So, You Want to be an IT Executive

Here at VertitechIT, our consultative work with healthcare systems and mid to large size corporations takes us around the country, working side by side with some of the brightest minds in the IT industry. These leaders, from Senior Managers to Chief Information Officers, come from all different backgrounds, exhibit various levels of technical acumen, and are charged with not only keeping the wheels of their organizations greased and running smoothly, but are increasingly being asked to counsel C-suite leadership in converting strategic vision into technology that saves money, makes money, or allows the organization to become more efficient.

This thinking is dramatically different from the “just keep the lights on” mentality expected of IT leaders in the past.  What skills and characteristics are crucial for success as an IT executive today? What educational backgrounds and experience are required to land coveted positions in executive IT leadership? We’ve put together this report as a more comprehensive look at the men and women who will be leading IT organizations in the 21st century.

What’s in a Name?

An Overview of the Modern IT Executive

“IT Executive” is a rather broad term that actually encompasses several distinct titles and roles within an organization. IT executives may report directly to the CEO, or they may serve as a Senior or Executive Vice President, Director of Technology, or Management Information Systems Director.

There is no single, universal hierarchy when it comes to these positions. Every company has its own organizational structure, and there are no hard and fast rules that say that anyone with a CIO title must report to the CEO or that VPs are higher in the pecking order than CISOs. That means that it’s tough to define a particular job function and reporting hierarchy for any given job title. That said, IT executives in general tend to share some common job responsibilities, traits, and skill-sets. An IT executive is often responsible for:

  • Overseeing company IT functions, or specific technology functions within a department
  • Determining IT budget and equipment needs
  • Contributing to the overall business strategy; at minimum, an IT exec will be expected to ensure that IT initiatives they’re responsible for are aligned with broader business goals
  • Staying up-to-date with emerging technologies and identifying opportunities for innovation, cost savings, etc.
  • Leadership. No matter the job title, IT executives are responsible for the direction of a team, which may consist of senior-level managers and other staff

As Mondo explains in its 2016 IT Salary Guide, “IT has grown into an entity that touches all parts of an organization’s business; keep pace or get left behind. As technology companies expand into new niche markets, software products and services become increasingly ubiquitous.”

According to the report, executive positions comprised three percent of total IT hiring in 2016.

Where’d you go and what have you done?

Educational Background and Work Experience

What educational backgrounds are companies looking for when they hire an IT executive? A degree in Information Technology or an IT-related field is a logical assumption, but given the shifting IT landscape, that’s no longer a given. Originally, the head of IT for a company wasn’t an executive-level position, but one that fulfilled more of a managerial/technical role. These IT leaders typically reported to the CFO and were rarely, if ever, involved directly in broader business and financial decision-making.

IT is increasingly seen as a competitive advantage for an organization – and the ability to interpret strategic vision into tactical application is paramount. This has led to a demand for executives with an MBA or comparable degree, coupled with vast experience in IT leadership. In-depth technical knowledge is no longer a primary prerequisite for senior level IT executives.

We took a look at dozens of profiles for professionals serving in various executive roles in IT on LinkedIn to learn more about the educational backgrounds of today’s senior IT leaders.

Undergraduate Studies

  • B.S. in Computer Science
  • B.S. in Computer Information Systems
  • B.S. in an Engineering Discipline (such as Industrial or Mechanical Engineering)
  • B.S. in Computer Information Systems
  • B.S. in Business Administration
  • B.S. in Finance

Graduate Studies

  • M.S. in Software Systems Engineering
  • M.A. in Security Studies (such as Homeland Defense and Security)
  • M.S. in Industrial Systems Engineering
  • MBA in Executive Management
  • MBA in Entrepreneurship
  • MBA (General)

There’s a clear mix of technical and business-related studies, and commonly, it’s a combination of the two: an executive may have earned a Bachelor’s degree in a technical field and then earned an MBA to gain the business acumen needed to pursue leadership opportunities. A common thread in nearly every IT executive profile we reviewed is vast experience in leadership roles, both in a general business leadership capacity and in various technical leadership positions. In IT, experience often trumps education. Many companies, such as large hospital systems, will hire for executive leadership roles from within, but it’s common for healthcare organizations to recruit horizontally – an IT executive from one hospital system may move to a similar role in another.

Another noteworthy consideration is that while most corporations prefer executives to have an MBA or similar degree, it’s not unheard of for a company to put a promising leader who doesn’t have an MBA on the track to the C-suite or VP-level. In these cases, a professional may be tasked with increasing responsibilities as they work toward earning their MBA.

Does it matter if your MBA is from Wharton or a less prominent institution? The short answer is that it depends on the industry and the scale of the business within that industry. The healthcare world typically demands internal and systemic knowledge where experience at another health system can be extremely valued.  It’s not unheard of for hospitals and other healthcare organizations to put a promising leader on the track to executive leadership, requiring them to earn their MBA as they work their way up the ladder.

Other companies are often looking for unique talent. A large corporation will typically want a better MBA from a better institution but background and leadership experience can also be strongly considered.

How much?

IT Executive Salaries

According to CIO.com, IT executive salaries are on the rise. They name the highest-paid roles in IT in 2016, including:

  • CIO/CTO: $182,000 – $268,000 per year
  • Chief Data Officer: $150,000 – $210,000 per year
  • Chief Security Officer: $154,000 – $226,000 per year
  • VP, Engineering: $141,000 – $183,000 per year
  • VP, Information Technology: $141,000 – $183,000 per year
  • VP, Infrastructure: $137,000 – $178,000 per year

Glassdoor collects salary information from professionals in specific roles at various companies. The site has salary data for the role of “IT Executive” at a variety of companies. Here are a few examples:

  • U.S. Navy: $134,000 – $145,000
  • Ascension Health: $235,000 – $255,000
  • American Red Cross: $173,000 – $189,000
  • GE Capital: $201,000 – $220,000
  • Bank of America: $167,000 – $180,000

For comparison, we looked at salary data for the CIO role specifically at Payscale, which estimates the median CIO salary at $151,562, with a range of $90,027 to $229,693. Other compensation reported by Payscale for CIOs includes:

  • Bonus Compensation: $2,483 – $70,269
  • Profit Sharing: $2,899 – $40,106
  • Commission: $15,000

With additional compensation, the total earnings for a CIO ranges between $92,309 and $271,248 per year.

To examine another role, we looked at both Glassdoor and Payscale salary data for the VP Information Technology title. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a VP, Information Technology is $151,061, ranging between $128,000 and $228,000 per year. Here are a few examples of what professionals holding VP, Information Technology roles at specific companies could expect to earn:

  • JP Morgan: $100,000 – $180,000 per year
  • Morgan Stanley: $130,000 – $150,000 per year
  • Barclays: $117,000 – $180,000 per year
  • SAC Capital Investors: $139,000 to $180,000 per year
  • Therapy Resources Management, LLC: $91,000 to $104,000 per year

According to Payscale, the median salary for a VP, Information Technology is $144,437 per year, with a range of $97,648 to $193,885 per year. Other compensation includes:

  • Bonus Compensation: $3,989 – $43,694
  • Profit Sharing: $1,026 – $25,050
  • Commission: $10,000

Considering additional compensation, the total annual earnings for a VP, Information Technology typically ranges from $101,678 to $222,154.

From this information, we can conclude that the typical salary range is similar for professionals in many IT executive roles; however, the salary range even for professionals sharing the same job title (CIO, for instance) is quite large – sometimes with a span of six figures.

What gives?

Traits and Characteristics of a Successful IT Executive

There are a few factors that can determine how much a professional may earn as an IT executive, including:

  • Career experience – Late-career professionals with more than 20 years of experience can earn up to 10 percent more than their counterparts with less experience. An entry-level IT executive may earn as much as 24 percent less than average, while a mid-career professional (with 5 to 10 years of experience) may earn about 14 percent less than average. In the IT executive field, experience pays.
  • Program management skills – Professionals with proven expertise and experience in program management may earn up to 22 percent more than average.
  • Leadership skills – Strong leaders are much desired in IT, and proven leadership skills are awarded with compensation up to 11 percent more than average.
  • Software architecture and development skills – While technical skills are less important today than in the past, technical chops often lead to higher earnings. Those with software architecture expertise can earn 10 percent more than average; software development expertise can earn a professional up to 9 percent more than average.
  • Strategic planning and operations management skills – Often requirements for IT executive candidates, having strong skills in strategic planning and operations management can result in higher pay – up to 8 percent and 7 percent more than the average salary, respectively.

We’ve found that the essential skills necessary for success as an IT executive typically fall into three buckets:

  • Executive skills – Strategic abilities, management, and financial skills.
  • Technical skills – Specific trends and technologies relating to your industry and to IT in general.
  • Cultural uniqueness – Cultural sensitivity. If you come into one company from another in which the culture was vastly different, you’re going to encounter some difficulties.

As senior consultants to healthcare systems and Fortune 500 companies across the country, our needs for high level executive IT talent and those of our customers are in sync. Those that come fully-formed, (having served as an executive somewhere else), bring with them unique potential, have a logical perspective, are calm under pressure, and have the ability to see past the nitty-gritty technical details and focus on the big picture, are the candidates that will shine.

IT leadership today is about vision, a skill that may not be readily apparent in hard-core IT people who have spent the majority of their career “in the weeds.”  In 2017, the job is not just to solve technical problems, but to develop the strategic solutions that make a business, organization, or healthcare institution thrive.  Those who can figure it out, will help lead IT organizations for decades to come.