Advice for Industry Switching CIOs

Being successful in a new industry is difficult, but not impossible

Every time another survey about CIO tenure shows up, we're reminded yet again that a long corporate life at one company is rarely in the cards for IT leaders. Today's CIO lasts an average of 4.1 years on the job, according to management consultancy Janco Associates.

Our own 2011 State of the CIO research pegs your average tenure at 5.2 years - a bit more optimistic, but still barely enough time to have a lasting impact. This information also tells us that many of you are looking for that next job right now. But are you searching outside your current industry?

One of the myths in today's job market is that CIOs can't jump industries and be successful. Depends on the CIO, I'd argue. I spoke recently with two very successful industry-switching CIOs who had some great tips to share.

Jeff Steinhorn, currently CIO at Hess (HES) and previously CIO at Linens 'n Things, made the leap from retail to energy. Patrick Thompson, now CIO at Amedisys and previously CIO at Shaw Group and Turner Industries, moved from construction and engineering to home healthcare. Their advice to other industry-changing IT leaders is this:

Connect immediately, in learning mode, with the senior business team. Get granular, especially about their business processes, which the individual departments may own "but they don't always know what they need," Thompson says.

Get the right people in the right jobs. Knowing who you can really rely on is critical in those early weeks and months.

Start contributing right away by drawing on specific expertise from your past experience. Steinhorn's retail-industry knowledge, for example, helped him deliver IT improvements to Hess's retail business in a matter of months.

Prioritize and re-evaluate all ongoing projects. When Thompson joined Amedisys, he found IT trying to focus on 365 projects, which he swiftly winnowed to 137, allowing "some important wins for the company."

Starting a new job in a new industry is doubly difficult, but it can be the ultimate success test for the CIO to go.

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