How many times have you thought, after listening to an awful technology vendor presentation or watching your software partner miss deadline after deadline, "If I ran that company, things would be different."
It may be time to act on that impulse, if you have the right background and a good deal of drive. CIOs who want to run the show as CEO are finding that technology companies are a natural fit. As longtime customers of IT vendors, they know the products and the development process, they know the business-from the customer view-and they've sat through enough presentations to know how (or how not) to sell. And if they've been networking with their peers, they should have a good customer target list as well.
These experiences are your price of entry to running a technology company. But as three CIOs who followed this path explain below, you must also decide that this is your career goal and set in place a strategy to make it happen.
Get Cross-Functional Experience
"In 1985, I had an epiphany," says Mike Kistner, CEO of Pegasus Solutions, a provider of reservation and distribution technology, and financial and marketing services in the hospitality industry. "I was a senior developer at Super 8 Motels working on a general ledger program, and I realized that the date fields had two digits. I thought, 'this will be a nightmare in 2000' and I vowed to get out of IT before Y2K."
This epiphany led to another one for Kistner, that the pursuit of management roles outside of IT could be a critical step on the road to CEO, if he managed his career correctly. Kistner began to build relationships that would pave the way into new areas of the business. As Super 8 was acquired by HFS and then by Cendant, Kistner kept a hand in IT but he also accrued cross-functional leadership experience. At different times, he held responsibility for IT, reservations, guest services, convention planning and other operational areas.
During his tenure from 2000 to 2005 at Best Western, he led IT but picked up distribution as well. In 2005, he joined Pegasus Solutions as VP of operations and technology, and then became CEO in June 2008.
His advice: "If your goal is to run a company, you need to get out of IT and into other parts of the business. My old boss, David McNicholas [former CIO of Avis] used to say, 'to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.' You need to put down the IT hammer once in a while and pick up tools from other parts of the business."