CIO Lessons Learned and Shared: CIO Career Strategy – Managing for Success

Over the course of almost three years, a series of 10 blogs were written and published related to my extensive career experiences as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) within the retail and telecom industries and as the President for the CIO Association of Canada (2011 to 2016). The purpose of these blogs was to share my lessons learned to help advance the CIO profession and to also help others who may benefit from these experiences and perspectives. These blogs have been consolidated in this series, CIO Lessons Learned and Shared.

Chapter 1: CIO Career Strategy – Managing for Success

Well you finally made it. After much hard work and personal sacrifices you are now a CIO. Congratulations and good luck!

How long will the position last? Well, no one really knows, but for sure it will come to an end at some point. The only question is how it will come to an end and whether it will be your choice or somebody else. Regardless, all CIOs need to have a career strategy and be prepared to manage their career for the long term. So how do you do that?

While there is no single or absolutely right answer, based on past experiences here are a few points for consideration:

  1. Recognize that you are your own “CIO brand”. What does your brand say about you? CIOs often let their personal brand be defined by default based on their current position and company, which is not ideal. Are you a CIO known for driving transformation or alternatively, at the opposite end of the spectrum, for optimizing existing operations? Whatever it is, you need to proactively make sure that you are conveying the right message in a positive way to match your career aspirations.
  2. Jim Collins outlined the “Hedgehog concept” in his Good to Great book, where he suggests that we all need to find the sweet spot in our professional lives which is at the optimum intersection of “what we are good at” with “what do we have passion for” and “what is our economic engine”. So the question is what is the career sweet spot for you as CIO? Once you have clarity on that question, it will help you plan the development of your career and desired end state.
  3. You should never stop looking for your next position, be that internal or external to your existing organization. As important as your current role is today, be open to new opportunities and exploratory calls from executive recruiters and industry contacts. You never know when one door will close and a new door open for you that is so much better than your current reality.
  4. Network, network, network. Given daily priorities and time pressures, CIOs can often become quite insular. Connecting with peers to share lessons learned and best practices can help provide insights and heightened value added thinking. Social media can greatly enhance the reach of that networking.
  5. External recognition of your accomplishments as a CIO is a good way to get the message out about who you are and what you do. Be willing to share your story publically and consider participating in the various award programs. Who knows, you might even win.

Each CIO will by necessity make their own decisions to manage their career, but they need not do that on their own. The CIO Association of Canada (CIOCAN) provides an excellent opportunity for CIOs to come together to network, to share best practices, to facilitate executive development and to enable advocacy on issues of significance for our profession.  CIOCAN also has a supportive program for CIOs in career transition, when they need the most help.

Some CIOs will let the circumstances of their present position be the primary determinant as to how their career evolves, while others will take charge and take purposeful steps to maximize their opportunities for career success along with the associated rewards. Which type of CIO are you?


Gary Davenport, CIO Mentor and Board Member

Gary has extensive experience as a CIO within a variety of industries running large scale IT operations and delivering many complex digital business transformation initiatives. He has served on numerous CIO councils and not-for-profit Board of Directors and is currently the Past President of the CIO Association of Canada (CIOCAN), a Board member for the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), a Board Advisor for the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council (C4) and the Chair of the Program Advisory Council for the Ted Rogers’ School of Business Information Technology Management program. Gary also provides advisory and CIO services as a management consultant.

When not doing CIO related activities, Gary enjoys traveling, fishing, playing golf and keeping up with his four grandchildren.