When CIOs Crash And Burn - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
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11/9/2007
09:04 PM
John Foley
John Foley
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When CIOs Crash And Burn

Stuart Scott's sudden, ignominious departure from Microsoft is just one way for CIOs to be shown the door. HR violations, lack of execution, poor judgment, failure to protect the company's vital information--a lot can go wrong, and when it does, there are consequences.

Stuart Scott's sudden, ignominious departure from Microsoft is just one way for CIOs to be shown the door. HR violations, lack of execution, poor judgment, failure to protect the company's vital information--a lot can go wrong, and when it does, there are consequences.I met Scott two months ago at InformationWeek's conference in Tucson, Ariz., where he was a featured speaker. In front of some 300 conference attendees, I interviewed Scott and Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer and, notably, Scott's boss. The two talked about the way they worked together, including regular meetings with Bill Gates to brainstorm over Microsoft's internal IT operations.

Scott and Turner presented a pleasant picture of harmony and accomplishment. They talked about how Microsoft has consolidated data centers and held IT costs flat, while directing freed-up resources into new, value-adding software development projects. Afterwards, some attendees thought it all sounded too good to be true. They were right.

Turner, the former CIO of Wal-Mart, is a no-nonsense kind of guy. One has to wonder what Scott did to bring the hammer down on himself. The father of seven seemed squeaky clean, spending his out-of-office time coaching and "leading youth groups," according to his bio. Microsoft will only say that Scott violated company policies. Not surprisingly, rumors are flying on the Web.

There are myriad ways for IT execs to get into trouble and just as many ways for them to exit. Morgan Stanley's embattled CTO Guy Chiarello recently "retired," according to one source. (I have a call into Morgan Stanley to confirm; no response yet.) If true, that's a face-saving goodbye compared with Scott's swift boot.

Chiarello's name surfaced in a wrongful-dismissal suit brought on last year by a former Morgan Stanley employee. Among the evidence submitted in the case was e-mail sent by Chiarello and others at Morgan Stanley seeming to curry favors from the company's IT vendors. (See "Money, Power, And Principle.") Separately, the brokerage firm was fined millions for failing to satisfy SEC requirements for archived e-mail, not a great reflection on IT leadership.

In his recent book Seduced By Success, Bob Herbold -- ironically, Microsoft's former chief operating officer and a one-time CIO himself -- writes that CIOs get sacked when they fail to guide IT strategy with a firm hand. "Clear responsibility and accountability" are a necessity, he writes.

Herbold's point is that CIOs get fired for not meeting the expectations of top management. If bad behavior can get you into trouble, poor performance can, too.

My colleague Bob Evans offers another reason to dump the CIO. If he or she is incapable of protecting the company's data from hackers and other threats, Bob says, fire 'em.

It's a tough job with high standards. Not everyone succeeds.

[Addendum, Nov. 13: Morgan Stanley confirmed late yesterday that Guy Chiarello is no longer with the company.]

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