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The CIO and the C-Suite

By March 24, 2015Article

Have you ever wondered why some CIOs seem to do well while others struggle? Have you ever seen or heard of a CIO who has been in the same company for 10 years while you know others who have been through a revolving door, changing jobs every 18 months? 

If so, I am sure you also wondered how these long-tenure, storied CIOs differ from their brethren. Like you, I wondered about this too. And after countless hours of thinking, I crystallized some of my hypotheses. 

I learned that CIOs who relate well with the C-Suite have a common point of reference. First of all, they consider themselves to be an integral part of the C-Suite. This is an important thought, in that these CIOs do not have a “me-them” mindset. Instead, they have an “us” mindset. 

Given this mindset, let’s call them C-Suite CIOs and see how they relate to their brothers-in-arms in the C-Suite. 

At the top of the house, issues are rarely siloed. Instead, they tend to be conflated with one another. As a result, it is difficult to say where the issue starts and where it ends. It is easier to dissect the issue and come to an understanding of which parts of the issue reside in the specific domains of the C-Suite residents. 

Given this background, C-Suite CIOs are thought-partners with their colleagues. They are not immediately interested in solving a problem. Instead, they first focus on shaping and framing issues, regardless of whose domain the issue intersects. 

C-Suite CIOs are thoughtful partners as well, not just thought-partners. They seek to understand before they are understood. This is again an important thought. 

In being thoughtful, to paraphrase, they have to “walk in their brethren’s moccasins.” To do that, C-Suite CIOs tend to have a clear and broad understanding of business domains well beyond just their “own” Information Technology domain. 

As with cultivating relationships in any crowded forum, C-Suite CIOs understand that some relationships are more important than others. In any business, some C-Suite functions create and deliver customer value more than others. For example, think of an innovative high-technology firm. It is very likely that the C-Suite resident who conveys Intellectual Property (IP) in the form of products to the marketplace – a division GM or the head of products, perhaps — is functionally more important to focus on than, say, the head of the manufacturing function. So in the broadest of terms, the C-Suite CIO cultivates a deeper relationship with the division GM or the head of products than with the head of manufacturing. 

To cite a different example, think of a high-tech OEM manufacturing company, one with the same industry vertical, so to speak, but a company with a different value orientation. In such a company, logistics and manufacturing are the keys to successful value creation. The C-Suite CIO looks at the head of manufacturing and the head of Supply Chain Management (SCM) as the two folks with whom he should create a deep relationship. 

C Suite CIO coverHow does one create a deep relationship with anyone? By understanding the other person’s drivers and interests, right? We do this in daily life when we relate with our loved ones. We seek their company when we know that they empathize with our interests, and vice versa. It is no different in business. C-Suite CIOs know this; and they exercise this as a learned, if not intuitive, skill. 

These are merely scratch-the-surface thoughts on what differentiates a C-Suite CIO from his/her brethren in the IT domain. If you want to learn more about the art of becoming and being a C-Suite CIO, please read my book, “The C-Suite CIO.” It is available as an eBook on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble

All proceeds from the sale of this book are dedicated to Pratham, an NGO which helps educate underprivileged kids in India. So, please, consider buying more than one copy and gifting the others to the “IT people” in your life. Thanks!

Ashwin Rangan is chief innovation officer and CIO of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which coordinates the global domain name system (DNS). In a career spanning three decades, he served as CIO with organizations ranging from startups to Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company. He lectures by invitation at business schools in UCLA, USC, UC Irvine and UC Berkeley and keynotes at CIO events worldwide. Contact him at 










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