From CIO to CXO: How to move into a new role

To advance from the CIO role to another C-suite position, you'll need to market who you are, what you do, and who you can help. Consider how a CIO in the mortgage industry did it
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I’ve always been a proponent of communicating your career aspirations to your boss. This has a number of advantages: When opportunities pop up, for example, they’ll have you in mind. They may mentor you, too, and help you achieve those goals.

Six or seven years ago, in my former role as CIO at PrimeLending, I told our CEO that I didn’t want to retire as CIO; I wanted to grow and be more business focused, but I didn’t ever want to let go of the technology piece. I could see myself as the chief administrative officer or chief operating officer. Then, not long ago, I was presented with a new opportunity at PrimeLending.

I wanted to grow and be more business focused, but I didn't ever want to let go of the technology piece.

When our national production leader was promoted to president, our CEO expanded the job’s responsibilities beyond just sales and into both technology and marketing. Today, we call it the chief production officer (CPO). Three months ago, I moved on from my CIO role and into this new position – one I never envisioned myself in, but, thanks to my experience as CIO, one I’m uniquely qualified for.

Inside the CPO role

Developing the CPO role was a bold and creative move that makes sense once you dive deeper into why we needed it. To start, the mortgage loan industry is built on relationships with realtors, borrowers, and loan officers. Technology won’t ever replace the loan officer because buying a home is a scary and it can be an emotional experience. A trusted advisor is core to the transaction; you can’t rely on technology to assuage your fears and celebrate big moments. 

However, technology will replace loan officers who don’t embrace technology. That was one motivation behind the evolution of this role: If we just replaced the national production leader with another one, we’d be continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done. And today, technology for loan officers is no longer seen as a threat: It’s a differentiator. 

We also looked at our marketing strategy surrounding our loan officers. They’re workers who must sell themselves, their knowledge, and their relationships. Our loan officers are in every market across the country. Their tone is different and their approach is different. It’s difficult to capture that insight and intel — and relay and communicate it to marketing — unless you bring both groups together to make sure they’re aligned.

When I was asked to fill the CPO role, it was unexpected; I didn’t lobby for the job or put my hat into the ring. After learning more about it, however, I knew that my CIO experience and qualifications made me an ideal fit.

As the CIO, for example, I interacted with every department. I knew their inner workings and how they’re all connected, what’s possible, their challenges and obstacles, what they’re trying to accomplish, and how they align with sales. Only I had this unique view into the company; others who have worked only in one vertical didn’t. 

Because of this unique understanding, I'm able to approach challenges from a whole different angle.

Because of this unique understanding, I’m able to approach challenges from a whole different angle than we’ve tried before. I see the challenges that the sales team faces both in the field and within the organization, and I have the technology background and understanding of the back end to develop suitable solutions. That’s what excites me most about this new opportunity — our ability to effect change.

From CIO to CXO

A CIO’s experience, qualifications, and visibility into the company uniquely qualify many CIOs to move on to new roles, but there are other steps you can take to groom yourself for something new. Before I moved from CIO to CPO, for example, I routinely positioned myself as a problem solver — but never a technical guy.

When you offer to help problem solve, people see you in a different light.

Every week, PrimeLending’s executives would meet for an hour to share what we were working on and what was challenging us. I’d get this peek into each department and I’d take opportunities to insert myself to help solve their problems. It wasn’t always from a technical standpoint — sometimes it might just be fast-tracking a project that might be helpful.

When you offer to help problem solve, people see you in a different light. You’re no longer just the technical guy. In fact, I made it a point never to be seen this way. I’d never offer to help fix someone’s computer, for example, because I didn’t want to be known as "The IT Guy." That’s not my job. A big part of moving on from the CIO role is marketing yourself, who you are, what you do, and who you’re capable of helping. 

Today I have sales leaders reporting to me even though I’ve never worked in sales. This actually isn’t different from my role as CIO, where I had people reporting to me in jobs I’ve never done. What I’m tasked with in this new role today is to help everyone be more successful and get things done— ultimately providing the whole organization with more value.

[ Want more context about the modern CIO role? Read also: CIO role: Everything you need to know about today’s Chief Information Officers. ]

Tim Elkins joined PrimeLending in November 2008 as Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer. In October 2012, Tim was promoted to executive vice president, chief information officer, and he is responsible for information security, IT operations, and technology initiatives.