It Worked For Me: Career Advice from Top CIOs

It Worked For Me: Career Advice from Top CIOs

CIOs from FedEx, Campbell's Soup, Carlson and other top companies share the advice that helped them get ahead

As CIO, you have doled out your share of advice to the people you mentor. But at this stage in your career you probably feel confident enough in your own counsel that you rarely seek advice from others. But regardless of the title we bear, we are all on a career path and could all benefit from the perspective of those who have travelled a similar course.

To that end, I asked several successful CIOs for a piece of career advice that they received along the way and that has served them well. Their experiences can help as you consider your own role - or provide new material for when you're coaching others.

Get uncomfortable. I was a young technology manager and had a job that I absolutely loved. Everyone was my friend and the work really appealed to me. I was on a management development plan and was sponsored to interview for a job in a large scale systems development area of a different division of the holding company. This would be a lateral move for me but doing something completely different with a major project that was struggling. When they made me an offer, I turned it down. Well, my VP called me up to the 37th floor and told me how disappointed he was with me. He told me that he had been working hard to advance my career and that I was being a chicken by sticking with my comfort zone and not stretching my skill set. He put his foot in the middle my back and kicked me out the door. Turns out, he had intercepted my rejection, so I had the chance to reverse my decision and take the job. I learned a completely different skill set and was promoted twice within the next 18 months. That job really launched my career, and the opportunities it gave me are why I get to sit in this amazing job today.
Robert Carter, CIO, FedEx

Carpe diem. A colleague once told me that the key to success is not to worry too much about long-term career plans and just spot and seize upon great opportunities. It's not about picking a career path. It's about being brave enough to go for opportunities that do not necessarily fit into the career path you set for yourself. In my mid 30s, I was managing director of trust operations at Bankers Trust. The IT organization was implementing a $50 million trust accounting system. The systems leader became ill and had to leave. So, after a major battle over getting funding for the project, we had no one to lead it. With no real technology experience, I went to the vice chairman of the bank and said, "I can do this." He was sceptical, but I told him that I could figure it out, and he gave me the project. I wound up leaving my operations management career path for senior IT leadership roles at Banker's Trust, Prudential Insurance and then to my first CIO role at Nabisco.
Doreen Wright, CIO, Campbell's Soup

Fall on your sword. Very early in my career, a mentor advised me that it is far better for your career in the long term to admit responsibility for failure than minimize it or defer accountability. In the late 80s, I was championing a massive company-wide project and determined at a pretty advanced stage that it was unlikely to be successful. Instead of trying to save it, I made the decision to throw in the towel and tell my boss, the CIO, that the project was a failure. When my boss decided to promote me later, the integrity I showed on that project weighed heavily in his decision.
Peter Solvik, former CIO of Cisco Systems and now managing director at VC firm Sigma Partners

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