How's business? What have you been up to lately? Simple questions, and for all 35 years of my professional life, they have been easy to answer. Indeed, the challenge was making sure I didn't dominate the conversation with the excitement, changes, promotions, projects and successes over the years! I love challenges. I love problems. I love turnarounds. Let me at 'em!
That was certainly my attitude when I joined a global manufacturing firm in 2000. Yes, it was the smallest shop I had managed, but it didn't matter because of all the interesting opportunities: re-engineering the infrastructure, implementing best-of-breed applications that had been purchased but mothballed, and repositioning IT from a cost centre to a competitive advantage. It was an exciting time.
Losing My Endorsement
Fast-forward to late 2005. The infrastructure engineering was complete, the European IT functions had been centralized and then decentralized, and the applications had been implemented. In addition, the company was going through a major management transition. But it was not unusual by any corporate standards and I had already survived three CEOs and two CFOs. I certainly expected to continue that track record. However, that was not to happen this time; the "chemistry" that bonds executives just wasn't there. Some people refer to this as "losing your endorsement", and that is a pretty good description. If I had been a major league athlete, I would have been traded to another team for some cash and some new talent. And that's OK too, because in my experience, there was always another great opportunity around the corner. The transition out of the company was graceful and dignified with the assistance of an excellent HR VP. I still have the personal farewell note from the CEO pinned to my home office bulletin board.
A New Glass Ceiling
Anticipating changes in the air, I had begun letting people know I was back "on the market" in mid-2005, confident that I would be recruited into another great opportunity in just a few months. And it started out just like the old days: interviews with executive search firms, and the follow-up interviews with key people at some very interesting companies. You know the drill. I had been down this path before and felt totally confident when I was told I was in the top two. Then I found out that the other candidate was selected. Hmmm, this was a new phenomenon for me.
Perhaps, I reasoned, the other candidate had specific supply chain functional responsibility in addition to IT, or perhaps my qualifications were more extensive than the company wanted. But now that a few more months have gone by and this pattern is repeating itself, I realize that something really has changed in the marketplace. I was one of the first CIOs who moved from the business side to the IT side in the early 90s. I always had communication at the core of my management style, and CIO surveys say for the fourth year in a row that communication continues to be the most critical need in IT. What's up? What's different? I am better qualified today for the CIO role than at any other point in my career. I have the experience, the energy and the drive to do an outstanding job.
My natural analytical tendencies kicked in, and I started to dissect each of my job encounters to see what I could uncover. When I didn't get the job, who did? What qualifications did the other candidates have that I didn't? I figured once I understood the playing field better I could fix the problem. Right? After all, I have built a career on fixing things.
This is what I discovered: It is not about the skills or qualifications. It is not about industry experience or being overqualified. It is about age.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.