worldcom.

“What I do think is some CIOs are really great business people and management and boards are recognizing they can do more. But I think it’s the CIO who makes the choice,” she says.

Required: A Great Supporting Cast
Ironically, taking on greater responsibilities entails a good deal of letting go. There simply isn’t time for CIO-plus executives to micromanage things like vendor management or the operational efficiency of the data center.

Hackenson estimates that now she spends only 10 percent of her time on IT, and she says she appointed a deputy CIO, Hugo Vasquez, to handle the bulk of those IT responsibilities.

“It doesn’t feel good at first. Every time you move up the ladder, you have to let go, and yet you’re letting go of things that got you to that position,” Hackenson says.

Now, she adds, “I have very limited day-to-day activity in IT. Most days, I’m not even focused on it.”

The only way to successfully do that is to surround yourself with an extraordinary, high-performing team, Hackenson says.

 

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