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Switch Hitting: How to Change Industries

Switch Hitting: How to Change Industries

Despite the fact that securing a CIO spot in a brand new industry is a good deal more challenging than remaining in your vertical, many CIOs have bitten the bullet and made the move. Here is some advice &#8212 on getting the job and keeping it &#8212 from a few of them

Have you been typecast? Here's some expert advice on breaking out of the industry mould.

Seventeen years ago, you innocently took a job as an IS manager in a health-care organization. Now, after following a vigorous career trajectory from company to company in positions of increasing responsibility, you look in the mirror and staring back at you, to your horror, is a "health-care CIO". You've been typecast, but you're tired of the challenges endemic to your industry, and you want a new role.

What do you do? How do you convince a financial services CEO, who is keen on bringing in a business-focused IT leader, that you are the best fit for the job? How do you move into a new industry without taking a backward step?

You don't, says Don Parker, who is EVP of Operations and Technology at BOK Financial Corporation and has spent his career in financial services. "Ten years ago, when the application of technology was more generic, IT knowledge could translate across industries," he says. "But today, technology is how you compete and your value as a CIO is based on your ability to drive the business. Your best offers will come from the industry in which you have expertise."

But despite the fact that securing a CIO spot in a brand new industry is a good deal more challenging than remaining in your vertical, many CIOs have bitten the bullet and made the move. Here is some advice - on getting the job and keeping it - from a few of them.

1. Think carefully about the industry. Before you decide to dive headlong into a new industry, you need to do a "gut check", advises Bart Thielbar, VP of IT at Northwestern Energy, who moved from insurance to utilities in 1998. "Are you moving toward something or away from something?" he asks. "If you've had trouble succeeding in one industry, you may have trouble in the next, and this time you won't have the same support networks."

Thielbar also advises that you think long and hard about the future of the industry you are considering. "Understand that trends like regulations and consolidation will put pressure on your company and your job," he says. "Make sure you can stomach those trends."

2. Go for the late adopters. When Thielbar decided that he was ready to move on, he looked specifically for an industry that currently spent less money on technology than insurance but that was gearing up to spend more. He saw that the utility industry was on the verge of automating its consumer processes, and successfully targeted Northwestern.

3. Follow the vendors. Wayne Sadin, CIO of Aegis Mortgage Corporation, agrees with Don Parker that your best bet is to pick a great industry and stick with it. However, if you are set on making a move, he suggests you take a look at the business development strategies of your vendors. "Let's say you're an expert in workflow or imaging," he says. "Go to those vendors and ask them what industries they're trying to break into. Take advantage of all of that good market research."

4. Make subtle, not drastic, industry changes. Rafael Sanchez, VP and Group CIO of the Carnival Corporation, has worked in his share of industries, but they contain a common element - the consumer. "I've worked in consumer products, food service and travel," he says. "They definitely have their differences, but they are all focused on the customer, and from a technology standpoint, they have a lot in common." If you're the CIO of a hospital and your goal is financial services, do a stint at a health insurance company before making your ultimate move.

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