Making the Leap

Making the Leap

One CIO’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day — and its surprisingly rich rewards

There were quite a few things Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of New Jersey CIO and senior vice president Mark Barnard wished someone had told him before he became a CEO. Like that CEOs live in an entirely different comfort zone from CIOs. Or just how lonely it can be at the top. Or that people really do see and treat you differently as CEO. Or even, for that matter, that the selection process for CEOs could be simultaneously so fascinating, so extraordinarily valuable and so utterly, horribly brutal.

But if there is one notion above all that his stint as a CEO reinforced, it is his conviction that CIOs — at least those who are business- rather than technology-focused — can potentially make most excellent CEOs.

Barnard says it was clear every day he spent in the job that his training as a CIO helped him rise to the challenge

When the board of NASCO (National Account Service Company), a nation-wide US health benefits processing company for Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, short-listed Barnard for the CEO role in early 2005, what ultimately mattered to them, he says, was a history of on-time, on-budget delivery. They also wanted someone capable of taking complex technical issues and translating them into business terms for the board. Ultimately, after an excruciatingly painful evaluation, Barnard proved to be their man.

"I had a philosophy when I was CIO that the business drives IT — not the other way around," Barnard says. "The board wasn't technically inclined, so my ability to translate key technical issues into business terms meant a lot to them. They wanted someone who could work with them and someone who was politically astute.

"Many of the skills I learned as the CIO around translating technology into meaningful business terms really allowed me to be successful in the CEO role because I was able to always translate and talk to the board members in terms of business issues, not necessarily technology issues," he says.

As CIO of this technology-driven company, Barnard had frequent customer contact and board access. His appointment as CEO elevated him to a voting member of the board, responsible for managing every aspect of the company. While the role required big changes, he says it was clear every day he spent in the job that his training as a CIO helped him rise to the challenge.

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