Career Counsel: The Compleat Noncompete

FRAMINGHAM (03/03/2000) - Q: At what level is it appropriate for a company to require an employee to sign a noncompete agreement? And is it appropriate for a company to require that a noncompete agreement be signed without offering a contract package?

A: A noncompete agreement, in which an employee agrees to not work for a competing company for a specified period of time after leaving his or her current employer, is, by definition, part of a contract between the employee and the current employer. These agreements are made in return for consideration, such as the employment contract package itself, which will typically provide for an employment period or other employment-guarantee terms, a severance provision, some increased compensation factors, or very commonly an equity or stock options grant.

Such contracts are becoming more common, and while usually encountered at the CIO level, they are moving down the food chain of all types of management. Make sure the consideration is worth the restriction, and if you don't think that you could obtain employment outside your company's circle of competitors, then it's probably best not to sign and time to move on to a less restrictive and possibly less lucrative situation. In any case, you must consult legal counsel, even if the contract you are offered seems routine.

SEEKING STRATEGIC SKILLS Q: I am currently an assistant vice president of IT in a Fortune 500 company. Can you recommend any one-week programs to help develop the organizational and strategic thinking skills to get to the next level?

A: There are several options to consider. Look at the professional development and training-oriented organizations such as the American Management Association ( that have long lists of available publications, books and seminars. And many of the top name university business schools run one-week seminars during the summer and other school break periods, as well as long-weekend seminars during the school year. A few of them advertise regularly in The Wall Street Journal-like New York University's Stern School, Dartmouth College's Tuck School and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, and you can find others by using a good internet search engine. I like Yahoo's higher education page ( Higher_Education) for its flexible search capabilities. And don't overlook the rapidly growing number of educational possibilities available via distance learning in which you can access excellent learning opportunities remotely and in the comfort of your home via the web.

CERTIFICATION REQUIRED Q: I am a member of senior management in an IS department for a $17 billion retailer. I am responsible for all administrative aspects of the IS department-budgets, staff development, risk management and so on-have what I think is a well-rounded background including applications development, operations, and implementation planning and execution with 15 years' experience. I am interested in pursuing a CIO-level job. I have recently come across a job posting that requires CIO Level-1 certification. What is this certification and how does one go about getting it?

A: The certification requirement you have encountered refers to the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI), a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and operated by Carnegie Mellon University. The SEI's mission is to provide leadership in advancing the state of the practice of software engineering to improve the quality of systems that depend on software. The SEI expects to accomplish this mission by promoting the evolution of software engineering from an ad hoc, labor-intensive activity to a discipline that is well managed and supported by technology. Visit its website ( is rich with information and has an online newsletter and lists of publications, courses and conferences about CMM.

MENTOR WANTED Q: I've been in IT, specifically the support arena, for about 10 years. I'm now working as IT director for a midsize ad agency, and the CEO is talking to me about becoming a CIO. While I have confidence in my background, I know there's a whole world of experience and learning to be done. I have heard a lot of good things about finding a mentor, but I'm having difficulty finding any good ways of doing so. I'm fairly new to the city I'm in and still learning about the local businesses. Any ideas or paths to approach this?

A: Congratulations on earning the opportunity to become a CIO. Yes, a mentor is a great idea. Join the local chapter of SIM, the Society for Information Management (, if there is one near you. Find out about the other ad agencies in town and see if their CIOs are interested in getting together, either one-on-one over lunch or a drink after work, or perhaps in a group at a monthly or quarterly breakfast roundtable. And, of course, reach out to the CIOs of the major corporations and public sector organizations in your city and try to connect or organize similarly. As you talk with and meet these individuals, perhaps you will find yourself bonding with one in particular, someone who you communicate well with and vice versa, who will serve as your mentor. (If you'd like to participate in CIO's Virtual Mentor series, please e-mail Senior Executive Editor Richard Pastore at SERVING ON BOARDS Q: I am currently in a senior-management-level position, recently graduated with an MBA and hope to move into the executive ranks. I see many executives serve on the board of trustees for various organizations. How does one become involved at this level?

A: Most chief information officers who serve on corporate boards of directors are individuals who are acknowledged to be the very best and brightest CIOs in America, and they generally serve on the boards of technology-oriented companies. These opportunities are usually obtained through high visibility in industry earned through speaking and publishing, through business connections and relationships, or through the board services practices of the major executive search companies.

YOUNG AND RESTLESS Q: I am 31 years old and have a bachelor's in computer science, an MBA and about 10 years of work experience. I have been freelance consulting for the last two years on software configuration management. Am I too young for a CIO position? Should I remain in a consulting position from a future-thinking point of view?

A: I don't think that anyone is ever too young or too old to be a CIO. Although it would be unusual to be a CIO at 31, the question-as well as the answer-is not one of age but of experience and qualifications from both the technical and personal skill perspectives.

You haven't told me anything about your 10 years of experience, but I will safely surmise from the work you are doing now in software configuration management that you are not getting the type of experience you will need to prepare for a CIO position-namely IT strategic planning, budgeting, IT investment portfolio management, enterprise/business applications development life cycle and managing managers.

AN MBA PROSPECT Q: I am an IT professional and hold a degree in MIS. I am a manager at a consulting company and oversee software and networking projects.

Would an MBA be essential for me to obtain an executive-level position, such as a CIO or CEO? If one achieves a CIO position, how likely would it be to ultimately become the CEO of a company?

A: The MBA question and my answer as always is an emphatic yes. The thorny part of your question is the CIO-to-CEO transition. There have been a few high-profile moves to the top position-Jim Rutt at Network Solutions, Tom Thomas at Vantive, Ed Rafter at Prudential-but certainly not very many. In a recent Korn/Ferry-Financial Times study on the changing role of the CIO, we asked 340 CIOs in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States if they thought that they could make the move to the corner office. The majority thinks not, but the French and Germans were more optimistic in this regard than were the Brits and Americans. For more on this, see "National Insecurities," Trendlines, CIO, Feb. 1, 1999, or visit

SIX-MONTH SEARCHER Q: My current situation is one that I never thought I would encounter. I have a long history of building and managing successful consulting practices either as president or CEO of my own companies or as vice president of professional services for large companies. An accident put me out of business for six months, and I can't get a spark of interest from any of the people who I have contacted, including Korn/Ferry. I can start up again on my own, but I would rather not go through that again. I have made a lot of money for many people and my track record is great. What am I doing wrong? Is the fact that I am 53 years old working against me?

A: Your six-month respite should not be a critical factor in today's very hot job market, nor should your age. If I take your track record of success at face value, you are probably facing two issues: You are at a very senior level, president-CEO or at least senior VP, and openings at that level are infrequent and highly competitive; and with the Y2K-related hiring frenzy well behind us, much consulting hiring has slowed down. While you continue your search, try doing some subcontract work to get your rsum looking like it's currently employed.

CIOS VERSUS CTOS Q: I've heard a lot about the CTO position lately. But I always thought that that position's requirements were part of the CIO's job.

What are the main differences between a CIO and a CTO position?

A: Well, that will depend on the type of company you are referring to when you ask the question. Most often the chief information officer is one who holds the highest and broadest level of responsibility for the enterprise's information and automation resources and processing requirements, while the chief technology officer, reporting to the CIO, is usually the leading technology strategist and architect for the IT function. Having said that, there are several fine companies, The Thomson Corp. for example, where the CTO title actually represents the CIO function.

Furthermore, companies that are providers of technology generally use the CIO title in the very same way as any other business does-that is, in the context of their own internal informational and processing needs. But, in the world of companies that build and market hardware, software and services, the CTO title is usually reserved for the chief product planning and development individual, perhaps somewhat similar to the old "head of R&D" title. Here the CTO is also very much a technology strategist and architect, but from quite a different perspective.

Mark Polansky is a managing director and member of the advanced technology practice in the New York City office of Korn/Ferry International. The web-based Executive Career Counselor column is edited by Web Research Editor Kathleen Kotwica. She can be reached at


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