Lessons from down under

Qantas-a380-tailQantas, Australia’s largest domestic and international airline, recently announced the promotion of its CIO, Paul Jones, to the position of executive manager of strategy and planning for Qantas Domestic. His successor in the CIO role is the group’s CTO, Luc Hennekens. Commenting on Jones’ promotion a company spokesperson said that it reflects his strong performance record since joining Qantas in 2011.

We often see negative headlines about the CIO role so it’s good to see something positive in the news for a change. But the announcement also gives CIOs two valuable lessons about their role: successful CIOs can and do progress beyond the CIO role; and succession planning is a key CIO responsibility.

I have long been an advocate of the CIO being seen as a business leader as well as a technology leader. Today’s CIO is more than just a technical specialist; they need a much broader skill set and strong business knowledge. This wider experience and skill set, combined with the ever-increasing importance of technology, means CIOs have an opportunity to broaden their remit and contribute much more than technical expertise to their organisations. And if they are successful in driving the technology enabled transformation of their organisations, then they make themselves strong candidates for taking on new areas in addition to their CIO role, or for progressing beyond being a CIO into a broader leadership role.

The success of CIOs growing their remit and moving into more senior roles has been highlighted by Peter High, President of Metis Strategy in two series of interviews published by Forbes titled, CIO-Plus and Beyond CIO, respectively. And now with the promotion of Paul Jones we have another example of a CIO’s success in delivering value for their organisation and potential as a business leader being recognised.

What is even more pleasing about the Qantas announcement is that Jones’ successor as CIO has also been promoted from within. Hennekens joined Qantas in January as CTO and was presumably recruited with a potential succession in mind. Succession planning is a key task for CIOs and particularly for those with aspirations to take on new responsibilities or move beyond the CIO role altogether. What could be worse for any ambitious CIO than being overlooked for a potential promotion because their organisation is worried about being able to recruit a suitable replacement for them in an acceptable timescale?

Succession planning eliminates the need for a potentially costly and time consuming recruitment process and removes the risk that goes with any new external appointment. It also ensures continuity as there is no learning curve for the new CIO and, as is the case with Qantas, a CIO promoted from within is likely to continue with the existing strategy and direction for IT. CIOs that are new to the company tend to want to make their mark by defining a new strategy – this is often the reason they have been brought in, to change the direction of IT. But when things are going well as they are at Qantas the business needs someone who understands and can continue to drive the existing strategy.

So if you are a CIO that wants to add to your responsibilities or progress beyond the CIO role altogether, the good news is that it can and does happen. But you need to think about succession planning; build a strong team around you with potential successors. Not only will this help you to be successful in the first place it will also ensure you can take advantage of any openings or opportunities as they arise.

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