CIO Succession - Advice to Companies Recruiting CIOs

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 ahold 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