Graceful exits from IT: Why CIOs decide to move on

What do you do after reaching the pinnacle of IT management? If you're like these CIOs, you leave. Here's where they went, and why.

Great CIOs and IT executives help drive their companies by being agile, innovative managers. They nurture their employees, build talented teams and foster creativity in their people. They try new things. They lead by example.

And then they leave.

Or some do, at least. The CIO role has always been volatile, but above and beyond the normal movement in the industry, the past several years have seen an uptick in anecdotal reports of talented and visionary CIOs leaving their posts. Some head up the corporate ladder to even higher positions or move out of the IT department to take jobs in business units. Others strike out on their own, perhaps pursuing careers as consultants or Web entrepreneurs.

Several CIOs who have made such choices are past honorees in Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders program, which indicates that they're seasoned IT professionals with solid management skills. Since such talented people are forgoing long-term careers as CIOs, it's fair to ask: Do these departures represent a natural progression in the careers of accomplished executives, or do they say something troubling about the working environment of enterprise IT? There may be clues in these stories of six IT professionals who left jobs as CIOs.

From IT to Operations

"There are different types of CIOs," says Bryan J. Timm. "I'm the type who wants to be an enabler of the business, so personally I needed to move into an operations role."

Timm, 45, is currently chief operating officer at Los Angeles-based fashion company Halston. He came to Halston from another fashion company, Vernon, Calif.-based BCBG Max Azria Group, where he was CIO from 2008 to 2011. Before that, he was CIO at Guess.

"In all my IT roles, I was always pushing the idea that IT could make things better, but often that message fell on deaf ears. By moving into an operations role, there was a bigger chance of being able to make that happen," Timm says.

When he joined Halston, he got such chances in his new role as COO. "We are relaunching a contemporary women's apparel brand," he explains. "I'm able to make every single operational decision" -- from choosing a third-party logistics provider to deciding what mobile platform to standardize on -- "without needing to consider inherited decisions from prior management. It's a neat opportunity to leverage IT from scratch and make things as efficient as possible."

Tapping his prior tech experience, Timm made the decision out of the gate to outsource maintenance and systems development. "We need to be experts in designing and delivering beautiful garments, not making sure that EDI processed successfully last night."

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