Fiona Balfour had taken on what many people saw as the biggest CIO challenge in the country when she accepted the role of Telstra CIO in January 2006, just as her contract as Qantas CIO was drawing to an end. In February 2007 she resigned from Telstra for professional reasons.
She was suddenly out in the marketplace and not quite sure of her next step.
Balfour chose to leave Telstra of her own volition but other CIOs find themselves looking for their next role after being retrenched or after their role shrinks following a decision to reorganize global IT or to outsource. Still others are looking for a sea change, find themselves the loser after a merger where the "other" CIO assumes the position, or are quite simply sacked.
The most important step when getting back on the horse is knowing which horse you want to get back on then making that happen. Senior people that leave their jobs voluntarily or involuntarily all have the option to reshape their life and job into what really suits them. This is especially true in this market
"It's likely to happen to everyone at some time," says one ex-CIO, who is now contracting. "That's the nature of globalization." Jobs for life are history.
Finding yourself without a job resonates differently for everyone but particularly differently for the executive who chooses to leave, than it is for the CIO who leaves involuntarily and might not have had time to think through the next step of the career. As another ex-CIO notes: "I believe that, like divorce, it is a very different feeling if you have made the decision to leave than if a company makes the decision for you. I've done both and I'm not sure you can compare the two experiences. While in both cases the outcome is just fine, when it's not your decision you need to come to terms with it. If it is your decision you have processed it and have your next steps planned.
"So assuming you get the bullet, I think the most important thing to do is not panic and remember that change is growth and that usually makes us happy. Off the back of that I think it is really important to do something you haven't been able to like take a trip, time off, a course . . . anything to give you the space and thinking time you will need to make the best decision."
Whether pushed or jumped, for many ex-CIOs there is a period of readjustment: a time to recharge batteries run down after a long spell in the CIO saddle, to consider how to spend or invest any payout. Relatively quickly though - often in just a matter of weeks - most CIOs who are still a way off retirement want to get back on the horse.
Balfour herself would love another executive CIO or COO role - "a diamond role", as she describes it. "If the right, big, meaty job comes along with the right boss in the right company I'll go and do it." And the gig would have to be in Sydney. But she understands that is a tall order and because she is imposing limitations, "that diamond role may not come up". If in a year or two it still hasn't, she'll reconsider her options, and is already canvassing the possibility of directorships.
The need to rethink your options after a period out of the workforce was echoed by another ex-CIO. "If you are on the backburner for a while then it might be the time to rethink the career and broaden the scope - take a course or look at a new niche. If you are a senior person then you should have those options."
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.