IT careers: Should you be an SVP?

These days, some tech leaders are sporting more than one title on their business card. We explore the ins and outs of adding a few letters after C-I-O.

reach for the stars

As IT continues to move out of its service silo and into the red-hot center of business, IT professionals are seeing new career paths open up. One glance at the business cards of folks at the top of the ladder tells the tale: More and more often, that CIO title isn't standing alone. It's CIO and vice president -- or senior vice president, executive vice president or even corporate vice president.

"IT is so important to the organization now, it's only natural that these multi-faceted titles are taking hold," says Matt Ripaldi, SVP at Modis, an IT staffing and recruiting firm. "Job titles are also getting more specific. Nowadays you'll see 'SVP of infrastructure' or 'CIO of global support.' This trend just shows the centrality of IT."

At most organizations, these dual titles aren't just window-dressing. Generally, they denote extra responsibilities, extra compensation and, most importantly, extra sway inside -- and outside -- the executive suite.

"The 'and' means a lot," says Jean Holley, Group SVP and CIO at Brambles, an international container logistics company. "When you have two titles and you're at the table, you're allowed to speak to things other than just IT. If you're 'just' the CIO, you're expected to speak to IT and that's about it."

Besides the personal benefits of adding VP to a job title -- things like a salary bump and added areas of oversight -- the ampersand on a business card helps establish rank inside and outside the organization.

Michael Reidenbach, EVP and worldwide CIO of EVO Payments International, a payment processing firm, was a pilot in the Air Force before heading into the private sector via an MBA in finance and a master's degree in computer science. He says he reads titles on a business card the way he used to read stripes on a uniform.

"In the military, you walk into a room and instantly compare shoulders. The pecking order is immediately established. In a civilian organization, titles can do the same thing -- establish who the decision-makers are," he says.

Like it or not, Reidenbach says, internal meetings have a different dynamic when decision-makers are in the room. "Ditto for third-party conversations. Vendors want to know who has the authority to write checks and sign contracts. Everybody wants to deal with the most senior person they can."

Climbing the SVP ladder

Growing into that senior person happens in a variety of ways. Some work towards and into a role that has a fixed and long-standing position in a company. For others, shifts in HR or C-suite thinking open up new titles.

Sam Chesterman, worldwide CIO and SVP at IPG Mediabrands, a global media holding company, has worked in IT in a variety of organizations, including Morgan Stanley.

At IPG, Chesterman rose from SVP and director of technology to CIO when his predecessor left and the company decided it was time to thin out and streamline what he calls "a crazy proliferation of titles" -- primarily "director" and other managerial titles -- caused by a series of mergers and acquisitions.

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