What are the key qualities and attributes the CEO looks for in a CIO?


The answers may surprise you.  In this briefing we have captured these key qualities for you to review.  In addition we provide advice and a series of actions you can implement to improve your capabilities and position within the leadership circle.


To get the key CIO qualities CEOs are requiring, who better to ask than the executive recruiter that specializes in filling the CIO position? 


And that is exactly what we did.


We spoke with Beverly Lieberman from the specialty executive recruiting firm, Halbrecht Lieberman Associates, Inc. in Westport, CT.  Ms. Lieberman is one of the foremost experts on CIO search.   Halbrecht Lieberman Associates is a retained executive search firm specializing in the recruitment of senior-level executives for information technology, including the CIO, CTO and other key positions. 


Ms. Lieberman shares her insights with us and distills for us some of the behind the scenes conversations with some of the top business leaders of the Fortune 500.






Joe Murphy:  What are the most important characteristics you are being asked to recruit for by the CEO to fill the CIO office?




Beverly Lieberman: I need to put my answer in context.  I work with some of the largest companies – primarily the Fortune 500.  In many cases it’s not just the CEO that I meet with to fill the CIO position, but it may also be the President or the Chief Operating Officer.  This is especially important where the CIO does not report to the CEO.  But in almost all cases the CIO position I am recruiting for will be involved in the strategic decisions of the company.  The CIO is expected to become part of the regular company strategy meetings where the CEO, CFO, COO and other top executives meet to discuss strategy and the future of the company.


The answer to the question is - bar none is Leadership.  Leadership is the number one attribute being asked for.  Leadership outweighs everything else. 


Leadership is the consistent professional quality to perform a number of things.  First leadership is the ability to set a vision for information technology and the ability to get everyone moving in the same direction and rally around the cause.  And it is rallying around the cause that business has laid out in order to drive revenue, cost reduction and profits.  But the cause is a business cause.


This means the CIO must be able to interact and bond with his or her peers.  He or she must become a “trusted advisor” to the top executives. The CEO must feel as comfortable around the CIO as he or she feels around the CFO.


You know you have made “trusted advisor” if you (the CIO) are a regular part of the strategy meetings.  A good example of this is being part of the strategy discussion of a merger or acquisition.  That is, the CIO is part of the preliminary internal discussions and debates. You, as the CIO, don’t want to be asked, “Will the technology fit?” after the decision has been already made.   The CIO and the technology shouldn’t be an afterthought.




Joe Murphy:  Has the CIO’s office become less about technology and more about the business?




Beverly Lieberman: No.  The CIO still needs to be a technologist.


Joe Murphy: Now, I admit, that is a little bit of a surprise to me Beverly.  It’s sort of paradoxical – the focus on leadership, yet not letting go of the technology. 


Beverly Lieberman: The CIO is not expected to be geeky.  The CIO must be business driven but have a grasp of the risks and pitfalls of new technologies and technology trends.  The CIO does not have to be “up” on the in-depth details of the technology. 


But he or she had better be able to say “yes” or “no” on what will work and what won’t work when the President of Sales asks whether they can implement something in order to meet the expectations and needs of their customer base in the company’s quarterly strategy meeting.  The CIO must be able to answer the question, “Will this work technically?” If he can’t, he may not meet expectations at business strategy meetings.


The CIO must also be able to speak to the risks and potential problems of the new venture – clearly and accurately in language that laymen can understand. For this reason the CIO cannot delegate all technology to the CTO.


The CIO should know and understand the major vendor product offerings and how they will affect the firm’s business, but also that of their competitors and their industry in general.


The CIO may think that she can dismiss the vendor’s briefings, but they are missing an opportunity to get updated on the pros and cons of the technology.  The CIO must be able to translate the technology advancements to business opportunities.  And be able to speak the language of ROI, TCO?? (What is TCO?) and so on.  Those who can’t will be CTO’s and Chief Architects.



For this reason a lot of today’s CIOs have MBAs or Executive MBAs – so they are able to speak the language of business.  They may have quantitative undergraduate degrees like Math or Computer Sciences and some come with Liberal Arts degrees.  But many CIO candidates being recruited have this advanced degree.


Joe Murphy:  If you were a CIO today or had the desire to become a CIO, what things would you do to improve your position?






Beverly Lieberman:  People in the information technology organization need to find customer facing positions.  By this I mean they need to be business facing and look for positions that interact with the business divisions and/or with end user customers.  They need to move away from internal facing roles such as telecom, PC LAN positions, infrastructure roles, etc.


They need to look for project responsibilities especially around customer applications such as WEB applications, and Customer Relationship Management implementations.


They should look at becoming part of a PMO (Program Management Office) where they are able to interact with the business people and translate their requirements into technology solutions. 


CIOs and people who desire to move up have a rare opportunity to see how the business works.  


Related to this, the CIO ought to go out on customer visits to listen first hand to the problem the customer is having and determine how the technology may be the cause of the problem or how the technology may be able to solve a problem. 


By doing this, the people on the business side will say, “Hey these guys are really trying to help us.”  And this will build a bridge between the organizations and a bond.  But this approach needs to be genuine. 


There is nothing like being on the front line in front of the customer and with the sales force.


Another thing the CIO ought to do is take the CFO to lunch.  Everyone says they don’t have time but the CIO needs to make the time.  The CIO and the IT organization need to see itself as the vendor to the business.  And by taking to the CFO to lunch, you can begin to get a relationship built with a very influential person.


The CIO needs to be proactive - especially when something is not going well.  For example at lunch the CIO should give the CFO a “heads up” on an issue that may affect his organization.  The CIO ought to do that with all his “customers”.



The CIO should read business journals and periodicals such as; Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Harvard Business Review, and the New York Times.  This will give her something to talk to the CFO and other business heads something to talk about.  The CIO should go to Amazon.com, look up the top 10 business books – and read one a month.  No one ever has the time – but those who want to move up to the CIO’s office and those who want to stay in it – need to find the time.


Joe Murphy:  I agree Beverly.  I see too many people staying where they feel comfortable and they become stuck.  They don’t read much and therefore wind up not having much to contribute at key meetings.  They become stale.







Beverly Lieberman:  CIOs also need to keep abreast of technology issues, trends and developments.  Research firms like Gartner and Meta provide good research material that the CIO can take advantage of.  The CIO ought to be talking to and reading their materials on a regular basis. 


The CIO ought to consider hiring an executive coach as a way to hone skills and for self- improvement.  Many companies will pay for coaches today.  Good executive coaches go for $200 to $400 an hour.  Even if they have to pay for a coach out of their own pocket and meet with them once a week – the benefits can be tremendous.  Listen, even Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the world has a coach.  Having a coach is not a sign of weakness; it’s something that is necessary in today’s business environment.




Joe Murphy:  So, what you are saying is that there are specific things the CIO and those who desire to become CIO, should start doing right now in order to serve their customer better?





Beverly Lieberman:  Yes.  It’s all about serving their customers.  And that’s how they need to view the business – as customers.  And they need to become better if they are going to serve their customers better.



Joe Murphy:  Great points.  So if I can sum up the key points I heard – they are:




·        The CIO needs to become and seen as a “trusted advisor”.

·        The CEO needs to feel as “comfortable” with the CIO as he or she feels with CFO.  The CFO is able to speak the CEO’s language.  This is a critical comparison a CIO could take away from this interview.

·        The CIO needs to speak the language of business – ROI, TCO ??(What is TCO?)understand how the business operates and what contributes to revenue growth and what hurts it – but still know the technology and how it is applied or can’t be applied. They need to understand the risks and problems when asked by the business on some new strategy, like entering into a new market or acquiring a new company.

·        The CIO needs to build a bridge with the CFO and other business users – and actually see these users as customers and he and his organization as their vendor.

·        The CIO needs to get out in front lines – in the trenches so to speak with the sales people – and in front of the customers.

·        The people who want to make themselves more valuable and have the desire to move up into the CIO slot one day need to take forward positions – interacting with the business users – and moving from back office type positions such as infrastructure support roles.

·        The CIO needs to reengineer himself – by reading, taking classes – getting an MBA if he doesn’t have one, attending conferences etc.

·        And last – be the consistent, consummate professional – develop the leadership qualities that is required to be in the executive suite today.


Beverly Lieberman: That sums it up.  I appreciate the opportunity to speak with your clients.  I hope this helps them in their careers.




A quick note:  Many of these points go unheeded.  Take the time to begin implementing them.  When you walk into the office tomorrow, do the following:


·        Go to marketing and set up a presentation – for you alone first and then set up one for your top staff. 

·        Next schedule time on the road with the business division heads when they go meet with customers.

·        Next, call the CFO up for lunch later that week.  By the time you’re done it’ll only be 9AM.  


I can tell you first hand CEOs and business executives that I speak to want CIOs who can apply the technology to the big picture.  A recommendation that I would add here to Beverly’s great points, is to surround yourself with great people. If you don’t have good people – you need to go out and find them – and hire them. As we all know, people can make or break a career and an organization.




For more information go to Sapient.com or www.hlassoc.com