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CIOs Now the Oldest Member in the C-suite, Behind CEOs

Pressure on CIO led projects increases the need for longer tenured executives who can also serve as business partners.


There was a time when technology leaders were seen as geeks whose primary job was to keep the lights on. That’s changing in the last few years, with many organizations involving their CIOs to help shape long-term strategies. This is evident from a research by consulting firm Korn Ferry that shows the average age for CIOs across all industries is 55, which makes them the oldest in the C-suite, behind CEOs.

Korn Ferry, in its earlier report in 2016-17 revealed that CIOs were the second-youngest member of the C-suite (with an average age of 51). To become the second oldest in the C-suite is the 2019-20 report is a big jump.

What is the age implication to the role of CIOs? It reflects an increase in the experience needed, as well as their central position in C-suite dynamics, can help explain the rise in the age of the average CIO. In recent times, IT leaders are already poised to play a more strategic role in organizations – moving beyond support role – to create business value through technology-based initiatives.

Read more: How Today’s CIOs Can Turn Challenges into Opportunities

“Today’s CIOs are more strategic and central to the success of an organization,” said Craig Stephenson, senior client partner and managing director of the Korn Ferry North American Technology Officers Practice, in a statement.

“This is based on risk factors, size of budgets and reliance on the technology function at the enterprise level to enable business outcomes, data assets and customer engagement,” he added.

When it comes to broader goals within digital transformation strategy, more than half of organizations place the onus on CIOs rather than the C-suite as a whole. The study showed, the oldest CIOs are in the healthcare industry at an average age of 57, and the youngest average CIO age can be found in the consumer and technology industries at 54.

The average tenure for the CIO is 4.6 years, which closely aligns with the 2016 figures. CIOs in the energy sector have the longest average tenure at 5.3 years. The shortest-tenured CIOs are in the healthcare sector at an average of 3.9 years.

Pressure on CIO-led projects increases the need for longer tenured executives who can also serve as business partners. As A recent report by KPMG International shows the length of the average CIO tenure, which was once shorter than any other C-suite position, is now close to the average of most other executives and it slightly varies from industry to industry. The analyst firm mentions in the past, many companies wanted a CIO to come in as a change agent and then move on.

Now, organizations want CIOs to work within the existing culture to move everyone through digital transformation — a task that requires them to stay on the job longer than those past disruptive change agents. And CIOs are willing to stay put provided they have a job that enables them to drive digital transformation initiatives and not remain static.

“To be agents of change, they need to embrace change. Today’s ‘cloud-first’ and ‘mobile-first approaches are fundamentally changing the CIO’s job description, changing their role from that of simply a business support function to a business enabler and ultimately to a business driver,” said Vineet Bhardwaj, Head IT, Godrej Properties Limited.

“CIO will stand in the position of an indispensable master strategist, thus driving the entire business system,” he said.

At this juncture, the question that comes to mind is how CIOs can lead the cultural change given the complex interplay of culture, technology and leadership within an organization.

Moreover, the CIO cannot bring the cultural changes alone and needs an expert partner who will facilitate workforce planning to ensure that IT will have the talent and skills needed in today’s marketplace, mentioned the Korn Ferry report. In such a scenario, researchers note in a recent survey, “IT leaders should raise their skills, influence and align with the C-suite, as well as leverage technology to move the business innovation agenda forward.”


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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at