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Succession Planning: Cultivating the Next CIO

By EricChabrow  |  Posted 2007-04-07 Print this article Print

Rather than recruit from outside the company, Chubb Corp. lured IT veteran June Drewry out of retirement to train the firm's next top tech executive. Here's why.

Chubb Corp. CEO John D. Finnegan didn't need a report such as the one from the Society for Information Management to realize the $14 billion insurer should be grooming its next top tech leader from within its own ranks. Two years ago, when the post of global CIO became vacant, none of Chubb's internal prospects was ready for the job. So Finnegan convinced June Drewry, a former SIM International president with more than 20 years of experience as a CIO, to come out of retirement expressly to groom a successor. Drewry spoke with executive editor Eric Chabrow about cultivating CIO talent.

CIO INSIGHT: Why do companies need to groom their own CIOs?

DREWERY: If you look at the SIM report, the characteristics of tomorrow's CIO are different from the characteristics of the past. Leadership, business acumen and relationship management are the real skills that make a difference at the top now, not a lot around technical expertise; they have staffs to handle that. Your communication skills have to be up there; your relationship skills have to be up there; you have to be astute about the politics within an organization; and you have to be able to deal with those things appropriately, while making sure you're doing the right thing for the enterprise.

Nowadays, IT is so critical, so strategic, that you can't afford to have someone who's not at the top of their game partnering with the head of a business. CIOs have a seat at the table; there isn't time to go backward to the kids' table while learning how to operate at that senior level. It's important today to do your own in-house grooming, to give people opportunities to get ready before the job opens up, to try their sea legs, so they can be accepted as a trusted partner from day one.

You see so many companies going outside and bringing someone new in. They're just not willing to take the time to train internally, and that's a huge mistake, because there's going to be a lot of baby boomers out of the game soon, and there's going to be a real CIO shortage. Companies are going to have to be bringing people from below them into that position.

You're not just talking about the IT department as the only source for these potential candidates?

IT can be pretty snobby at times, and not have a lot of respect for people who didn't come up through its ranks. Because of the integration of IT and business and operations, there is more of a willingness to open up to someone from within the business operations side. But largely, IT has put a lot of energy in the last several years into making its business-unit CIOs very business oriented and very good at relationship management, so they are well-primed for the job of enterprise CIO. That next step, dealing with the board and the senior executives, is something they've got to take before they jump into the job.

You're grooming several senior IT executives, including unit CIOs, as candidates for Chubb's global CIO job. What happens to those executives who don't get the top tech job?

It is of great concern to us. The business-unit folks they work for think they're terrific. I've asked their bosses, "Are you okay if they leave and take a CIO job someplace else?" The bosses say, "Well, no, we're not okay with that. We want to keep them." I've asked if they would give these IT executives a bigger piece of the business-unit operation, besides IT. They'll be ready for it eventually, because these people are driven, not by status, but by challenge, and by continually developing and moving within the organization, moving up. We also need to take a good look at the organization itself. We need to ask, "How could we reorganize and make an office of the CIO where, even for those who don't get the global CIO job, they could get larger pieces of the IT organization to run?"

You're describing the evolution of an organization where IT is everywhere. Do you think there will come a time when IT will just be integrated into the business as a whole?

Yeah. I've actually heard that said, that at times it's hard to see operations and IT as two separate pieces. There will come a day in financial services where you just can't separate them anymore.

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