How To Become a Hired Gun CIO

Smoking CowboyPeter High, a contributor at Forbes.com, typically focuses his column, “The First 100 Days” on CIOs settled in at corporations. He turned things around recently with an interview with the man he calls the “Greatest CIO for Hire in History.”

That’s quite an accolade, but High argues that Charlie Feld, one of the “first outstanding CIOs in corporate America” deserves the title because he left a lucrative and powerful position at Frito-Lay to form The Feld Group. As High writes, “Along the way, many Feld Group employees went on to become CIOs at the companies that they consulted to, and therefore, Charlie Feld’s influence in the world of IT can be measured not from his own significant contribution, but also from the contribution of the many leaders who he spawned.”

In 1992 Feld founded The Feld Group. According to his official bio at The Feld Group Institute,  in 1997 CIO magazine named Feld “One of the 12 Most Influential IT Executives of the Past Decade” and in 1998 Computerworld named Feld as one of “25 IT People to Watch in 1998.” In 2001 he was named one of the top 5 CIOs and sold his company in 2004 to EDS. After retiring as a Senior Executive Vice President and member of EDS’s Executive Committee, he founded The Feld Group Institute in 2009.

Feld makes some astute observations in his Forbes interview – chief among them how IT’s relative youth at 50 years old hinders executives who have been talking business for centuries. “Senior executives are reasonably conversant in most of the business disciplines.  They can generally engage in strategy conversations around Finance, HR, Manufacturing, Sales, Distribution, etc.  These professions have been around for centuries and have common languages, frameworks and ‘rules of thumb’ that enable the dialogue.  IT is in its early stages, being less than 50 years old and lacks these essential building blocks,” Feld says.

He also spoke to how the role of Chief Information Officer needs to evolve to become Chief Integration Officer in the interview. “The new robust integration fabrics that are event enabled, in memory-in motion, become great enablers that can embrace the heterogeneity of legacy, cloud, sensors, GPS, functional packages, customers, suppliers and employees.  That’s why I’ve been so bullish about the CIO becoming more that the Chief Information Officer,” Feld says.

That’s an opinion shared by many others, including Mat Ellis, CEO and founder of Cloudability. who writes at TheNextWeb.com, “These challenges of interconnectedness are playing out in parallel inside the enterprise. CIOs have a once in a lifetime opportunity to provide the leadership needed to guide their companies through these challenges. Done right, the I in CIO becomes less about managing information and more about managing integration.”

Feld offers practical advice for those seeking to become CIOs. The secret isn’t being great at technology or business. It’s being pretty good at both. “You don’t have to be the best technician in the company or have the best business mind. You just need to be pretty good at both.  I’m starting to see that happen in companies I’m currently engaged with.  They are the renaissance leaders and they are working hard at developing their next generation,” he opines.

But it also helps to have a defined career path, Feld adds, sharing PepsiCo’s path that he says help develop well rounded CIOs. “A high potential college graduate would see the IT organization from a number of portals during their first 10 years.  Typically, they would spend a couple of years in Data Center operations, followed by 3-4 years in Development.  The next assignment might be in Systems Engineering and finally a 2-year tour in a business function as a major user of IT Systems,” he says.

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.