Hiring an IT Leader?

FRAMINGHAM (07/17/2000) - Ted Della Vecchia was in his first round of a multiday interview process for the CIO position at Starbucks Corp. Suddenly, in popped someone who politely asked to join the discussion for a moment. The visitor was the company's legendary founder and chairman, Howard Schultz. "He shared what was on his mind. He wanted to give me a chance to meet him," says Della Vecchia. "He was very impressive."

Demand is strong for information technology professionals, especially for top-level IT executives such as CIOs, chief technology officers and executive vice presidents. Senior executives need to woo these in-demand IT gurus, and Schultz understands this. To attract a good person, the company's top dog must be involved. Della Vecchia got a job offer at the Seattle-based coffee-store chain and took it, in part, he says, because he felt that the highest levels of Starbucks' management were supportive of him and his position based on what Schultz told him.

The following are seven strategies that can help bring in - or keep - a top-level IT executive:

1. Include the CIO in the ‘inner circle.' "One thing becoming very important today, more so than ever before, is to organizationally have the CIO report directly to the CEO [ideally], or the president or [chief operating officer]," says Beverly Lieberman, a principal at executive search firm Halbrecht Lieberman Associates Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

"Allow the CIO to share the table with the top management of the company. Treat them as an equal member of the executive board," adds Barbara Gomolski, research director at IT workforce research firm Gartner Institute in Eden Prairie, Minn.

CIOs want to expand their influence beyond IT and make a contribution to the company's bottom line, says Ernie Park, vice president and CIO of Global Business Services at Honeywell International Inc., an aerospace and automation company in Morristown, N.J. CIOs must be engaged in developing business strategies, not just IT strategies, he notes.

By personally meeting with Della Vecchia during his interviews, Schultz sent a message that everyone from the chairman on down considered the CIO a part of the top management at Starbucks.

2. Pay is important. "[A CIO] has to have an extraordinarily competitive compensation plan," says Lieberman. "It may not conform to the way you're paying other executives. They are higher paid than those in other functions not because they are intrinsically more valuable, but it's supply and demand."

A competitive salary isn't enough, though.

"You don't get top-level execs with just the compensation plan. You need an equity plan," says Charles Foley, executive vice president and CTO at Inrange Technologies Corp., a Mount Laurel, N.J.-based provider of enterprise infrastructure. This means stock options or other equity plans.

3. Pay attention to "soft" issues. "So many times, what people are attracted to are the intangibles: Is there a crystal vision? Is it well articulated? Is it compelling?" says Wade Myers, CEO of Interelate Inc., a business analytics application service provider in Minneapolis.

Don't ignore what's in it for the CIO. "We are looking for challenging learning opportunities. We have to be able to grow," Park says.

"The soft stuff is really what drives retention [of CIOs]," says Della Vecchia.

"Those who are driven just by money aren't going to be happy and fulfilled, no matter what."

4. Provide support. The top IT executive doesn't want to go on bended knee for money. "Give him enough budget to bring in good technology," says John A.

Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement firm. Challenger says cutting-edge technology is needed for running the business and helping the CIO attract top-flight IT talent.

5. Show commitment from the CEO. Time was, many CEOs ignored or were even intimidated by technology. If that's still the case in your organization, attracting and retaining top IT executives may be impossible.

"The CEO has to be willing to invest personal time and make a commitment to learning more about IT. They can't avoid it or hide or delegate it," warns Lieberman.

6. Provide leading-edge technology. No matter how much money and adulation a professional athlete gets, the really good ones still retain some of the enthusiasm for the game that they had when they were learning it as kids. The same is true of top IT managers. "Even at a high-officer level, these folks are still attracted to the technology. They're still turned on by it," says Randy Ynegas, human resources director at STech, the IT division of Charles Schwab & Co. in San Francisco. Terry Gallagher, president of Battalia Winston International, an executive search firm in New York, calls the latest technology "a big turn-on for CIOs." The right technology helps attract and retain IT executives. These people still like to play with cool toys.

7. Look within. Gomolski recommends looking for top talent inside the organization. Her reasoning: It's taking companies up to four months to fill staff positions, and, she says, "It's not hard to imagine [that] it will take a year" to fill a CIO spot. Recruiting from within can save time. And perhaps even more important, Gomolski adds, by promoting an employee, you can largely overcome the chances of a mismatch between a person you bring in from outside and your corporate culture.

Steve Finnerty, senior vice president and CIO at Kraft Foods Inc. in Northfield, Ill., says of promoting from within, "The insider knows the company [and] has built up relationships." While he acknowledges that an outsider can provide a fresh perspective by "staying connected to the outside world" through trade shows and seminars, Finnerty says such a shortcoming can largely be overcome.

Horowitz is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City. Contact him at alan@ahorowitz.com.

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