The 2014 Premier 100 IT Leaders: Reinventing themselves many times over
These 100 men and women have reset their career paths many times on their way to the top. Who needs a comfort zone?
February 24, 2014 06:30 AM ET
Computerworld - Editor's note: Each year, Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders awards program honors the best and brightest IT executives. This year's class of 100 men and women are on the move, transforming their careers regularly on the way to the top.
Explore the full package by viewing the listing of this year's honorees, along with their photos, predictions, cool projects and more. This year's class joins a fellowship of hundreds of Premier 100 alumni, each of whom has demonstrated exemplary leadership qualities throughout their careers.
To revitalize your own IT career, check out the best management advice from Computerworld's editors and learn more about the 15th annual Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference, which draws together these IT leaders, alumni and other top IT executives to network and exchange ideas.
John Marcante, managing director and CIO at Vanguard, says he knew virtually nothing about computer hardware when his CEO informed him he was being reassigned from a role he loved to a new job heading up the data center.
"He said, 'You're the right guy. You'll learn,'" says Marcante, who was leading an application development group at the time of his transfer. As it turned out, his accomplishments in the new job included overseeing the largest operating budget at the mutual funds company, while doubling its production infrastructure and cutting costs.
The first time Jim Stalder, CTO at Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas, set foot inside a hospital was for a CIO interview at a large medical center in downtown Baltimore. Previously, he was working as a business and product strategist for a successful Internet startup.
Stalder got the job. "But I have to say, it was very awkward on my first day," he says. "I had just come from a high-flying dot-com that had a successful IPO to healthcare IT, where the offices were literally in the basement next to the morgue."
David Behen, CIO for the state of Michigan, had a degree in history and Soviet studies when he moved from Washington, D.C., to the Kalamazoo area to take a municipal manager's job so he could be near his future wife. From there, he got his foot in the door of the county government in Ann Arbor and then moved through a series of positions in facilities operations, planning, environmental management and IT.
"I learned a lot of lessons in that period," Behen says. "One is never to turn away a good opportunity. I was asked to do a lot of different things and I didn't have the background to do some of them, but I had mentors -- people who had been there and done that and who could guide me. They said, 'You can do it.'"
Fearless Career Flight
Stories like these are common among the 2014 class of Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders. Every few years, most of these IT and business standouts have taken on new and often radically different challenges on their way to leadership roles. Not one has relied on a proscribed career map or corporate organizational chart to plot his or her course. Instead, leaps toward learning, a commitment to mastering relationships, and trust in influential and experienced mentors have been key drivers on their leadership journeys.
"Sometimes, it's about trusting other people," Marcante says. "I went and immersed myself in infrastructure and networks, and we doubled our production infrastructure and lowered operating costs in three years." After that, he went on to lead Vanguard's Six Sigma program, then moved again to manage Vanguard's high-net-worth business before moving back to IT.
"Never say no to an opportunity because you feel scared or under-ready or not ready. Take the leap, because you're going to learn a tremendous amount," says Marcante. "It's a personal philosophy that I try to pass on to other people."
Doreen Griffith, CIO at Securities America, built her career in big leaps. She started out as an intensive care nurse with "no inclination of going into business, let alone technology," she recalls. But after working as a nurse for a while, she discovered she wanted something different. She moved to the retail industry and from there to telecommunications and consulting. "I wasn't afraid to change companies and get out of my comfort zone. I learned very quickly that no job would be too difficult if I just take it one bite at a time and move on. That's how I've taken my entire career," she says.
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Easier the Second Time Around
Moving from a technical project management role to a client-facing account manager's job was one of the most gut-wrenching changes in Sukumar Rajagopal's professional life.
"I lost over 10 pounds and was almost a nervous wreck," says Rajagopal, who is Cognizant's CIO and head of innovation. "But I reinvented myself."
Since then, he has reinvented himself three more times, but minus the slimming side effects.
Instead, he turned to mentors for guidance, drew heavily on the unflinching support of his wife, joined Toastmasters and, last but not least, figured out how to manage other experts in key areas without being an expert in that area himself. "Transformative change management is now my forte," he says.
"When I became a client partner, I had to sell, I had to manage people and projects and make sure people were getting paid and take care of all of these operational things and budgets and forecasts," he recalls. "But I was trying to do it all myself and not trusting my staff to do most or all of it."
Looking back on his career so far, "I should have taken leadership and management more seriously earlier on in my career," he says. "But because I was an engineer, I didn't even consider it. I didn't have a favorable view of management, and that's putting it mildly. When you're an engineer and a really good programmer, you think managers are bozos. I didn't want to go from being an engineer to being a bozo."
Today, Rajagopal says he firmly believes that "leadership is a skill that can be learned and it's something you should start learning from day one."
— Julia King