For CIOs in their mid to late 50s "career is over" starts to take on a new meaning as the time comes to plan the descent from the career peaks. But true to form, these high-power men and women view their next step as simply a new beginning
"I'm calling from Venice," was the opening gambit from Linton Scott, former CIO of investment bank ABN Amro. That is the sort of thing some CIOs get up to when they leave the job.
The Venice sojourn, however, was just a punctuation mark in a still busy schedule. Scott has entered another phase of his life, and while no longer a CIO he is most certainly not out to pasture. Scott is busy consulting to corporate clients, developing software, volunteering his IT expertise to a heritage society, getting to grips with superannuation legislation, leveraging off his experiences investing in commercial property and, on a higher and more personal note, securing his private pilot's licence.
A career CIO, Scott spent 18 years in the financial sector and before that was CIO at Australia's largest law firm. Now in his 60s, he is branching out.
Some CIOs crack out of the CIO mould early: after a Macquarie Bank career including 12 years as CIO, Gail Burke became managing director of BNP Paribas Securities Services. Ralph Norris, a former CIO of New Zealand's ASB Bank, is now CEO of the Commonwealth Bank. Mary Ann Maxwell, a former Westpac CIO, has forged an analyst career with Gartner, as has Mike Kennedy, formerly CIO of the NSW Office of State Revenue.
For these individuals, however, the CIO role was not a career peak; it was a career rung.
For others the CIO role has been part of a career continuum. Chris Gillies, for example, is now a board director, mentor, consultant and part owner in the Rupert's Ridge vineyard. She was CIO of the Bank of Melbourne until it was taken over by Westpac in 1998. Although she was offered other CIO roles, she took on a project to integrate St.George Bank and Bank of South Australia's operations. Since then she has had a series of management and consulting roles, her most recent brush with CIO-dom being in 2003 when she was interim CIO of Dunn & Bradstreet.
"My working life has been a series of opportunities and I've moved with them rather than having a specific plan to be a CIO," she says. In fact Gillies never had a career plan; it was not until she was 59 that Gillies, now 62, started planning her career and identifying how she could "convert the knowledge and capabilities of 40-plus years working", as she puts it. "One comes of an age where you are the product of your life. When you get to 60 you can be yourself and don't have to bullshit with anyone."
She certainly does not see age as an inhibitor and expects to remain on boards for at least the next five years. "I cannot see why I could not go through to 70, and also do community work." (Gillies works pro bono for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and Australian Homecare Services.)
She is not alone in having little in the way of a formal career plan for most of her life. While younger, so-called generation Y workers are renowned for taking charge of their career trajectories, demanding choice and flexibility; it was corporations that directed older executives' careers, only occasionally interrupted by calls from head hunters. It was while working in executive search that Julie Perigo watched a gap emerge in the market - no one was serving the needs of executives in their 50s or older.
These senior executives - often at the peak of their careers - were left alone to fathom their next career step. They were not well equipped for the challenge, says Perigo who has established Re-inventors, which works with employers and executives to identify how best to harness the skills of older executives. "When I was in search it always used to amaze and sadden me how many very senior executives could not even describe what sort of role they would really like, even if they had the proverbial blank sheet of paper."
Not John Loebenstein. He has that piece of paper covered.
In May, Loebenstein, group executive IT of St.George Bank, bought a 100-hectare property near Murwillumbah on the north coast of NSW, on which he intends to run 80 to 90 cattle. Having grown up on a farm in Zimbabwe, Loebenstein always believed he would get back to the land.
It will be his "next career" he says. Not that he is going yet. At 58 Loebenstein, who has been St.George CIO for almost 12 years, is still enjoying and is committed to his executive role, but he is laying the foundations for the future, and besides farming hopes to take on one or two board positions for the intellectual stimulation as much as the financial reward. "I would like to see the knowledge I have gathered leveraged," Loebenstein says.
So what would be the triggers for him to make the decision to step down? "The moment that I feel I'm getting bored or not making the contribution that I would like to be making," he says. "If I want to go and do something physical and exhilarating then I need to do it before I'm arthritic. I don't feel like I'm old, but I am.
"I'm sure my cattle will have RFID tags and the farm will have video-controlled gates. I am a gadget man. I'm also immensely practical. I won't be retiring - just doing something different. If it doesn't work we'll sell the farm, come back here and become a nuisance."
Loebenstein has the luxury of planning when to go. Linton Scott did not.
Scott's CIO career ended at the end of 2005 when his employer outsourced its IT to EDS. "I had the chance to move to EDS or stay with the bank as a go-between." Neither option had much appeal, so Scott left at the age of 62, three years earlier than he had planned to retire. Since then he has capitalized on his IT experience, consulting to a range of organizations and developing applications. He has also taken on voluntary work with the Sydney Heritage Fleet, which needed help overhauling its membership system and obtained a private pilot's licence. He has become something of an expert regarding superannuation rules, and is helping other people navigate the intricacies of investing in commercial property.
Although he is enjoying the consulting work and juggling the financial and intellectual risks associated with committing to develop IT solutions for clients, Scott acknowledges that he misses the "cut and thrust of the [CIO] role".
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