CIO Ken Young ambled over to CEO Patrick MacLeamy's desk 15 feet away to show his boss WebEx, an online conferencing technology he'd been toying with. Neat, huh? The CEO's eyes lit up.
"Ken, I want one of these in every office," MacLeamy ordered. "Do whatever it takes to make it work for the whole company."
Most CIOs' jaws would drop, but not Young's. After working for the techno-savvy MacLeamy for more than a decade at Hellmuth Obata + Kassabaum, a $405-million global architecture firm, this CIO knows how to manage up. Young swung into action: a contract signed in less than two weeks, the application installed on some 2,000 computers, employees trained in 24 offices, and wheels set in motion to get the board of directors up to speed.
"He's a really impatient guy. He likes things to go fast. And he's a guy who likes action," Young says of his CEO. "I've learned a lot about his personality in terms of time frames he thinks are acceptable. The CEO says, 'Yes, do it,' and I'm on the rollercoaster."
CIOs better learn to operate at this warp speed. As technology and business merge, more and more midmarket CIOs must answer directly to the go-go CEO. In a 2005 survey by CIO Decisions, almost half of CIO respondents said they report directly to the CEO -- a figure that's on the rise.
Data from the Society for Information Management in 2004 showed 55% of CIOs reporting to the CEO, compared with 41% in 2002. And a new Forrester Research study of 1,000 companies, 70% of them in the midmarket, also shows an upward trend: 35% of CIOs report to the CEO in 2006, up from 29% in 2004.
Health Quest Systems Inc., a three-hospital chain in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is part of this trend. In 2003, CEO Adil Ameer restructured his executive suite so that CIO Nick Christiano reports directly to him. "The CIO's role is becoming extremely critical in health care, and therefore it should not be buffered by layers between the CIO and CEO," Ameer says. "There needs to be rapid exchange of ideas and information, and that can only be done if there is unfettered access."
The problem is that CEOs and CIOs tend to come from opposite ends of the corporate world. Their personalities often clash, like a tuxedo jacket with plaid pants. Consider the strikingly different approaches MacLeamy and Young take when tackling challenges.
"Once I have an idea in my mind that would be a good thing for us, I can be politely pushy," MacLeamy says. "OK, quite demanding. I like to get things done."
"I tend to be a bit more methodical, because I have to dot the i's and cross the t's," Young says. "With technology, sometimes I want to be more cautious."
This was first published in September 2006