Snaring the top job: One ex-CIO’s journey to CEO
- 18 September, 2012 09:18
Bob Hennessy believes he should have been a CEO earlier in his long and successful career.
“I would have had a CEO job earlier if I learnt some of the things I needed to learn about making the transition [from CIO to CEO],” he says. “These are things that are not instinctive to a CIO.
“We [CIOs] don’t market ourselves. We almost feel like it’s a bit offensive to get out there and tell our story and tell people how much value we can bring.”
And he is right. Only a small percentage of CIOs ever become CEOs. Research completed last year by Vanson Bourne for CA Technologies suggests that a measly 4 per cent of CEOs in the world’s organisations were previously technology leaders compared to CFOs (29 per cent) and COOs (23 per cent).
Hennessy entered the IT industry as a trainee at BHP Steel in the late 1970s before moving to TNT as a senior IT staffer and eventually CIO in 1994. He then held senior IT leadership roles at Westpac, BT Financial Group, Telecom New Zealand and finally AAPT where he made the jump from CIO to COO.
“I was lucky enough through all my CIO roles to work directly for a CEO,” he says. “I was constantly around the executive table so, by osmosis, I started to pick up things.
“I was in steel, transport and financial services but going into telecommunications – where technology is the essence of the business – there’s a different level of acceptance for the technology guy around the boardroom table.”
AAPT’s target decision makers are CIOs which gave Hennessy the opportunity to work closely with the company’s sales force to make a connection with those responsible for purchasing telecommunications services.
Hennessy is now CEO at large business consultancy BearingPoint Pty Ltd, which was acquired by NASDAQ-listed Chinese firm hiSoft in July. He says that a sense there were rules governing his progression to the top job meant that he didn’t get there sooner.
“So rather than get around the organisation and promote myself and talk about a vision that I had and be seen as the guy that would be a natural for a CEO, I waited for someone to tap me on the shoulder,” he says.
How Hennessy did it
Hennessy recalls being told by a careers advisor at school that he could potentially pursue a career as either an actuary or a social worker. It was this odd and uncommon mix of skills that put him on the path to securing a CEO role many years later.
In August 2009, BearingPoint Inc. completed a post-bankruptcy management buy-out and has since been run by its European management team. Around that time, Hennessy was vice president, South Asia region at BearingPoint Australia. He said it was clear that this role “was going” so he became proactive about selling himself.
“I was hardly known to the management there [in Europe] but I made a point of saying, ‘You don’t know me but you shouldn’t be appointing someone else here [in Australia] without getting to know me and seeing if I’m your man.’”
In September that year, BearingPoint Pty Ltd – led by Hennessy – became a privately-owned Australian practice following a local management buy-out. The company still maintains ties with other BearingPoint brands around the world.
"It was then I realised that the road to these roles was not through the system, not playing politics but understanding who the influencers were and what they needed to see in you," he says. "What they were certainly not waiting for was someone who [wanted] to be asked."
However, it was a few years earlier at AAPT that Hennessy realised he had the potential to take the next step.
“[At AAPT] I was one of two local board members, I had connections through the organisations politically but I just didn’t use them,” he says. “You learn lessons about the fact that becoming the head of a company is about different things than just being good at what you do.”
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