3 secrets to CIO longevity

sequoia by derek kendzor ccbysa3
Credit: Derek Kendzor

Most CIOs stay in their positions only about five years, but others manage to stick around longer. Here's a look at what it takes to remain effective when you hunker down in one place.

Does it ever seem like the position of CIO is just part of a big game of musical chairs? One day, somebody's in, his vision and experience heralded. The next day, he's out, "pursuing other projects." The game is especially insidious because the stakes are high in IT -- system deployments tend to be in place for a long time and, as one recruiter noted, it takes a while to change a ship's course.

Too often, CIOs work to put new strategies in place and then aren't around long enough to see the fruits of their labors. In a November 2013 survey of 484 CIOs and IT executives, the Society for Information Management reported that the average CIO tenure was 5.2 years in 2013, down from 5.96 in 2012, but up from 4.45 in 2011.

So what's life like -- for the individual and the company -- when a CIO stays around for a longer period of time? What does it take to be a long-term CIO? What are the drawbacks? We talked to CIOs whose tenures range from seven to 25 years, and to some of their co-workers, to understand what's behind that kind of stability. The answer seems to lie in three key characteristics.

1. Consistency

Longtime CIOs develop an understanding of the business and gain an innate sense of which technologies will help it move forward. That understanding often leads them to take a consistent approach to the job.

"If someone has been in a position for a long time, they know the business and its leaders inside and out," says Rona Borre, CEO of Chicago-based recruiting firm Instant Technology. "They know how to strategically execute within that environment, and that can be of huge value if they're trying to implement new strategies. It's also more likely that the company values their strategic vision and what they have to offer."

Paul Martine has been with Citrix since November of 1999. He started as senior director of consulting services at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based technology vendor and eventually became CIO and vice president of operations in January 2007. As a result, he understands the company's needs and the language it speaks.

"Because I've been here that long, I've gotten to know what was most important to the business users," he says. "As years go by, that means there's some consistency and efficiencies in our conversations."

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