Brian Shipman has been CIO at Heritage Auctions since September 2007. Prior to that, he spent eight years in charge of online operations at Dallas-based Heritage, which is the third-largest auction house in the world after Sotheby's and Christie's. Many of the people on Shipman's team have at least that much experience.
"When someone has been around for 10-plus years, their experience is invaluable. They know what they're talking about. They understand it," says Shipman's boss, COO Paul Minshull, pointing to an upcoming IT project in which Heritage is converting one of its old Visual Basic applications to a .Net application. "It'll take an experienced developer half the time to rewrite it as it would someone new. I'd cry if I thought I'd have to replace any of our team who's been here that long."
For CIOs to help their companies over a long period of time, they have to be deeply involved with business operations. That requires curiosity. "There's always something to learn," Shipman says. "You can't tell me someone knows everything about their job. If I can ask questions, and ask how I can help and learn, inevitably something rises to the top."
Minshull says that Shipman "has an unending natural curiosity for new ways of thinking, for growing our business." And that's important, he adds, because "whenever we're trying to improve our company, Brian finds new ways to look at things."
Shipman recalls that when he first started attending business meetings "people would say, 'This is a business meeting -- why's the IT guy here?' Now they say, 'This is a business meeting -- where's the IT guy?'"
Curiosity and longevity naturally intertwine, says Minshull. "What keeps someone engaged?" he asks. "It's the ability to always learn new things."
CIOs with a healthy sense of curiosity are often interested in what goes on beyond their own enterprises. That's important in a corporate culture that prizes longevity, where it's less likely that an influx of new blood will stir things up.
Lewis Temares, who served as CIO for the University of Miami for 25 years until he retired in 2011, says it's important for IT executives to get out of the office. "I wanted to know everything that was going on in the world that I couldn't know myself," says Temares, noting that he frequently attended industry and vendor conferences and allowed his staffers to take advantage of almost any educational opportunity they expressed an interest in.
"You can go to a conference and learn from 70% of the people there, especially if they're in other industries," Temares says. "They didn't get to where they are because they're morons."