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.

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Today, instead of hiring someone into the role of senior director, he or she is hired as a VP, Chesterman says, which helps clarify the role out in the marketplace. "If you talk to an HR person they'll tell you that there are levels and titles," he says. "Levels have to do with determining pay grade. Titles have to do with the business card you hand to customers. They're the business-facing piece."

The multinational nature of a company can complicate that business-facing relationship. Outside of the United States, a title of "director" or "managing director" carries the clout that "SVP" carries in the U.S.

"When I sit in front of clients like KIA or Chrysler or Johnson & Johnson, they focus on the SVP or the CIO title," Chesterman says. "If it's Unilever in the UK, they want to see you have director in your title. Still, I don't typically put SVP on my business card -- worldwide CIO is a multinational title and carries that weight."

Michael Pitt started in the 1980s as a system programmer on mainframes, moved to application programming and then to project management. With each step, he felt respect for his skills grow. He moved to a new company, where he became a senior principal; at his next job, he was VP of IT solutions and services. Today, he's director of consulting and VP at CGI Federal, the U.S.-based arm of CGI Group, a Canadian IT consulting and outsourcing giant.

"My own path was pretty straight, but I've known people go from a large company to a smaller company to take a better title, then move from a smaller company to a medium or larger company in order to take on more responsibilities," Pitt says. "These are tradeoffs that make sense."

CGI tried to recruit Pitt for nine years, he says. He finally decided to take the company's offer to become VP this July. He took the job for the usual reasons -- broader benefits, better compensation and a better retirement plan -- but the biggest lure was the career growth potential inherent in taking on responsibility for a larger P&L. "I'm a VP reporting to an SVP who reports to the CEO," Pitt says. "If my next move is CIO somewhere, this will put me in a good light."

Dual track career planning

When it comes to career planning, Brambles' Jean Holley has always taken the long view. As a pioneer among women in IT and engineering, she set out 30 years ago to build a career that would advance along a dual track.

"When I went into engineering, I made it a goal of mine to hang out with non-engineers and to learn from everyone I could on the business side," Holley says. "People looked at me cross-eyed. I recognized that I wanted to run an overarching information systems organization, and that that was really a business leader's job. It was pretty 'out there' at the time. Plus I was a woman."

Holley progressed from a job in the steel industry to one in high tech consulting, then went on to a nine-year stint at Waste Management Inc. From there, she became the CIO for USG Corp., a big construction materials company, becoming its first corporate CIO and first woman to be an officer of the company. In her last four positions, she's held dual titles that included EVP, SVP and Group SVP.

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