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Career Counsel

Q: I feel that I'm part of my company's key leadership. I've driven my organisation up 250 per cent over the past two years and maintained 40 per cent margins based on implementing ideas and practices. I've reached a point where I do not feel I receive the level of executive mentoring I require to continue my growth and that I must find my own way without input or feedback. Although my business unit accounts for fully one-half of operating revenues, I'm shielded from direct mentoring by those whom I respect-the senior members of our company.

I do believe in my company and its direction, as well as my contributions to continued growth. However, I must find a way to work through and receive direct input from the CEO. Do you have any suggestions for not committing political suicide to gain access to a senior executive, when the person in the middle is your closest personal friend, and you don't want to impugn his position?

A: This is a tough call. I will assume you are currently heading up your company's IT function and that you are not reporting to the CEO or COO but rather to some other executive, perhaps a CFO, who is shielding you from direct contact with senior management. And it sounds like that CFO is good buddies with the top people. First, make sure that you are not overestimating your own value and ability to serve as a member of the company's executive management team. Then, your best shot is to take the CFO aside, talk to him constructively about the strong trend toward the CIO position expanding to a true senior management role (refer to studies on the subject such as Korn/Ferry's "Changing Role of the Chief Information Officer" at www.cio.com/forums/executive/kornferry.html) and appeal to his sense of pride at having "discovered" you and the contribution that you could make to the enterprise (and its shareholder value if it's a public company). If that doesn't work, go to the CEO with the same message and be prepared to look for another job if he or she doesn't agree.

PROJECT ROLES

Q: I am confused by the terms project director and project manager, as used by management consulting firms and by packaged software developers, such as SAP and J.D. Edwards, when they are referring to major software package implementations. It does not appear to be a matter of scope or size of the project; they seem to indicate quite different roles. Can you help with some role or position descriptions that will clarify this matter for me?

A: As they say, "A rose by any other name...." Most often, the choice of project director or project manager at a software company or consulting firm is arbitrary. Having said that, there certainly are some organisations where project directors have larger accountability in scope-but not in skills and tasks-than do project managers. And I know of a few places where multiple project managers report to project directors. The variability in responsibilities tends to be on the human resources management side, such as headcount planning and budgeting, career planning, professional development, performance reviews and salary administration.

STARTUP LURE

Q: I am a senior manager in one of the Big Five public accounting and management consulting firms. I am up for partnership this year. I have also received an offer from one of the most active e-business consulting firms for the position of managing director. The position has a good base salary and good options. Would you leave the Big Five for a smaller, publicly traded company, given that you have an 80 per cent shot at making partner in a Big Five?

A: Yes, I would. But that's not really the issue. The question is whether you would leave the Big Five for a small publicly traded e-commerce venture. How strong are the company's business plan, management team, financial outlook and recent stock performance? And most important, what's your risk tolerance, and where do you think you will be happier?

GOING PUBLIC (SECTOR)

Q: I am a CIO in a major local government institution. I am bored with government and would like to "escape" into the private sector. I would also like to find a position that reports to a general manager or COO rather than to a CFO. I have state-of-the-art experience and skills and have worked in the private sector previously-even in startups. Unfortunately, the only interviews I've gotten are with other government institutions. How do I break through to the commercial sector again?

A: My first reaction is that you may be setting yourself up for disappointment and having your focus on returning to industry ignored. Returning to the profit-making sector is a big enough challenge, so be very careful about setting conditions on your next job-and how you express yourself about your "wills" and "won'ts." Although you are correct that good CIO positions do not report to CFOs, the last thing a recruiter or search consultant wants to hear are conditions and will often assume that even a reasonable one, such as the one you stated, may be just the tip of the iceberg, especially if it comes with attitude. Concentrate on getting back to where you want to be and evaluate each opportunity-on its merits-as it comes.

STAYING PUT

Q: I manage the IT organisation for a division of a $4.5 billion corporation. I have responsibility for all IT activities except the WAN, and I oversee about 50 people. I have been with this company for 25 years but would like to pursue a greater challenge and a CIO position at another company. How do you recommend that I proceed? Should I just be satisfied where I am?

A: It sounds like you have already answered your own question in that you want more challenge than your current position offers, and you have expressed your distaste for "just being satisfied" where you are. But before giving up 25 years of seniority and reputation, talk with your superiors-both your division management as well as the corporate CIO. Is there a larger division that may need your services as the head of IT now or in the foreseeable future? Is there a role at the corporate level, including one on the staff of the corporate CIO, that would allow you to learn and do new things and expand your experience? If there isn't a corporate CIO, why not, and why not you? If none of these avenues yield possibilities, then move forward and begin the process of rsum writing and contacting search consultants as described in other Q&As in this column.

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