Head up the Tech Ladder – Why Chief Technology Officers are Moving to CEO

Why Chief Technology Officers are moving to CEO

Traditionally the technical lead within many businesses has been seen as a single specialism role. CTOs were often seen as having reached the top rung of their career path. However, as each round of tech start-ups mature and more businesses come to realise the importance of the CTO skills set, it seems logical that this will change.

The need for the CTO/CEO

I doubt there are many companies that do not rely on having a highly efficient Chief Technology Officer in place. Everything from future development to compliance is governed by the decisions made around the technology and digital structure of most businesses. This is not only something that is not going to go away but is also certainly going to become even more important over time. The CTO role is no longer about keeping the IT running, it is often about keeping the business running. Accepting that the heart of most businesses is the IT infrastructure, then it makes sense that the CTO should be considered as a viable CEO.

Is there a skills gap, though?

This is actually a very good question. In all fairness, there is an argument for having a Chief Exec or Managing Director that has training in areas that the Technical Officer may well not have. Business management, sales and marketing and many other skills tend to be on the resume of many current CEOs. Certainly, these are probably hard skills that a CTO will not have studied in a formal setting. This does not, however, change anything we mentioned in the last paragraph. A deep understanding of the intrinsic nature of technology is still a very potent driving force. It seems more that a shift in perspective is needed than anything else. Board level contributions and management strategies to allow these skills to be catered for seem no different in essence than a traditional CEO skillset relying on the technical skills required of the CTO. The benefits of having a highly knowledgeable person who understands the importance of the very technology that keeps the company running, heading up a senior management team, seem too clear to ignore. A small shift in perspective is all that is required to dismiss the traditional picture of what the head of the leadership team is.

So how does a Technology Officer step up to CEO

This probably begins with the development of additional, more business-orientated skillsets. A deeper understanding of marketing would be a good place to start. For most modern-minded businesses, agile sales processes that utilise the potential of inbound marketing, social media platforms and other digital as well as traditional methods will be vital. Interpersonal and people management skills are another potential area for development, as are flexible thinking and being open to new, challenging ideas. A CEO coming through the technology route will also need to understand areas such as finance and business planning to take full advantage of the skills of their CFO and management team.

Possibly the biggest challenge to a CTO looking to lead the company, though, will be the additional responsibility the CEO role carries with it. As the importance of the IT infrastructure has risen, though, most Technology Officers will already be no strangers to pressure, and they frequently need to make key decisions that affect the whole business. So, while this is again an area for consideration, it may not be the longest of leaps to bridge that gap.

The case for more Chief Executives and Managing Directors having the skill set of a CTO seems quite strong, and indeed, we are seeing a definite shift towards it. Only time will tell how far this will go but is it too much of a stretch to imagine a business world, particularly one such as FinTech, where the progression from CTO to CEO is the norm?

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