How John Boushy, one of the first great CIOs, became CEO of Ameristar Casino after leading IT at Harrah’s.
John Boushy was one of the first truly strategic chief information officers in corporate America. At a time when most CIOs were leaders of support organizations that were more akin to order takers than proactive thinkers on behalf of the companies they served, Boushy was developing ideas that would help propel Harrah’s Entertainment to new heights in the casino gaming industry.
As Boushy highlights in my interview with him below, he took a different approach to the CIO role because he had held positions in a wide array of areas, not only in IT. He was the right hand-man to a CEO at a young age, had leadership positions in Marketing and Operations, and had profit and loss responsibility all prior to become CIO. Given the extraordinary reputation he earned at Harrah’s Entertainment is not surprising that he went on to become CEO of Ameristar Casinos. Here’s how he did it.
(The “Beyond CIO” series kicked off with this article, and the all past interviews in the series can be found here. If you are interested in future articles in the series with executives from companies like Symantec and Aetna, among others, please return to the Technovation column in the coming weeks.)
Peter High: John, even before you were a CIO you had held positions in various functions within the companies that you worked. Why did it occur to you take a non-traditional path, climbing multiple ladders rather than a single one?
John Boushy: I was fortunate that I worked for companies that had a “promote-from-within” culture. There are many advantages to such a culture: leaders take succession planning and career planning seriously; evaluations have real meaning, and there is a give and take between what the company expects of you, and what you hope to do; you are exposed to a broader set of opportunities than at companies that have a tendency to hire solely on past functional experience or from outside the company.
I was naturally curious and enjoyed a challenge, learning about different parts of our business, and thinking about how the function I was previously in could better interact with the one I was now in. I became a “bridge builder” or integrator of sorts.
I had spent the early stages of my career in IT for the first five years, and a major turning point for me was at Holiday Corporation when the CEO at the time, Mike Rose posted an executive assistant position. The role supported the CEO through analysis, special projects, and communication while allowing the person to see the world through the CEO’s eyes, to be present and involved when making key decisions. 37 people applied, and I was fortunate to have been chosen. That opened up a whole new world for me, and it really gave me special insights into growth strategy development, board governance, the importance of talent and how value is created. Three of Mike’s executive assistants went on to become CEO’s.
Early in this role, I realized that at the end of my tenure, one of the leaders that I interacted with on a daily basis would need to hire me. That taught me to develop communication and influencing skills, rather than rely on the implied power that comes from a position close to the CEO.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- Who did hire you? What was your next role?
- As hot as the topic of the collaboration between CIOs and CMOs is today, this was really prescient. You were ahead of your time. If I recall correctly, for a time, you continued in your Marketing role when you first became CIO, is that right?
- How did you transition to CIO responsibilities alone?
- Your next stop was as Chief Integration Officer of Harrah’s in 2004. This was a new role created based on the need to integrate the largest merger in the history of the industry: the combination of Harrah’s and Caesars. How did you and your colleagues determine that that was the right next step?
- After the conclusion of the Harrah’s/Caesars integration, you left to join a competitor, Ameristar Casinos, as president. Due to a tragic death of the CEO, you reached the pinnacle of the company, as you were asked to take on CEO responsibilities. Please walk through that experience.
- Do you think that others will follow in your footsteps from CIO to CEO?