Secrets to CIO longevity

Howard Baldwin

Does it ever seem like the position of CIO is just part of a big game of musical chairs? One day, somebody's in, his vision and experience heralded. The next day, he's out, "pursuing other projects." The game is especially insidious because the stakes are high in IT -- system deployments tend to be in place for a long time and, as one recruiter noted, it takes a while to change a ship's course.

Too often, CIOs work to put new strategies in place and then aren't around long enough to see the fruits of their labors. In a November 2013 survey of 484 CIOs and IT executives, the Society for Information Management reported that the average CIO tenure was 5.2 years in 2013, down from 5.96 in 2012, but up from 4.45 in 2011.

So what's life like -- for the individual and the company -- when a CIO stays around for a longer period of time? What does it take to be a long-term CIO? What are the drawbacks? We talked to CIOs whose tenures range from seven to 25 years, and to some of their co-workers, to understand what's behind that kind of stability. The answer seems to lie in three key characteristics.

1. Consistency
Longtime CIOs develop an understanding of the business and gain an innate sense of which technologies will help it move forward. That understanding often leads them to take a consistent approach to the job.

"If someone has been in a position for a long time, they know the business and its leaders inside and out," says Rona Borre, CEO of Chicago-based recruiting firm Instant Technology. "They know how to strategically execute within that environment, and that can be of huge value if they're trying to implement new strategies. It's also more likely that the company values their strategic vision and what they have to offer."

Paul Martine has been with Citrix since November of 1999. He started as senior director of consulting services at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based technology vendor and eventually became CIO and vice president of operations in January 2007. As a result, he understands the company's needs and the language it speaks.

"Because I've been here that long, I've gotten to know what was most important to the business users," he says. "As years go by, that means there's some consistency and efficiencies in our conversations."

His boss, COO and CFO David Henshall, says that consistency brings a clear value to Citrix. "We've grown quickly, like a lot of technology companies. We've acquired 35 companies since Paul has been CIO," he says. "With each of those acquisitions, Paul has become really good at driving everything from integrating systems infrastructure and product integration [to helping us] turn around and sell those new solutions. With that kind of experience, you become more efficient."

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