Forbes Board-Level CIO Series: Introduction

March 03, 2014
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Why Your Company Should Consider Adding a CIO to the Board

by Peter High, published on


When you look up the boards of prominent companies, they are typically littered with CEOs of other businesses. The reasons are obvious. The experience of CEOs of other businesses are relevant, and the advice that they can offer is likely to be the kind that will help augment revenue and/or cut costs as appropriate because no executive in any company thinks as much about these considerations as do the CEOs. The roles that have been the breeding grounds of CEOs, namely CFOs, COOs, and business unit heads have also been board members for the same reasons.

One “c-level” role that has not done nearly as well historically in gaining access to boards is the chief information officer. It is not as though CIOs have not had the ambition to become board members. In fact, of the many CIOs that I advise, over half have articulated their desire to join the boards of companies to me. Historically, there are a variety of reasons why this has been a difficult goal for CIOs to achieve, including the following:

A lack of P&L experience
Historically, CIOs have managed cost-centers. The greatest value they could think to contribute to their companies was typically to develop technologies to reduce costs. As a result, CIOs have not thought enough about the broader mechanics of profit and loss. They have been distant from sources of new value to the corporation. These are often the topics of greatest interest to boards.

A lack of true operating experience
Unlike, say, a business unit head, CIOs have not run true businesses. Again, they have not had ample interaction with customers. In fact,<ahref=””> as I’ve mentioned previously, more often than not, if you hear a CIO mention “customers”, they will be speaking of internal users of IT – that is colleagues of theirs, highlighting the disconnect between what IT does on a day-to-day basis, and where the true value of a company is derived.

Narrowness of experience
Historically, IT leaders have grown up in IT departments, often from programmer up to the top of the division, without much time spent in other functions. As a result, their perspectives are limited to a single slice of the company.

The lack of CEOs who were once CIOs
As aforementioned, CEOs often come from the ranks of CFOs, COOs, and business unit heads of various kinds. CIOs have not traditionally been the breeding ground for CEOs. As a result, boards’ bias against including CIOs has been partially based on the fact that it is a function that they do not understand from having once led the function….

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