CIO as a leap of faith

CIO as a leap of faith

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A conversation with Tim Elkins, Executive Vice President and CIO of PrimeLending about the aspiring CIO.

ENTERPRISERS PROJECT: As you’ve probably read, Tim, a recent Computerworld story shows that more than half of up-and-coming IT executives no longer aspire to be CIO, in part because of the meetings, budgets and politics. Did that finding surprise you?

ELKINS: I can’t say I’m shocked, but the reason I aspired to become a CIO is because of everything else: to be able to play a strategic role in the company, to be on the senior management level where you’re involved in guiding the direction from a technology standpoint. For me, there was never any doubt that I wanted to aspire to that from the get-go and be involved in more than just day-to-day operations. That’s not to say that keeping the lights on isn’t part of the job. It’s a given. You have to do that. It’s what you do beyond that that’s fun. I would not want to be a CIO either if that wasn’t part of the job. If it was literally just the budgets, just the meetings, just the politics, I wouldn’t want the job either. From that perspective I completely get it.

THE ENTERPRISERS PROJECT: Were you in another role when a light went on and you said “Wow, I really feel like I’ve got the right personality and mindset to move into this position?” Because some people definitely eat, breath, and sleep pure technology and they don’t want to go to the managerial level.

ELKINS: No, I never had that moment. In fact, I was really fortunate that someone knew me and sought me out to be their CIO. To be honest, I was scared to death. I did not feel like I could possibly be qualified. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a CIO. It was one of those things when you face your fears and seek the opportunity, and see what happens. The longer that I was in the role, though, the more I realized how qualified I was to evolve in that direction. But I never knew it at the time. It was a leap of faith and it was scary for me to move into that role.
What’s really exciting now is to spearhead one of your ideas and get the business onboard and involved, then see if it comes to fruition. That’s fun, because you’re contributing to the strategic direction of the company. That’s what’s great about being a CIO.

THE ENTERPRISERS PROJECT: And I’m sure you’ve found that being a CIO at one company can be a very different experience from another one, right?  

ELKINS: Absolutely. I honestly think that CIO status differs company-to-company and CIO-to-CIO. There are a lot of companies out there that would love a game-changing CIO to be on their team. So many CIOs come in through the ranks of IT and through the technical world that don’t know how to be a senior manager. If you find a CIO that has the technical experience and knows how to manage, they won’t have a comparatively low status on that team once they’re involved.

THE ENTERPRISERS PROJECT: It sounds like the bigger leap to make it technical to managerial rather than vice versa.  

ELKINS: I’m certain I’ve never had a purely technical mentor; it’s always been on the business side. I’ve been in the mortgage industry my entire career and I love the business side as much as I love the technical. But it’s always harder when you’re in the IT department to learn the business. So from time to time I’ll find someone in one of the business groups and just come in to learn – not only on how to grow as a manager and as a leader but just to learn the business in that department.

Read Tim's article about if now is the time for IT to invade the business.

Tim Elkins joined Primelending in 2008 and serves today as Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer. He is responsible for information security, IT operations, and technology initiatives. Tim has more than 20 years of experience in the mortgage industry and is chair of the Residential Technology Forum (RESTECH) for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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