Entourage, IT Style: The CIO's Trusted Advisers

Entourage, IT Style: The CIO's Trusted Advisers

What's it take to be a superstar CIO? One thing is an entourage of trusted advisers, including project managers, recruiters, publicists and troubleshooters who keep top CIOs at the top of their game

Every big-time CIO knows you can't rise to the top without reliable people around you. And the smartest CIOs build a battle-tested posse to bring along from company to company, city to city.

And why not? A turnaround CIO wants a trusted operations expert with him when he lands at a troubled company, to help scope problems and not stab him in the back. A strategic CIO wants a grade-A communicator to help script messages and convey ideas to perhaps reluctant employees or nontechnical executives. What CIO wouldn't want to take along a project leader who has expertly planned and managed global software rollouts?

Glen Salow, executive vice president of service delivery and technology at Ameriprise Financial, a $10 billion financial planning firm spun out of American Express, keeps tabs on 25 to 30 people he's worked with over the past several years. He brings them into his inner circle whenever he can. Today the entourage includes two communications pros and an intellectual property attorney. One of those communicators is Kathie Wilson, a change-management specialist; they've worked together 11 years, beginning at American Express. Among other tasks, Wilson monitors how her boss' technology changes are received by Ameriprise advisors and staff and helps position his communications to address those concerns.

"What gets you is not what you worry about, but the things you don't know you need to worry about," Salow says. "The way to deal with that is to surround yourself with diverse perspectives." Most CIOs, he says, "keep a list of a dream team and you reach out to them often." Salow himself was recruited to Ameriprise by chairman and CEO James Cracchiolo after the two worked together at American Express. Salow is among the highest-paid technology executives at a public company; according to SEC documents, he earned more than $7 million in 2007.

CEOs, of course, have recruited favourite managers to new gigs for a long time. CIOs with peeps, though, signal that technology executives know they have every bit as much on the line as a CEO, says Chris Patrick, partner at executive recruiting firm Egon Zehnder International and global leader of its CIO practice group. When superstar CIOs manage thousands of people and billions of dollars, Patrick says, "mistakes can move the company's stock price in the wrong direction. You have to have trusted lieutenants."

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