Over But Not Out

Over But Not Out

Not everyone, however, holds ambitions of a seat at the board table or a late-life career. Some want to shift completely out of the corporate arena, bound for a more conventional form of retirement

Attitude Adjustment

Adjustment to a new life is something that ought not to be underestimated, according to Carmel Gray, the former group executive, IT, of Suncorp, who retired in order to move to Melbourne and seek directorships. It took her a year to come to terms with the changes.

Although Gray has successfully re-engineered her life, she acknowledges it wasn't easy. After giving up a role that she loved she moved back to Melbourne and took a four-week holiday. "Then reality sets in and I found the first 12 months a huge adjustment. My life was no longer largely governed by a great job, intellectual challenge, great people and routine. I lost my place in the world, really.

"However rosy and right your decision, there will be much bigger adjustments than you might expect," she warns. "Do I miss anything? Yes, the people I worked with, the senior team. I miss being in the cut and thrust, but not to the point where I regret it. I've got a much, much better work-life balance."

Gray and her partner, who also works from home, have had to adjust to seeing so much of one another. She has also taken on more of the parenting responsibilities for their daughter, and she walks the dogs more often.

It was a family decision to move back to Melbourne from Brisbane that led Gray to leave the position of CIO of Suncorp and embark on the next phase of her career. "This was very much a family decision. However I didn't feel I'd done my dash. But I didn't want to be 60 looking for a new career. I was 55 when I retired, I'm 57 now."

Gray had no urge to take on another CIO role. It would have been hard to top her experience at Suncorp, she says, especially the last three years she spent on the executive board. "I'm very sure that was the best job to end my career, to move to anything else would have been an anticlimax."

After moving back to Melbourne, Gray spent several months regrouping and renovating a home. "I took a breather after working for 35 years. I thought a lot and took on small bits of consulting." Out and out retirement was not an option, however, as she is "not a person with enough outside interests to fill the gap left by the CIO position". Nor was part-time consulting a long-term option. "It's like eggs and bacon: Are you involved or committed?" Gray decided she wanted to commit and decided that taking on board positions was a way to invest her management experience (she was formerly a managing director of Logica in Australia) and her IT nous. Now a director of the Bank of Queensland (BoQ), Gray eventually hopes to take on another one or two directorships, but not before she has her "feet under the table" and a better understanding of BoQ.

Although she has found a seat at the board table, Gray believes such opportunities are few and far between for CIOs. "Oh I had endless opportunities to go on IT boards but I've resisted that so far. It's very difficult because most boards think that IT is something that costs a lot, but that they can get by with the odd expert and consultant. They don't understand how important and strategic it is. It is important to have someone among their number to ask the hard questions about IT: Are we investing appropriately? Will this last?

"I see boards say they want an IT innovator on the board, but I think they are missing the point. You need someone who understands the need for long-term governance and value," Gray says.

Gillies thinks there are changes afoot that will see more former CIOs prized as company directors. "The old boys' networks are gradually breaking down and there are opportunities on boards now. Boards aren't seen as a retirement job, but a skills set and capability linked to experience. Multi-disciplinary skills sets are emerging on boards," she says.

Michael Hadaway, a director of board and executive search consultants ProNed, admits that it is a "slow push" at present to get companies to understand the benefits of having a technically experienced director on board, but says that there are signs that listed companies are recognizing the need for multi-disciplinary boards.

The firm recently published a survey of board attitudes, which for the first time explored IT governance. "One of the interesting statistics is that 43 percent of boards consider that IT materially impacts on their survival, and 58 percent see this impact affecting their viability as a going concern, yet just 6 percent of boards as a whole consider that they have prime responsibility for IT," Hadaway says.

"We are heading a bit of a push to companies to get more IT-qualified people on boards. The number of IT failures points the finger - if the boards had been more aware of IT then it wouldn't have happened," he adds.

Perigo cautions that CIOs need to examine their capabilities and experience with a critical eye in order to be able to sell themselves as a valuable commodity in their later years. "A CIO, or CFO for that matter, needs to have deep self-awareness and deep market awareness to be able to deconstruct what their own skills, experiences and preferences are, and then to be able to reconstruct it into a format which is understandable and appealing to the audience they need to convince.

"Too often in search I used to see good candidates simply assume that the hirer would understand their credentials on a CV originally intended for an IT-focused role or lapse back into IT speak when feeling nervous or defensive in interview situations," Perigo says.

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