CIOs: The eternal nomads

By James Hutchinson, CIO Australia |  Career, Careers, CIO

In many ways CIOs are like nomads: They might set up camp for a short time, but before you know it they're off in search of other pastures.

The next pasture isn't necessarily greener but it's the eternal search for a sea change that seem to drive the CIO from company to company.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Mick Houlahan's extensive career at the University of Western Sydney - which came to a close earlier this month - made him a treasured stalwart of the education sector, gaining the respect of those at the university and his counterparts at others.

But exactly how long a CIO is likely to stick around isn't ever certain. One study pinpointed five years as the mark when the IT director usually gets itchy feet, a journey that extends from the honeymoon through to inevitable project failure, as some in the role joke. Chris Yates, former head IT honcho at Tennis Australia, prefers a shorter, three-year span. Put simply however, CIOs aren't around for long.

And where they're likely to go is just as uncertain. Some jump from directorship to directorship, but in the latest spate of CIO career moves early-2011 at least four CIOs have jumped ship completely:

  • Scott Stewart of HTM Wilson will soon start at Longhaus
  • Marcus Darbyshire from SE Water is now executive partner at Gartner
  • Julian Lamb from Tony Ferguson has moved to IBM as a senior program manager; and
  • Chris Yates, having wrapped up the last Australian Open, is now a consultant in search of future challenges.

With two analysts, a consultant and a program manager at one of the world's largest IT companies, there is not much consistency with who CIOs change jobs.

It could be the lack of sufficiently challenging CIO roles in some cities. For RMIT's new executive director of IT Services, the desire to move out of the financial services industry after a decade with ANZ led to the big question: Where to next?

"When you look at Melbourne and senior IT leadership jobs, once you go past the banks there's not a lot of interesting, big challenges," Brian Clark says. "The technology challenges have been largely the same."

There are, however, natural paths for CIOs to take, according to Longhaus' latest catch, Scott Stewart. After five years as CIO and, subsequently, consultant to two key financial services companies, he made the switch to an analyst role, set to begin later this month.

The link between the two careers isn't necessarily explicit, but it's there. Not all CIOs make good analysts, he says, but, for some, the fit is natural.

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