Keys to Delivering Quality Executives

SAN MATEO (07/24/2000) - The ad might read, "In search of the right CTO. Must be compatible with company culture, have a solid background in both technology and business, have good communication skills, and be able to command admiration and respect."

Recruiters might place such an ad if finding a CTO were that simple. But recruiters know an ad isn't the answer to landing Mr. or Ms. Right CTO. The pool of eligible CTOs is small; the competition for their affections fierce.

The CTO's evolving role requires an individual capable of thinking both as a hands-on technologist and as a high-level business strategist, at times serving the dissimilar needs of internal and external users while deploying technologies that serve the corporate bottom line.

No wonder CTOs are in hot demand.

"They are getting one to three calls a day from recruiters," says Phil Schneidermeyer, who heads the IT practice at Korn/Ferry International's office in Stamford, Conn.

Competition for a select few

Hiring a CTO is an evolving phenomenon, rising with e-commerce's dramatic ascent. Now Internet start-ups want CTOs, as do traditional companies eager for a leader to bring them into the New Economy.

The pool of eligible CTOs includes current CTOs or CIOs, e-commerce consultants ready to leave the outsourcing game, or ambitious individuals in the second-tier of executives ranks, such as a vice president of Internet technology. Other candidates, experts say, include individuals who became CTOs primarily to perform specific tasks, such as launching an e-commerce site, and have seen the project to completion.

This small pool shrinks even further when you consider that roughly 40 percent of the Internet start-up CTOs are founders, Schneidermeyer estimates. That means those individuals are deeply committed to their current roles and aren't likely candidates for lateral moves, he says.

Matching the market

The key to pinning one of these hotly sought after executives is to develop a thoughtful, but flexible, list of requirements and to sell the job as an opportunity, recruiting experts say. When you hook a candidate, move quickly.

"Until the market changes the better candidates get to command both great money offers and great jobs," says Marc Lewis, managing director of the CIO/CTO group for executive search firm Christian & Timbers, in Stamford, Conn. "They want it all and can get it."

Obviously, a competitive salary, which can start in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, is a requirement. Signing bonuses and stock options are no longer perks, recruiters say. Add a "hot pre-IPO company" in a desirable location to the job specifications, and you may strike an employment deal, Lewis says.

Start-up buzz helped Jeff Crowe, who recently signed on as president of DoveBid Inc., an e-marketplace provider for retired capital assets, in Foster City, Calif., hire his first CTO. Because DoveBid evolved from an industrial auction business, Crowe wanted someone who could straddle the new and old ways of doing business and take responsibility for both external and internal systems.

DoveBid executives also wrote a tight and simple specification for the job, Crowe says. "You have to work very hard with people who come from very different worlds," he says.

DoveBid signed on with executive search firm Christian & Timbers. After interviewing several candidates, DoveBid immediately recognized the top choice, Francis Juliano, then the director of global e-commerce for Office Depot.com.

DoveBid offered him the job, and he accepted. Crowe admits that his search wasn't as drawn out or as painful as for other firms -- what helped was the media buzz and the initial corporate consensus on the type of candidate needed.

CTO checklist

Before you move forward with a recruiter, or your own internal effort, developing an agreement on a detailed specification -- the list of candidate requirements -- is key, recruiters say. The specifications will vary depending on the company's core competencies and whether the focus is on products or services.

Regardless of the CTO job specifications, technological know-how is still king among CTO skills. "Despite the conventional wisdom that technology savvy is no longer important, it is still at the top of the list, along with strong interpersonal skills," Christian & Timbers' Lewis says.

Skills needed in a CTO vary from organization to organization. "The larger the enterprise, the deeper the [candidate's] skills need to be in financial management, business management, people and project management," says Frank Goldschmidt, a Lexington, Mass.-based business development director at technical recruiters RHI Consulting Inc.

Corporate brass must also consider the characteristics and style of its executive team. A high-pressure, sales-oriented, hierarchical environment may not work with a person who has succeeded in a more laid-back collaborative atmosphere, and vice versa, notes Kelvin Thompson, a principal at executive search company Heidrick & Struggles International, in San Francisco.

The proof of a CTO's ability is in the pudding. Companies should carefully check on the person's previous experience, recruiters say. Experience in a particular vertical industry can be helpful, but not paramount.

"Experience is far more important than education in IT," Goldschmidt says.

Still, an MBA is desirable, he says, because it indicates a serious focus on business.

If Mr. or Ms. Dream Candidate has a few holes in his or her background, weigh those shortcomings against the positive attributes.

"Everyone has some shortcomings," Schneidermeyer says. "Figure out how you can work around it."

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