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CIOs need strategy and change management credentials to be CEOs

Nadia Cameron | Aug. 6, 2014
Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton shares his rise from IT executive to business leader and why CIOs need to learn a lesson or two from marketers.

Ron Hooton, CEO of Vision Australia

CIOs need to build their business strategy credentials, lead change and start thinking like marketers if they want to attain CEO and board positions in the future.

That's the view of Ron Hooton, CEO of Vision Australia, who spoke at this year's CIO Summit in Sydney on his rise from IT executive to corporate leader. Vision Australia provides services to blind and visually impaired Australians and has 820 staff.

Hooton joined the organisation in January 2013 after a seven-year stint as CEO at ProCare Health in New Zealand. He was formerly a CIO at New Zealand's Defence Force, Countrywide Bank and Western Bay Health, taking on a range of general management duties along the way.

"We need a lot more of us CIOs in the boardroom and in CEO roles," he told attendees. "We've heard a lot about the third platform [social, mobile, analytics and cloud] and the need for better customer interactions. It suggests to me we need the smart brains of CIOs in these leadership positions to drive this change."

In a career that spans 35 years, Hooton took the audience through the key decisions and professional steps he took to achieve his ambition of becoming a CEO.

On his list of what made him a great candidate for the top job was ambition, the fact that he didn't want to be a CIO forever, his decision to take on several CIO+ roles across a diverse mix of industries, an MBA, and board experience.

Hooton said he'd also undertaken a leadership program as well as a company director's course with the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

"As CEOs, we have to prepare for the boardroom -- things just happen differently there," he said.

In order to understand what CIOs can deliver as business leaders, Hooton said it was important to recognise the skills boards look at when it comes to appointing a CEO.

He pointed out that across the rest of the executive suite, CFOs are known for looking after the dollars, while lawyers excel at mitigating risk, making both common candidates for CEO roles.

Marketers are increasingly known for generating sales and driving customer engagement, entrepreneurs have ideas, general managers are a safe option for managing teams and divisions, and engineers are subject matter experts.

"We haven't looked terribly seriously at how CIOs might position themselves to take on a CEO or board role," Hooton claimed. "If we want these jobs as CEOs, we've got to position ourselves in the same way marketers do to get them."

So how should CIOs be positioning themselves? "In this current commercial environment, our greatest skill is going to be in where we can take businesses in the future and in the face of this very uncertain digital model we have to face," Hooton said.


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