Why CIOs Don’t Become CEOs

K K Chaudhary, Group Head IT & IS, Lanco Infratech believes most Indian CIOs lack the two most important qualities needed to become a CEO -- understanding the core business and having the knowledge of numbers

Whenever there is a discussion around the role of a CIO, one question crops up time and again. As someone whose profile demands understanding the functions of all the departments in the organization, a CIO seems to be fit to become the CEO. However, there are very real life examples to support this argument. The question, therefore, that invariably comes up is ‘What will it take for a CIO to become a CEO’? K K Chaudhary, Group Head IT & IS, Lanco Infratech, believes he has the answer. “There are two extremely important things that a CIO needs to know if he harbors the ambition of becoming a CEO. He has to understand the core business and have the knowledge of numbers.” A CIO who understands business won’t talk to his top management in terms of servers and firewalls. He will speak the language of business. “Such a CIO will discuss costs and numbers with the management and not technical jargon.  For instance, simply explaining how automation will help the company in saving precious capital will enable a CIO to get his CEO’s mindshare,” he says. Chaudhary feels very few CIOs in India have a strong grip on both these areas. The Gap Areas “There are many CIOs who understand business. However, they are not been able to successfully showcase their acumen of numbers. Both, the CEO and CFO, speak in terms of numbers.  Since a majority of CIOs fail on this front, they don’t earn the trust and confidence of their promoters in shouldering the big responsibility of a CEO,” he opines. Not having a clear understanding of business also results in a CIO being taken for granted in his organization. Whenever the top management approaches him for an IT service, he says ‘yes’ without realizing he won’t be able to  roll it within the given framework. Since he doesn’t understand the intricacies of business, there could also a mismatch between what the business wanted and what the CIO understood. “Such CIOs generally tend to oblige the senior management but act tough with the junior employees. As a result, they lose trust of the juniors who notice him giving exemption to others. Meanwhile, the top management also starts taking him for granted as it feels he will do anything that it wants,” says Chaudhary. Underlining the importance for a CIO to expand his horizons, he says, “In-depth knowledge of business and numbers will result in trust-building and respect between the CIO and the management. The moment a CIO makes a strategic business unit (SBU) within his enterprise to work more efficiently, he creates a relationship of mutual respect. People will then approach him not to demand but discuss IT services. For such a CIO, the path to becoming the CEO will be a lot easier.”

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