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Strategies, advice and opinions helping to define and develop the role of IT leaders and their staffs.

CIO Career Advice: Moving Up the Business Ladder

Over the past couple of decades I’ve met many CIOs with aspirations to move out of IT and up the corporate ladder. Some succeeded; many more did not.

Despite the advantage of being an executive with a view across the entire business, it’s simply not an easy task for the CIO to break out of IT. The reasons for this are many: the CIO is a relative newcomer to the executive suite; in many organizations there’s a lack of connectedness between the business and IT; many see IT as a cost centre rather than a strategic tool for innovation and revenue generation; IT has a long history of project failure and underperformance in the eyes of the business; and the list goes on.

Two of the most successful people I know who’ve made big strides up the corporate ladder are Hao Tien and Sav DiPasquale. CIOs with eyes on advancement could learn a lot from them.

I had the opportunity to interview Hao Tien in 2007, when he was CIO of Toyota Canada. Advancement came quickly. Soon after I met him he took on the role of Chief Operating Officer at Toyota Canada. Then he moved to Japan and became GM of Toyota Motor Corp. and today he is VP Lexus China.

When I met Hao, he was doing a great job of keeping the IT house in order, but he was also a ‘big picture’ guy, intent on making IT a strategic contributor to the company. That helped him a lot in his rise through the company.

Hao’s career got a big boost when he implemented an IT-based customer problem-resolution system called Customer One that vastly improved communications between Toyota Canada’s dealer network, call centres, engineers and warranty department. The system not only had a huge impact on Canadian customer satisfaction, its early-problem-detection capability became a global best practice, enabling Toyota to identify problems and fix them early in the manufacturing process, saving huge amounts of money and improving customer satisfaction around the world.

Even with some strategic success under his belt, Hao knew that it would take more to make it to the next level, and so he took every opportunity to enhance his business skills, diligently accessing the company’s online best practices library, enrolling in Toyota’s executive development programs, networking with the company’s global business executives, and availing himself of executive coaching.

The results speak for themselves. His career has been exemplary.

When I first met Sav DiPasquale in the late 1990s, he was Director eBusiness at Glaxo Wellcome Canada (see my blog ‘Cracking the Alignment Nut’ ). By 2002 he had taken over as VP IT & CIO of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Canada, winning Canadian CIO of the Year honours in 2006. Continuing his rise through the organization, he became GSK Canada’s VP Business Development & Corporate Planning in 2009. After nearly four years in that role, he left GSK to become President and CEO of medical research firm Orgenesis Inc.

It was apparent to me from the outset that Sav was an IT executive of a different stripe. He didn’t talk about the things IT execs usually talked to me about. He spoke at length about making IT extremely visible to the business and using a myriad of marketing techniques to promote better project change management and to raise awareness of new IT-enabled capabilities for the organization (see ITMG’s Strategic Insights report, Marketing IT to the Business, ideas that many CIOs would cringe at.

Not only was Sav a marketing guru and out-of-the-box thinker, he was also a smart businessman. He knew that as a CIO, he’d better be very well attuned to the priorities of the CEO. This became one of his big passions, and it served him well in his career in IT. It’s hard to go too far wrong when you’re in lockstep with the CEO.

As he told me when I interviewed him for the above-mentioned Strategic Insights report, “If you are not working on what the CEO cares about, you're kind of in no man's land. The first order of business is to find out what the CEO wants from IT. If the CEO doesn't initiate it, you have to go to the CEO. Probe, probe, probe until you can figure out what levers to pull with that CEO.”

The CEO at GSK Canada wanted IT to help the company be more productive, more agile, to be a smarter working company. So that’s what Sav spent his time on – IT innovation that would result in competitive advantage. Among the many excellent results of this focus was the creation of a digital marketing capability for the company that is world-class, and built-in-Canada e-forms that are used in 48 countries around the world.

Sav also worked hard at enhancing his business skills. He successfully completed the Schulich School of Business’s Executive Program and he earned a green belt in Six Sigma, a data driven methodology that can be applied to any aspect of business and is used to improve customer satisfaction, eliminate waste and increase profit. As well, he learned all aspects of GSK’s business inside out.

Like Hao Tien, Sav ran the IT organization at GSK Canada like clockwork, leveraged strategic IT success, worked closely with executive management, and applied himself diligently to improving his business skills to take his career to the next level.

These are some of the keys that CIOs need to focus on if they are to climb the corporate ladder. There are several others. If you want to learn more about them, a good starting point is the whitepaper “CIO to CEO: Barriers and Success Factors”, published by the CIO Association of Canada and Ryerson University.

For more career advice, see my previous blogs Underutilized IT Execs, Get Your Career Working for You , and When You’re Gone, Make Sure You’re Not Forgotten .

That’s all for now. Good luck in moving your career forward.

Past Attendees

ADP - VP Architecture & Infrastructure

AESO - VP, Information Technology

Agnico Eagle Mines - VP, IT

Agrium - Global Mgr., IT Security

Agrium - Senior Director IT Shared Services

Aimia - SVP & Global CIO

Ainsworth Engineered - Director IT

Air Canada Vacations - Director IT

Alberta Energy Regulator - Director, Office of the CIO

Anthem Properties - VP IS

AON Risk Solutions Canada - Head of IT

Avison Young - VP Global Enterprise Architecture & Integration

Aviva Canada - VP, Architecture & Strategy

Bank of America Merrill Lynch - CTO

BC Ferry Services - VP & CIO

Bell Business Markets - Director, Strategy & Planning

Bell Canada - National Director, Digital Transformation

Bellatrix Exploration - Director, Information Technology

Bentall Kennedy - VP IT


BFL CANADA - Director, Cybersecurity & IT Risk Management

Black Press - CTO

BlackBerry - VP Corporate IT

BMO Financial Group - Director, Technology & Operations Transformation

BMO Financial Group - Head of Services Delivery

Bombardier Aerospace - CISO

Bonavista Petroleum - Head of IT

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP - Global CIO

Bow Valley College - Director, IT Services

Bridgewater Bank - Head of IT

BuildDirect - VP IT

Bulk Barn - Head, IT

Burnco - CIO

Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec - VP, IT Planning, Architecture, Governance, Operations

Calfrac Well Services - Head of IT

Canada Goose - CTO

Canada Live - VP of Technology

Canada Mortgage and Housing - VP, Information & Technology

Canada Protection Plan - Head of IT

Canadian Depository for Securities - CIO

Canadian Direct Insurance - CTO

Canadian Payments Association - VP & CIO

Canucks Sports - Head of IT

Capgemini - Service Delivery Director


Cardel Homes - VP MIS

Cargojet - CIO

CBI Health Group - CIO

CCS Corp. - VP IT

CDSPI - Board Director

Centerra Gold - Director IT & Comm

CI Global Asset Management - VP of Enterprise Infrastructure $amp; Operations

CIBC - Senior Director, Infrastructure Planning & Engineering

CIBC - SVP & CIO, Retail and Business Banking Technology

CIBC Mellon - AVP, Enterprise Architecture

CIBC Mellon - SVP & CIO

Cineplex Entertainment - CTO

City of Brampton - Senior Manager, IT Architecture & Planning

City of Richmond Hill - CIO

City of Toronto - Director of Strategic Planning & Architecture

CN Rail Service - Chief Information Security Officer

Coast Capital Savings - VP Technology

Colliers - Head of Technology & Data

Concordia University - AVP & CIO

Crescent Point Energy - Head of IT

Dairy Farmers of Ontario - Head of IT and Administration

Dale Parizeau Morris Mackenzie - VP, IT

Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP - Director, Information Technology

DealerTrack Canada - Director, Technology

Defence Construction Canada - Corporate Manager, IT

Deloitte - Director, Risk Advisory

Dentons - Canada CIO

Devon Energy - Director, Integrated Business Services

Direct Cash - VP IT & Security

Dynamic Tire Corp - CIO

D+H Partnership - VP, Head of Canadian Mortgage Technology

eHealth - EVP, Technology

eHealth Ontario - VP, IT Systems & Services

Encana - Director, InfoSec

Enbridge Inc. - VP, Technology and Information Services

Enerflex - CIO

Enerplus - VP. IS


Equitable Bank - CIO

Equitable Bank - CISO

Equity Financial Trust - VP, IT

Essential Energy Services - Director, IT

Expedia Cruise Ship Centers - VP IS

FGL Sports - VP, Information Technology

Finastra - SVP, Head Technology Managed Services

Fix Auto Canada - COO & SVP - CIO

Freedom Mobile - Head, Customer Applications, Experience, & Strategy

FT Services - CIO

FundServ - CIO

Genus Capital Management - CTO

Genworth Financial Inc. - VP IT

Geotab - Board Member

Golder Associates - CTO

Gran Tierra Energy - Director IT

Grant Thornton LLP - CIO

Grand River Hospital - Director, Data Governance & Analytics

Greenwin Inc - VP, Information Technology

Groupe Dynamite - Director, IT

GSK Canada - IT Director

GTAA - Acting CIO

H&R Block Canada - VP IT

Haventree Bank - VP, Technology

Hewitt Equipment Ltd. - VP & CIO

Hitachi Vantara - GVP & Global CTO

Home Trust Company - CIO

Home Trust Company - CTO

Home Trust Company - VP & CISO

Horizon North Logistics - CIO

HSB Canada - VP IT

IBM Canada - Associate Partner, Payments Industry

Indigo Books and Music - CIO

Interac Corp - Director, Platform Engineering

ivari - SVP & CIO

JP Morgan Chase Canada - Executive Director, Information Risk Management

Keyera Energy - Director, Information Technology

KFC Canada - CTO

KnowledgeOne - CIO

LaFarge Canada - Director, IT

Landmark Cinemas Canada - VP, IT


LCBO - Director, Applications Systems


Leisureworld Senior Care Corp - VP IS

Lifeguard Digital Health - Chief Security & Informatics Officer

Loblaw Companies Ltd - Senior Director, Customer Engagement Technology

London Drugs - GM IT

Loto-Quebec - Corporate Director, InfoSec

Magna International Inc - VP & Global Leader, IT (CIO)

Manulife - Global Head of Private Markets & Real Estate Technology

March Networks - VP Professional Services & CIO

MaRS Discovery District - Managing Director, Fintech and Commerce

McCain Foods Limited - Manager InfoSec

McInnis Cement - Director of Information Technology

Medical Pharmacies Group - VP, Information Technology

MEG Energy - Manager, Information Technology Solutions & Services

Metrolinx - EVP & CIO

Minto Group - VP IT

MMM Group - CIO

Montreal Police Service - CIO

Morguard Investments - CIO

Moulding & Millwork - CIO

MullenLowe Group - Global CIO

National Bank of Canada - Information Security Officer

National Capital Commission - Chief, IT infrastructure & Support Services

NHL Players' Association - Head, Security & Technology

Northbridge Financial Corp - CIO

OEC Group Canada - Vice President, Information Technology and Client solutions


Oildex - VP, Architecture & Infrastructure

OPTrust - AVP, Enterprise Data Services

Olympia Financial Group - CIO

OMERS - EVP, Data & Technology


OMERS - SVP, Data & Advanced Analytics

Ontario Pension Board - CTO

Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan - SVP, Product & Delivery

Ontario Trillium Foundation - CIO

Osum Oil Sands Corp - Manager, IS

Ottawa Police Service - CIO

Pacific Western Transportation - CIO

Packers Plus - Global IT Director

Pason Systems - Manager, Digital Communications & Corporate IT

Patient News - CTO

Peel District School Board - CIO

Pengrowth Corp - Director IS

Penn West Exploration - Snr. Manager, IT Operations

Peterson Investment Group - Head of IT

PFB Corp. - CIO

Pizza Pizza - CIO & VP, IT

Precision Drilling - VP, IT

Precision Drilling - Director, IT Infrastructure & Security

PSP Investments - Snr. Director, Internal Audit & Business Infosec

Public Works and Government Services Canada - Director, IT Security Directorate

PwC - Managing Director, Real Estate Technology Advisory

Pythian - CTO

Qantas - Global CIO

Queen's University - Director, Information Technology

RBC Royal Bank - Head of Application Security, Data Protection & Security Consulting

RBC Royal Bank - VP, Technology Platforms & Risk Management

RBC Royal Bank - Global Cybersecurity VP

Regal Lifestyle Communities - CIO

Revera Inc. - CIO

Revera Inc. - Security Architect

Rheem Manufacturing - CISO & Enterprise Architect

Ricoh Canada - VP,IT

RioCan Property Services - VP IT

Roche - Head of IT Americas – Operations

Rogers Communications - SVP, Customer Experience IT


Russel Metals - VP,IS

Salvation Army Canada - Board Director

SCI Group - CIO

Scotiabank - Head, Systems Architecture & Platform Modernization

Scotiabank - VP - International Systems Technology

Scotiabank - Head, System Architecture & Platform Modernization

Scotiabank - Global Head, GBM Compliance & Transformation

Sears Canada - Divisional VP, Information Technology Services

Secure Energy Services - GM, IT

Shaw - Head, Customer Applications, Experience, & Strategy

Shaw Communications - VP, Technology Operations

Shaw Communications - Director, Risk Management

SMART Technologies - Director, IS Corporate Services

Smartcentres - Director IS, IT

SmartOne Solutions - President & CIO

Societe de Transport de Montreal - Division Head - Security and Compliance

Street Capital Financial - CIO

Sun Life Financial - AVP, Data & Business Intelligence Services

Sun Life Financial - VP Application Ops & Services

Sunco Communication - COO

Suncor Energy Inc. - Director, Application Portfolio Optimization, I&PM, Business Services

Symcor - CTO, VP Technology Services

Talisman Energy - SVP IT & Business Services

TD Bank - Enterprise Architect

Teknion - SVP, CIO

TELUS - Chief Security Architect

Tervita Corporation - VP, Information Technology

The Hudsons Bay Company - VP Technology

The Hudson's Bay Company - SVP & CIO

The Source - VP, Information Technology

TMX Group - CISO & Global Head of Infrastructure Services

Toromont Industries - VP & CIO

Toronto District School Board - Chief Technology Officer

Toronto Hospital for Sick Children - Director of Technology

Toronto Parking Authority - CIO

Toronto Police Services - CISO

Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) - Chief Enterprise Architect

Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) - CIO

Toyota Canada - National Manager, IS

Transamerica Life Canada - CIO

Trican Well Services Ltd. - Director, Business Information Systems

Tridel Corporation - CIO

Trillium Health Partners - IT Director, Applications & Clinical Informatics

UFA Cooperative - VP & CIO

University of Calgary - Executive Director, Development Services

University of Ottawa - CIO

University of Ottawa - Senior Director IT Services & Infrastructure

University of Toronto - Director, Centre for Management & Technology

University of Waterloo - Director, Technology Entrepreneurship

Valencia Risk - Managing Director

Vancity - VP Technology & Solutions

Viterra - Director Enterprise Technology

Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company - Director of Innovation Outpost

World Health - Director IT

Wolseley Canada - CIO & COO

WSIB - Board Director

Yellow Pages Group - Director - Enterprise Data Management

York Region District School Board - CIO

York University - Board Director

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