Monday, 25 February 2013 12:26

CIO Succession - Advice to Companies Recruiting CIOs

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Drawn from our research and experience, here are key points to keep in mind when recruiting to fill a CIO position.

  • Define the Needs of the Business First. From there, you can develop a detailed description of which source industries and personal backgrounds can most closely fill the business and technical requirements of the CIO position. But beware of narrow position descriptions that limit the candidate pool and the opportunity for the new CIO to innovate.
  • Get Advice from Experienced CIOs. Many companies are now putting CIOs on their boards. Even with the absence of this, you can get advice from an experienced CIO-to examine the "art of the possible."
  • Follow a Deliberate Search Process, especially if you're unfamiliar with the CIO role and tentative in filling it. Don't postpone the search or recruit in too much of a hurry. Give yourself time to understand your needs and identify strong candidates. CIO recruiting is not a mysterious process.
  • Do Not Eliminate Offhand Entire Industries, Including Your Own. Even if an industry is on average "behind in IT," it does not hurt to look. More than once, we have found the "diamond in the rough," the CIO who has accomplished a great deal in difficult industry circumstances, or who has "been there, done that" in a critical area.
  • Mitigate Your Risk. Have finalist candidates present their "100-day plan" at the end of the search process. Have them sign an NDA, ask whatever questions they wish to ask, and then present what they would do. The discussion is valuable to ensure that mindsets are aligned, and it reduces the anxiety level and raises confidence all around.
  • Consider the Commuters, the Displaced, the Immigrants, Older Executives, and the Blue Oceans. There sometimes tends to be a lemming mentality when it comes to executive search: the "usual suspect" companies and executives are called over and over again. Yet there may be a gold mine of outstanding executives no one else has considered, including:
    • A Commuter drives a long distance to work at a company in another city. Recruiters searching for executives from their local areas overlook commuters because associated with their company locations. Yet many of these individuals will jump at local opportunities and will often take roles you may not think they would consider.
    • The Displaced are akin to Commuters. These executives are not in their hometowns or preferred locations and long to return. Knowing who hails from your area or went to school there can uncover unexpected candidates.
    • Immigrants are people not born in the United States. They are often much more willing to relocate if they don't have deep local roots.
    • Older executives can sometimes be your best bet, especially if they bring broad experience and can mentor up-and-coming colleagues. A Spencer Stuart study on CEO performance showed that older executives have the same performance as younger ones.
    • Blue Ocean candidates are executives from companies no one ever thinks of, companies with less "flash" in the industry. A systematic review of possible target companies, local or not, always brings up additional strong candidates
  • Value Achievement and Potential over Education.There are many paths to a strong and complete CIO skill and experience set. Don't over-value educational credentials, but rather consider what the executive has achieved and can achieve.
  • Be Diverse in Reverse. If you're recruiting for diversity, focus on diversity at the end of the process, not the beginning. If you look only at diverse candidates, the pool may be too shallow to calibrate. It's easier to find a well-qualified diverse candidate once you have calibrated your requirements with a deeper pool. Focus on finding the diverse candidate who fits the requirements and beats the short list.
  • Try Harder to Get Women Executives. In our experience, for whatever reason, female executives are less available, harder to schedule, and return calls much less frequently than their male counterparts. When you have identified women CIO candidates, make the effort necessary to get a hold of them. A well-thought-out FedEx mailer to their homes or offices usually does the trick.
  • Consider First-Time CIOs, Even from the Outside. In the Spencer Stuart study mentioned above, university President performance was actually better in first timers, because they were so motivated to do well. The first timer may need to bring something extra to the table, such as experience with specific technologies or applications of importance.
  • Be Flexible about Reporting Structure. Don't expect a CIO who has "sat at the table" for ten years to agree to report to a CFO, unless that CFO is extremely special. Anticipate the working relationship between the CIO and his or her new boss. Depending on the background and mission of the new CIO, and the technological savvy of other senior executives, the CIO may need to report higher or lower than
Read 411 times Last modified on Monday, 15 March 2021 16:38
Dora Vell

Managing Partner

Dora Vell is the CEO of Vell Executive Search, a boutique executive search firm in Boston that recruits technology executives and board members for companies ranging from promising tech startups to Fortune 100 companies. Throughout her 22-year career in executive search, she has successfully completed hundreds of assignments, placing board members, CEOs, COOs, CIOs, technology officers, vice presidents and many other C-level executives. Vell’s clients span both private and public companies and her work has included searches in markets large and small across the U.S. and Canada.

Prior to founding Vell Executive Search in 2005, she was a partner at the executive search consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles for seven years. She started in the Technology Practice in the Toronto office, became the firm’s Technology Practice leader for Canada, and then joined the firm’s Boston office.

Before her career in executive search, Vell worked for 11 years at IBM Canada in software-related roles of increasing responsibility. She started as a software engineer, managed a software engineering team of 100, and then led software sales for IBM Canada. She holds seven worldwide software patents. This deep industry understanding has helped Vell Executive Search become a recognized leader in finding senior executive and board talent for software and SaaS companies.

Vell is a recognized industry thought leader who has published several reports on governance and leadership topics. She has been frequently quoted as an expert on executive and board leadership by outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, Fortune, Agenda Week, MSNBC, Mass High Tech, The OPUS for the World Economic Forum, Boston Business Journal, The Globe & Mail, CIO Magazine, and IEEE. She has been a featured speaker on leadership at numerous conferences and at Columbia University's MBA program.

Vell has been a Fellow of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and the Boston CEO Roundtable. She has served on the boards of Framingham State University, Entrepreneur's Organization, Goodwill, Mary Centre for Developmentally Handicapped Adults,, and RBC Capital Partners.

The trilingual daughter of a diplomat, Vell grew up in Canada, Greece, France, Switzerland and China. Her unique multicultural and international perspective, experiences as a woman in the male-dominated software field, and insights as a dual Canadian and U.S. citizen inform all her work for clients.

Vell received an MBA from the University of Toronto, a master’s in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo, and a bachelor’s in Computer Science from Carleton University.  She has also completed the MIT Entrepreneurial Master’s program.

Areas of Practice:

  • C-Level Technology Executives
  • CEOs, CROs, Heads of Sales, Heads of Marketing, Chief Product Officers
  • Technology Officers: CTOs, CIOs, Heads of Engineering, CISOs, Chief Data Officers
  • Board Directors
  • Diversity Executives and Board Directors
  • Canadian Executives and Board Directors


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