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From CSC Future Focus 2007: Chubb's June Drewry Discusses How to Cultivate Future CIOs

If I've learned anything from the many conversations I've had and heard here in Orlando at CSC Future Focus 2007, it's that insurers are aware of the potential dangers that baby boomer retirement could bring to their enterprises.

If I've learned anything from the many conversations I've had and heard here in Orlando at CSC Future Focus 2007, it's that insurers are aware of the potential dangers that baby boomer retirement could bring to their enterprises.Most of those conversations -- including one during part of a panel discussion with Steve Forte of Gartner, Chad Hersh of Celent and IBM's Carol Stafford -- have revolved around retiring IT workers and the recruitment of young college graduates to replace them. Meanwhile though, similar turnover threats have not been widely discussed when it comes the CIO position.

June Drewry, Global Chief Information Officer for the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, addressed that topic on Monday afternoon in Call to Action: Mentoring the Next Enterprise CIO. "At some point, if this isn't our primary job," Drewry said of grooming future CIOs, "then we're going to retire and we're going to leave the company high and dry."

Historically, outside recruitment has been a key approach to filling leadership roles in the industry, but Drewry says that continuing with that method could prove troublesome. "The demographics indicate that recruitment will be a much more difficult option in the future. The next generation of leaders is much smaller in size," Drewry said.

Drewry told the audience that internal staff need to know that the top job is not closed off to them and urged CIOs in attendance to reassess their priorities when they return to their offices. "Think about how much time you put towards your customers, how much you put towards learning and your outside network, and how much time you put towards developing your senior team," she urged.

The Chubb CIO suggested that a more developed and empowered senior team could allow a CIO more time to focus in those other areas. "The more all the rest of that work you'll be able to get done," she said. "I ask you to go back, reassess and give your top priority to developing that competitive advantage -- your staff."

Developing future leaders in IT will require relinquishing some control today. At some point, CIOs can inadvertently obstruct leadership development by doing too much. "We need to get out of the way so [future leaders] can grow on their own," Drewry explains.

A more federated model can help, Drewry believes. In insurance, that requires a company to organize itself by strategic business units (SBUs), which in turn creates CIO positions within each SBU. As a result, senior IT leaders can take ownership of entire projects and initiatives within their unit, earning valuable experience.

"We as CIOs would no longer be responsible for making decisions or setting the strategy. We would be responsible for creating the environment within which everyone can accept responsibility for these tasks. The entire senior leadership team comes to the table and is held accountable," Drewry explains.

Such a system also allows for better business alignment. "IT eventually becomes one more proficiency within the business unit. When the senior team [in a specific SBU] is gathered, IT is a part of it," she said. And that's important, if future enterprise CIOs want to retain the 'seat at the table' that their predecessors earned.

Many present day CIOs have earned involvement in top-level business conversations and have even picked up some non-IT responsibilities within their organizations. "It's my observation that these 'seats' were earned by particular people, not by the IT function," Drewry related. "As a result, as CIOs retire, IT is apt to lose those functions unless we groom our successors to be natural replacements in these areas."

Broad knowledge across an organization is also something that carrier's will look for in a future CIO. That can be a tough skill to development, even within the SBU model, because individual business groups are often hesitant to let their IT leaders accept an assignment elsewhere in the company.

"Building that enterprise wide experience is a tough one, but it's well worth it," Drewry said. "People who have that experience are more prone to be considered when that next big job comes up." She suggests rotating senior IT leaders in different SBUs, such as by periodically asking a senior IT leader within a business unit with applications responsibilities to fix an infrastructure problem, or vice versa.

"Let's have someone other than the infrastructure person lead that project, as a learning experience," Drewry explained.

The overriding theme throughout Drewry's speech was stepping out of the way. She described today's CIO as a large oak tree with far reaching branches that block the sun and subsequently stunt the growth of smaller trees residing underneath it. While it may be easier for a CIO to assume all responsibilities, such an approach will stifle the growth of future leaders.

"This is much harder than doing it yourself, but it's the only way, I believe, that you can grow people in this area," Drewry said.

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