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What It's Like to Be a First-Time CIO

What It's Like to Be a First-Time CIO

A 10-year veteran of corporate America gets a major dose of culture shock when he moves into his first CIO job at a privately held technology company

Hiring Right, Rallying the Team

When I first started at Innovation Ads, there was a distinct lack of team spirit among the IT staff, primarily due to their long-standing frustrations with the prior technology leadership. People showed up at nine, parked themselves in their cubes, put on their headphones, worked on their projects and left at six. No one talked to each other, or knew what the others were working on. Nor did they care.

The first thing I did was weed out people who didn't share my enthusiasm for programming. I live for software development and application design. I simply couldn't do anything else. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd be sitting at home writing computer applications. It's what I love. Anyway, I hired six new developers, and everyone who came on board wound up being really good. This is the team that's going to take our company to the next level.

Hiring is hands-down the most important thing for a CIO, for any manager. If you can't build a good team and hire the right people, you will drown-no ifs, ands or buts about it. Few CIOs have the time anymore to step in and solve technical problems themselves. My days are full morning to night with vendors, management, shareholders and staff. Even if I wanted to step in and do this stuff myself, there's simply not enough time in the day.

Finding the right people that you can count on-and letting them know how important they are-is key. I told my development group that they're the crown jewel of the company, and that the company could win because of them alone. I told them that they were my number-one priority-that my own boss came second. "What's important is what you guys need from me," I said. "My boss has five direct reports he can call on. You guys only have one boss." I let them know that I was going to represent them to upper management and that I would take full responsibility for any technical problems that came up. I wanted to shield them from politics and blame and bolster their faith in me as their leader.

When I worked for Corporate Express, I was driven to work hard not because I really cared for the company (how excited can one get about office products?) but because of my boss, the national vice president of sales, Al Zoldos. I learned a lot from him every day I was there, and I trusted and respected him. All of his direct reports did. I truly wanted to make him proud.

At Innovation Ads, I decided that I wasn't going to try to sell my developers on working hard for the sake of the company. That's a cliche. I wanted to get them to work hard for me, the way I was inspired to work hard for Al. And in exchange, I do everything in my power for them. If they believe that I truly care about them, which I do, I have a much better chance of getting them to help me and thus, help the company.

One thing I did was purchase new computers for my developers with 90 inches of monitor space. You could fit a full-grown New York Knick's guard on the monitor. Everyone in the company took notice of the technology team's giant new machines. It made my group feel special, and I think it helped inspire them to do their best work.

I also created wallpaper for their desktops that featured the Google logo in a rifle's cross hairs and put it on all the developers' machines. Google is by far our largest competitor, and I wanted to align my developers around a common foe and make it clear to them that we're shooting for the top. We are not out to be a successful online marketing company; we are out to be THE successful online marketing company. I want Innovation Ads to be as well known for its advertising platforms as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

When everyone else in the company saw the wallpaper, they wanted it on their machines, too. Between the monitors and the wallpaper, the technology group's zeitgeist had begun.

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