[Part III of E2's How to Become a CIO series.]
If you're a person of action who eschews politics, has a low tolerance for boredom, is more businessperson than techie, and wants to be a CIO one day, you might want to take a page out of Bill Limond's book.
Limond has been a CIO for 22 years, and in that time he's held over a dozen jobs. Limond specializes in interim CIO positions that may last for just a few months. In his longest interim position he spent just a shade over two years as the CIO of the City of London.
"I'm not a steady-state IT director or CIO," said Limond. "I'm much more of a change merchant."
It's an apt description, because in all of these roles he took the CIO's chair right when the organization was in a period of great change -- during a global expansion, an acquisition, a major project, or at the dawn of a brand-new organization altogether.
Look at just a snapshot of Limond's career. He served as CIO for:
- The City of London when it was hosting the Summer Olympics;
- A North American funeral services company when it was buying up Mom-and-Pop funeral parlors all over the US;
- BAE Systems, the biggest aerospace/defense company in England, when it was acquiring Marconi;
- British Gas when they had expanded their exploration efforts from the North Sea out to the rest of the earth in places like Buenos Aires and Cairo;
- Transport for London, when they were instituting congestion charges for drivers; deploying smart cards for public transit; and integrating all the disparate systems for subways, buses, and taxis to accommodate a massive population explosion;
- Alghanim Industries, an international retail and manufacturing conglomerate in Kuwait while it was expanding into new global markets.
"I've got a very low boredom threshold," said Limond. "The nice thing about [interim jobs] is the variety. You go to places you wouldn't normally go."
This year Limond began brushing up on his Arabic (he has at least an elementary proficiency in seven languages) and returned to the Gulf. He's moved to Qatar and begun a new job as CIO of the country's Supreme Council of Health, where they're launching a new publicly owned health insurance system for everyone in Qatar -- residents and visitors alike. The program just launched last month, beginning with women's health services.
"This is actually two new areas for me," Limond said, "because not only is it healthcare, but it's finance and health economics."
Health and finance are two of the few industries that Limond hasn't worked in before. Limond feels that prior experience within an industry is helpful, but it isn't essential. Although he says that you will need to study up on the new industry once you get there, the skills and approach translate well from one field to another. Limond said:
I've covered quite a few industries, but the main issue is around change. I find in [interim] assignments that you've got about a week or two to get to grips with a) what the organization's like, and b) what the problems really are... And inevitably, the issues are not about the technology, they're about the people and they're about the organization and they're about the business. Those are the real issues that you've got to tackle.
Computer geekiness optional
Limond himself is not a computer techie. He came up through the business side of the house, but his roots are actually in science. He cut his tech teeth using deep seismic technology and heavy data processing as an academic geophysicist working for British Petroleum. He said:
As geophysicists we were very much at the forefront of using technology and IT for data crunching,. But then in BP I went into a very varied career, on the commercial, economic management side. And then in my last job [there] when I was deputy chief executive of the detergents business that BP had built up, I was asked to do the IT strategy for the detergents business. And I realized I didn't know anything about IT strategy.
Fortunately, BP's corporate culture supported career development through mentoring, training, and exchange programs with other sectors of the business. His experience as a user of heavy-duty geophysics information technology was a helpful foundation, but the CIO and the company itself provided him with the additional training to be an IT strategist in BP's office of the CIO.
It was BP's CIO himself who recommended Limond for the job, so he highly recommends that early- and mid-career professionals find a mentor -- whether it be the CIO or someone else. Yet Limond concedes that good mentors are harder to find these days and fewer organizations proactively provide staff with career training and opportunities to work outside their own department.
"I get the sense that it is more difficult for youngsters at the moment. They've really got to fight their own way now," he said. "You tend to, in a sense, build your own experience portfolio, and that's what you've got to play on."
"You come in, you put through the change, you deliver, and you get out," said Limond. "You don't hang around. I find that if one's there for more than a year and a half, two years, then you're starting to become part of the furniture, if you like, and you lose your effectiveness."
The interim model appeals to Limond for two key reasons. No. 1: There's lots of action.
No. 2: decision-making authority without the politicking.
"Although you should understand what the politics are in any culture or organization, you're not necessarily bound by them, because you come in as an independent," he said. However, he also cautions that "you don't achieve things through command and control. You really achieve things through persuasion and influencing."
Regardless of the path you take to the executive suite or the management style you choose, Limond's keys to getting and keeping the job are to embrace change and enjoy the ride. "Some people joke that CIO means 'Career is Over,' " he said. "I think it's more 'Change and Innovation Originator.' Be persistent, be patient, don't get frustrated, and hang on in there."
What do you think? Does the short-term executive job appeal to you? Are you afraid of becoming furniture? Let us know in the comments below. And come back to E2 tomorrow to hear how Steve Rubinow, CIO of Thomson Reuters, first obtained the CIO job.