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CIO To CEO: A Transition That Delivers Immediate Impact (Forbes)

How Propel's Ross Meyercord draws on his experience as CIO of Salesforce to inform success in his role as CEO.

This article was originally written for and published by Forbes.

In 2023, tech isn’t simply sustaining business growth; it’s fueling it. However, many companies in this tech-driven world are missing a huge opportunity that is quite possibly sitting next to them at the executive table. With intimate knowledge of the inner workings of your business and how people and processes are impacted by technology solutions, appointing a CIO as CEO is a natural fit.

A CIO Agenda 2023 report published by Gartner research states that “four out of five CEOs are increasing digital technology investments to counter current economic pressures, including inflation, scarce talent and supply constraints.” The agenda also reports that CEOs/leadership believe digital initiatives are taking too long to complete (59%) and too long to realize value (52%).

In today’s economy, the stakes are high and the pressure is real. It’s not enough to view your business through a digital-first lens without a crystal clear view of what you’re truly trying to see. Technology has never been more vital—and adopting the latest buzzword isn’t enough to compete effectively. Here’s how leveraging a CIO to lead the business can positively impact your bottom line.

Delivering 20/20 Foresight

When tough business decisions need to be made, the CIO brings real-world experience to the table—tapping learned skills in driving operational efficiency and digital transformation, as well as spearheading customer engagement initiatives. They understand current market needs and challenges as well as anyone in the C-suite, as well as the pressure of defining focus and delivering measurable results on time and on budget.

CIOs not only examine business systems, but they also define all the processes that underpin the entire operation. They have insight into the financial impact of digital initiatives across the organization and can adjust the levers to impact results during tighter economic conditions like we are currently navigating.

The CIO’s unique vantage point gives them the familiarity of business architecture—the efficiency of workflows, the fluency of handoffs and the acumen of application users—all providing the inherent opportunity to become intimately well-versed in how an enterprise works.

This widespread knowledge and strategic business view ready CIOs for the CEO chair with a comprehensive understanding of the ripple effects of each decision on the organization. With this purview, they’re able to make more informed decisions as CEO so that when new strategic thrusts are implemented, they have less overall impact on companion business units.

A CIO-turned-CEO has the foresight to predict the trickle-down effects of major decisions on other parts of the business. For example, how new initiatives for top-of-funnel pipelines could end up flooding your sales representatives, crippling the ability to capitalize on your initial marketing investment.

All of this is to say, for a typical CEO, hindsight is 20/20, but when you include all the experiences and lessons learned from a CIO background, their vision is 360 degrees.

Clear Vision During Crisis

A CIO continuously plans ahead to avoid crises and is armed with an action plan for if/when crises occur. They learn quickly to have systems in place to capture data, suggest a change and deliver a resolution as fast as possible. Crisis management is simply the day-to-day. In no time, they become really good at it.

During my time as CIO at Salesforce, I often reviewed issues deemed “urgent” by various executives. It was my job to triage, determine the actual business impact, identify and prioritize and quickly create a solution. I was confronting more unhappy “customers” on a quarterly basis than any CEO may ever dread to see.

An accurate CIO job description should list two core attributes: thick skin and excellent listening skills. Without these, no CIO or CEO could succeed or even survive. CIOs must listen attentively and carefully to users to identify root problems as quickly as possible to take action and deliver demonstrable improvement.

This crisis “aptitude” translates fluently to the CEO’s job of listening to its most important business lever—the customer. The listening skills I honed as a CIO help me every day as a CEO as I engage directly with customers to understand the unique value we provide and what new challenges are ahead for their specific industries. As a CIO, I learned to absorb the barbs while understanding the intent behind the feedback—so that I could identify the source of the issue and improve upon the outcome. Today, I do the same as a CEO.

Gathering and responding to feedback quickly and deftly helps CIOs make business adjustments that keep them committed to a customer-focused mission. By doing this, executives can focus on improving the way it creates and delivers products and/or services that engage and delight customers.

An Ideal Solution For Business Leaders

To survive in today’s economy, leaders must react quickly to market and customer needs. Understanding how technology provides the speed and accuracy needed to influence mission-critical decision making clears the path for many CIOs to claim the CEO title. While new CEOs may build up this muscle over time, those who come aboard with CIO experience are already primed.

Ross Meyercord is a member of the Forbes Technology Council, an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Check out all of Ross' content for Forbes here.

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Ross Meyercord
CEO, Propel

Ross Meyercord is CEO of Propel Software, a SaaS provider dedicated to helping high tech, medtech and consumer goods companies build compelling and profitable products. Throughout his 30+ year career, Meyercord has worked in a variety of capacities, including directly with manufacturers to implement PLM and QMS solutions, managed global technology organizations, and has been instrumental in guiding customer-facing teams to increase customer success and drive corporate growth.

Fun Fact: When not working or with family, you will likely find Ross on the tennis courts.

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