What does it take to become a CIO or CTO of a Fortune 100 company?

The way to a top CIO role in the mega IT organizations is not one that has been successfully navigated by many.

Interview and Hiring GuideIn an interview of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a mid-sized company discussing his succession plan, he described an interaction with a former employee. The CIO spoke about that employee possibly returning to the company in a strong number two IT leadership role with an assurance that he would be put on a very short list for succession into the CIO.

The polite answer the CIO received was "Not interested; call me when your job is open. " The CIO's response to former employee was, "The only way you're getting my job is if you take this job first. "

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Janco did some quick research on CIO changes in Fortune 100 companies over the past several months. The vast majority of those positions are held by executives who were either promoted from within or who came from a company that at least approached the size and complexity of their current organization.

If you are a CIO of a mid-size company who desires to move into the top functional or general management role in a Fortune 100, the clearest path to that destination requires some detours. Perhaps a business operational assignment running a region or a division of a company that size will get you closer to that dream job than moving to a company only slightly larger than your own.

In Janco's experience, there are perceived differences in the duties and expectations of CIOs in general are as follows:

  • Less than 250 IT Staff - The CIO is perceived as a doer/leader. Resources are constrained and executives at the EVP/SVP levels are often doing VP-level work as well. Decision-making is faster and more informal. CIOs still are required to practice their technical skills.
  • 250 to 1,000 IT Staff - The CIO is transitioning to a true leadership role. Managing vision and strategy begins to trump technical and domain expertise. CIOs (CTOs as well) begin to manage truly senior leaders underneath them and must balance natural inclinations to get their hands dirty with being a coach and champion for those who report to them. However, lack of resources still requires a good bit of doing.
  • 1,000 to 3,000 IT Staff - The CIO begins to move from a functional leadership mindset to a general management mindset. Organizational savvy and political competency is paramount to the ability to get things done internally. Cross-cultural sensitivity also comes more into play as the CIO begins to manage a global team of senior managers.
  • Over 3,000 IT Staff - The CIO is a visionary leader and a management senior executive. He or she must be a master delegator running very large organizations (even in functional leadership roles). The CIO must possess the ability to communicate a vision to an organization and encourage input from direct reports, but also possess the courage to ultimately make decisions critical to the success of the business. These CIOs must be able to balance driving their companies toward a straight-line goal while anticipating and preparing for the unknown challenge beyond the horizon.