As Managing Director of executive search firm Korn/Ferry’s North American IT officers practice, Mark Polansky has unique insight into what it takes to rise to, and beyond, CIO.
The Beyond CIO series has featured 11 executives to date who have made the leap from CIO to larger roles in major corporations from Hewlett-Packard to T.D. Ameritrade to Marsh & McLennan to Fifth Third Bancorp to Schneider National, to name just a few. I recently had a chance to speak with Mark Polansky about this topic to get a different point-of-view on this trend. Polansky is the Managing Director of Korn/Ferry’s North America Information Technology Officers practice, and has been involved in search for over 25 years. He has placed many of the best CIOs of the past three decades. As such, I was curious if he saw the trend of CIOs advancing “beyond” as a trend that would pick up steam, and what he saw as the differentiating factors for those who have succeeded with such opportunities.
(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: Mark, you have been placing CIOs for a long time, and have among the largest CIO networks in the world. How has the role changed in recent years in your estimation?
Mark Polansky: I’m pleased to say that it has become a more essential role. It used to be that CEOs did not know enough about technology to even ask the right questions about the role. As I would probe what kind of leader they wanted, all too often it was a list of things they did not want, often a description of the CIO they just fired, rather than what they did want.
Among the searches that I am involved in now, more often than not, the CIO will be a report of the CEO. This is a sea change that ensures that the CIO will receive information about corporate plans and strategy unfiltered. When a CIO reports to the CFO, which was for a long time the most prominent reporting relationship, and is now number two, there was a translation that was necessary, as the CFO needed to convey the CEO’s vision to the CIO. Some CFOs can effectively do so, but many cannot. Of course, a number of CIOs have thrived in these scenarios because they are natural networkers, who will find the information they need by building relationships with all members of the c-suite, whether these are reporting relationships or not.
As generation X inherits the earth, and people who have a much more fundamental appreciation of IT become CEOs, I believe that even more CIOs will report directly to CEOs. In fact, many more of those CIOs will become CEOs.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- As you have seen CIOs grow beyond that role to other roles, what are some of the common denominators among those leaders?
- I know that one of your hot-buttons is the illusion that CIO tenure is short, and that the title may as well stand for “career is over.” You are in a position to counter that notion, and I know that it is the longer tenure that is enabling CIOs to add a “plus” set of responsibilities and to rise “beyond.” Talk a bit about your insights.
- Building strong teams to ensure that IT is in good hands as you move beyond is critical. What insights do you have there?
- What other aspects are limiting factors for CIOs to move “beyond”?