Making the transition from CIO to executive general manager

Hamish Barwick (CIO)

Lehane also volunteered to fill roles. For example, in 2013 when the company had a change of leadership in its claims division, he took on the CEO role for six months.

“I did that because the organisation needed it and because I became aware of another important part of our business, which is claims.

“With my transition, I believed I had the right mindset from the start. I understood I wasn’t in this organisation to run IT, I was here to run a business with the other executives,” he says.

Skills gap

According to Lehane, CIOs need to “get out of the mindset” of being subservient to a business and take opportunities such as covering for the CEO while they are away.

“CIOs should be putting their hand up and taking the opportunity to learn more about the business, regardless of what aspect.

“If CIOs are not willing to put themselves forward and demonstrate the value that they are bringing to the organisation, as other business leaders do, it’s not going to happen.”

Another problem which may be holding CIOs back from taking on new roles is the use of IT acronyms/language and not having an understanding of balance sheets.

“It’s that commercial mindset of understanding the numbers and metrics of the business you support. It’s not enough to understand the uptime of your servers, no one gives a shit,” he says.

According to Lehane, CIOs used to report to the CEO but now the CIO has to report through the COO. He says this is a reaction to CIOs using too many “technical terms” and the CEO wanting to speak with someone they understand.

In addition, CIOs should be developing relationships with business partners rather than staying in the IT department.

“If you can’t articulate the proposition or get the support that you need, then you will fail. There is no room for shrinking violets.”

Overcoming degrees of separation

Lehane suggests that if a CIO is serious about making the transition to another C-level role, they should go back and take a business degree.

For example, he became a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors last year.

“Through that, I got a deep understanding of how boards and executives are supposed to work. I also developed a network of people that were doing the company’s directors course at the same time. I now have a language and an understanding that I can use with the board here [at Zurich] I previously didn’t have.”

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