Should CIOs become CEOs?

by Ivor Soans    Jul 06, 2006 events have acquired a well-deserved reputation for excellence when it comes to meeting the needs of Enterprise IT Leaders, and perhaps none illustrated this more than CIOEvolution, which took place last week in Mumbai and this week in Delhi. CIOEvolution dealt with the evolution of the Enterprise IT Leader role and we tried to figure out just where the role was headed, how Enterprise IT Leaders could chart their career paths and we also grappled with the question–Can a CIO become a CEO–and if so, what was the roadmap?

But, this isn’t about us blowing our own trumpets; rather I’d like to discuss a view that I heard amongst some Enterprise IT Leaders both in Mumbai and Delhi. While the vast majority was obviously there because they wanted to move up the corporate ladder, a few were asking, “Should CIOs aim to become CEOs?”

Now, whether or not organizations and the Boards of Directors want their Enterprise IT Leaders to become CEOs is another matter; this is about the Enterprise IT Leaders themselves–do they want to become CEOs?

On the face of it, some might say the ‘Should CIOs aim to become CEOs’ question arises from a lack of ambition. Perhaps such folks don’t want to move up in life, make more money, enjoy greater power, and so on and so forth. Sure, the power and image issue is a no-brainer. The CEO is definitely more powerful than the CIO, and is far more in the limelight, both inside and outside the organization.

Even so in money, despite the fact that in quite a few organizations today, the CEO isn’t the highest paid employee. But then, even if the CEO isn’t the highest paid employee, the stock options and other perks more than bridge the gap.

Is it about a lack of people skills? Some Enterprise IT Leaders are not people-friendly (outside their own teams, that is) and loners who don’t like meeting, talking and dealing with people won’t make for great CEOs. It also could be conditioning–very few Enterprise IT Leaders have become CEOs and so, perhaps quite a few don’t really believe they can become CEO and some even prefer working under someone and playing the co-pilot rolerather than take charge of the organization.

However, the ground reality is that the Enterprise IT Leader role is fast changing and India may not be an exception. In developed economies, many experts are already predicting an end to the ‘CIO’ role as we know it today–as outsourcing and other issues results in CIOs either becoming service delivery leaders or business strategy leaders. Many Indian Enterprise IT Leaders are no longer techies and today sit high within the organization–on the management committee for instance. That’s because IT is at the heart of many businesses today and provides competitive advantage. In the light of this, does it make sense to ask whether a CIO should aim to become CEO?