CIOs blaze new career pathways at the top


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Paul Johnson wears two powerful, distinct hats at Poly, the new company formed as a result of the merger of Plantronics and Poly.

As vice president and CIO, Johnson took charge of overseeing the integration of the companies in the post-merger period — not just the technology and IT systems, but the overall business program to create and staff a fully combined entity. With that clear success under his belt, Johnson took the reins of Poly’s Real Estate and Workforce Operations group, managing a portfolio of 85 global offices for a workforce of 6,500-plus people and commanding the response when COVID-19 precipitated a transition to remote work.

Today, both roles constitute his duly-expanded C-suite job — an indication, Johnson believes, that non-traditional career moves are fair game for CIOs with business chops and a desire to hustle. “Once you have core IT services being delivered well and you have credibility, there’s potential to throw your hat in the ring for different roles whether they’re adjacent or a wholly separate opportunity,” says Johnson. “Having the confidence and awareness that, as CIO, you have unique skills and experience that you can leverage is very valuable. There’s nothing you can’t take on.”

Thanks to the COVID-19 boost — and a trend line that has accelerated over the past few years — there is no longer a concrete or linear career trajectory for IT leaders. As relationships with lines of business expand and IT executives embrace a more strategic role in light of ongoing digital transformations, a variety of new pathways and career options have opened up. For example, now that technology is considered a central plank of business, a greater number of CIOs are segueing into product leadership roles such as chief technology officer (CTO) or chief digital officer (CDO). CIOs’ holistic view of the business and knowledge of end-to-end business processes also gives them a leg up to expand their leadership to other functional areas — potentially more so than other top executives who have a narrower view across enterprise domains.

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