Mid-Career Kickers

Mid-Career Kickers

Increasingly strong business-oriented CIOs are now being looked at for other corporate functions, making the time ripe for them to build their business skills.

At mid-career, your biggest challenge might be overcoming your own complacency

Every year Tony Clasquin does a stocktake of the technical and leadership skills he expects will advance his career, chooses an area of weakness, and then works assiduously with his employers to turn that weakness into a strength. It is not that Clasquin has any direct plans to move on from his position as CIO for Wealth Management in CBA into the business or a more senior position, but he does recognize that making himself better at what he does on a daily basis is the best way to ensure his career keeps moving in a positive direction.

"While I am very, very happy where I am, I am trying to build myself up to be better at what I do, and at the same time give myself more and more options. I would rather build up my options than close them down," Clasquin says. "It's less that I am ambitious in the sense that I want a better CIO role or a bigger CIO role or a CEO role . . . I am more of an opportunist. Should an opportunity come along I want to be in a position to take that opportunity, whatever it is. I am building my skills up. I'm working at the bits that make me more of an all-rounder than a specialist, so I work on my leadership, my presentation skills or business skills."

He is clearly wise to do so. Increasingly strong business-oriented CIOs are now being looked at for other corporate functions, making the time ripe for them to build their business skills.

In doing just that, certainly Clasquin is in some very good company. Many CIOs know that learning and skills acquisition do not stop when they put your name on the CIO's door. CIOs that might have spent a decade or two getting to where they are accept there will be tough choices and more learning ahead as they try to carve out new opportunities in an increasingly challenging environment.

Tough Gig

That the environment is ever more challenging is beyond any doubt. In fact some executive recruiters believe that opportunities for a substantial CIO position are becoming more limited in Australia as the top job of CTO or CIO becomes more global. With the best of those positions being based in Europe, the US or Asia, ambitious local CIOs must revaluate their position and future by looking at a wider range of career options for any post-CIO life.

"While many organizations work hard at corporate succession planning, Australians tend to value people from outside the organization more than those rising from mid-level management," says Jane Bianchini, technology division director with Ambition Recruitment & Contracting. The main reason Australian organizations tend go with outsiders, she says, is that local companies just do not invest as much in training their ICT staff in general management skills as their multinational counterparts.

Global organizations also tend to be better at competing for talent. To get access to these opportunities Bianchini advises CIOs who want to fast-track their career into the realms of business general management - or to a role that has global responsibility for technology - to spend time working for multinationals in other parts of the world, particularly Singapore or China.

A globalized job market can make it tough for some CIOs in some markets to move on to bigger and better roles, especially when local CEOs decide that CIOs from the US or other countries will outperform the locals. CIT Group (Australia) CIO Clarence Yap thinks any belief that overseas-trained CIOs are best is not only putting a dampener on some CIOs' careers, but is an organizational attitude that is incredibly ill-conceived.

"In my current role, just to give you an example, my predecessor was imported from the UK and he didn't work out because he didn't know anyone here and couldn't adapt to the climate and culture here. In fact the CEO here was so discouraged after that episode that when he went looking for me his brief to the head-hunter was: 'I want someone local'."

With all the signs suggesting the CEO is now happy to stand by the decision to recruit him, Yap has no immediate plans to travel in pursuit of new opportunities. After three years in the job, he says he is really enjoying the work and has not given much thought to life after his current position. Even so, knowing the value of always hedging one's bets, Yap says he does keep a bit of an eye on the job market, just in the interests of knowing what is out there.

"Every company has its perks and also its intricacies," Yap says. "I am realistic enough to know that there is no such thing as the perfect job anywhere. At the moment this one has its heartaches but also a lot of enjoyments. I've developed a very good relationship with the CEO so I am not under threat or in a position where I need to move on."

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