Forbes The CIO’s First 100 Days Series: Martha Heller

March 17, 2014
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An Executive Recruiter’s Advice For The CIO’s First 100 Days

by Peter High, published on


Martha Heller is the President of Heller Search Associates, and the author of The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership. In addition to placing a number of high profile IT executives, she also writes about hers and many other placements for CIO magazine together with advice for chief information officers everywhere.  She has developed a strong personal brand, and has helped improve the personal brands of IT executives who have adopted some of her methods.

In light of this experience, I recently caught up with Martha to engage her on the topic of the CIO’s First 100 Days. Since she is often in touch with CIOs before they get their jobs, and then stays in touch as their tenures progress, she offers some interesting insights into how CIOs should prioritize their activities early in their tenures to ensure that executive recruiters are not called back in for a replacement soon thereafter.

(This is the eleventh article in the CIO’s First 100 Days series. To read prior interviews in the series with the CIOs of Intel, Caterpillar, J. Crew, and Johnson & Johnson to name a few, please visit this link.  To listen to a podcast interview I conducted with Martha Heller, please visit this link. To read future interviews in the series with the CIOs of AmerisourceBergen, Viacom, and Amtrak, please click the “Follow” link above.)

Peter High: Martha, as an executive recruiter, your client is the hiring manager to the CIO.  You learn about what the prior CIO did well, and, more often than not, what he or she did not do well. Of course, all of that is taken into consideration in finding the right candidate for the position. Let me begin by asking what thoughts you have about the reasons why CIOs typically fail, and have the factors evolved over the course of your career as a recruiter?

Martha Heller: CIOs fail because they have not managed to build credibility with their business peers. Technology is expensive; technology is complicated, and technology does not always work the way we want it to. When the inevitable happens, and people are not happy with their technology, it is the CIO who bears the brunt of all of that frustration.

Over the years, the situation has evolved, but not necessarily for the better. Years ago, the CIOs role was to make IT work operationally, and when it didn’t, they were held account able by their CEOs. Today, IT still needs to work operationally, but it also needs to innovate. CIOs need to keep IT efficient and secure, but they also need to deliver new technologies to drive new revenue and take the company into new markets.

While the demands on the CIO have evolved, the tools CIOs need to meet those demands have not changed. The CIOs who are successful, despite these competing demands, do one thing very well: They build solid relationships, developed through years of successful IT delivery, so that when technology sputters (as technology will do) they have the credibility to weather the storm.

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • Are there certain things that new CIOs do in their first 100 days to set themselves up for success?
  • Do you see any patterns in what they do in the first, second, and third months on the job?
  • How does this change for a candidate who is promoted internally versus one who is hired from the outside?
  • You are often called upon by those who you place to help them fill in gaps in their new leadership teams. Are there positions that tend to be the first that need to be filled in your mind?  The extent to which “it depends”, what are the factors that lead to the need to switch out IT leaders below the CIO?
  • Our discussion has focused a great deal on the steps the CIO might undertake. Do you find that certain companies are especially good at onboarding CIOs?

To read the full article, please visit

To explore the full collection of The CIO’s First 100 Days Series articles, please click here.

To explore the Technovation Column library, please click here.

To explore the recent CIO’s First 100 Days Series articles, please click here.

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