CIOs who serve on boards sharpen their business skills

Kim S. Nash

Likewise, the board's holistic view of risk management drove home important points. "When you have an explicit discussion as a board about things that could go wrong and [their] potential impact on the business, you think strategically indeed," he says. Managing risk has always been important to Avnet, he says, "but my board experience reinforces that sense of priority." Avnet has recently invested more in disaster recovery and cybersecurity partly as a result of his board experience, he says.

You're more likely to reap business benefits if the company whose board you're on mirrors your own company in certain ways, Yazdi says. For example, key issues for a utility company like Edison are supply chain and logistics. The same is true at Apria Healthcare, which provides home respiratory services. Also, both are in highly regulated industries. Yazdi had notable experience in operations and regulatory matters as Edison's CIO, but she gained insights into how a company in a very different industry handled such issues.

Hjelm says Kindred Healthcare is similar to Kroger in key ways: Both have a very large workforce and a keen interest in improving connections with consumers. He has observed how Kindred has managed an internal cost-savings project while Kroger, too, is running a similar initiative. He took away some tips on how to structure the team and communicate progress to the rest of the company.

Linda Goodspeed has honed a system for sharing ideas among the companies she's involved with. She is a director at AutoZone, Columbus McKinnon and American Electric Power, boards she also served during her long career as a CIO. For example, American Electric is a prime target for hacking and terrorism and, as a result, has some sophisticated enterprise risk management practices that it's willing to share.

When Goodspeed thought AutoZone or Columbus McKinnon might find the practices useful, she broached the topic with the utility. Then she sat in on a conference call while managers at the companies talked. She brokered the exchange but didn't lead it. Other times, she made sure to get written permission to share information. "Confidentiality is extremely important. I'm very careful," she says.

Board experience teaches new skills and offers opportunities to enhance talents a CIO might already have but doesn't often get to use as technology leader. Goodspeed, for example, kept her finance knowledge fresh because, on a board, you are immersed in the topic every meeting, she says.

"You talk about sales and growth and what worked and what happened." That's frontline experience translatable to your own company. You can contribute more intelligently and share more unique information than you might have otherwise. "You can participate in those discussions from a perspective other than IT," she says. "This assisted with my confidence."

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