Opinion: Why CIOs should be board directors

Technology is a key tenet of businesses in every sector. But according to unpublished Korn Ferry data cited in a recent Harvard Business Review opinion piece, only 31 percent of Fortune 100 companies have a board director who is a CIO.

In the HBR piece, two authors — Craig Stephenson, managing director of Korn Ferry's North America CIO/CTO practice, and Nels Olson, vice chairman and co-leader of Korn Ferry's board and CEO services practice — advocate for CIOs leading boards.

"[H]aving an accomplished CIO director is the most effective way to make sure the board identifies the most pressing technology priorities, establishes greater importance for the technology functions and plays an active role in attracting top technology leaders," Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Olson wrote. "Perhaps most important of all, the CIO director can constructively challenge plans for the technology functions, which are the backbone of every successful enterprise today."

Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Olson highlight three guidelines to consider when hunting for a CIO board director.

1. Change your viewpoint on technology. Technology is important — even for the board, which typically sees it as a cost burden. But as Tim Theriault, the former CIO of Walgreens Boots Alliance and current board member of Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, asserted: "[E]very board should have access to someone who knows what technology can do for the business and what the trends are."

Additionally, a CIO board director can help the board answer key questions, such as whether the organization's current technology systems are outdated.

2. Redefine the board director role. A CIO board director can be multifaceted, acting as "a valuable translator between the board, the internal CIO and other technology-related functions," Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Olson wrote. In this way, a CIO director can also help educate the CEO and board members about pertinent technology issues.

"The savvier CEO wants someone on the board who can connect appropriately with management on technology-related issues and make recommendations," said Charlie Feld, founder of The Feld Group Institute and former CIO of Delta Air Lines.

3. Search for unique candidates and be open to various backgrounds. Potential CIO director candidates should be adept in multiple fields. "CIO directors should be capable of straddling business and technical worlds at the highest levels and acting as a connecting rod between the board and internal technical functions," Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Olson wrote. In addition, Mr. Feld noted the ideal candidate would possess technical, business and storytelling skills.

Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Olson say the ideal CIO director candidate should have previously served in a CIO or chief technology officer position in a market related to that of the board's company. However, they also caution unintentionally screening out candidates based on initial perceptions.

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