The Biggest Challenge For A CIO-Turned-CEO

Rafael Loureiro, CEO of Wealth
“The transition from a technical ‘behind the scenes’ person to a relationship-driven person is not an easy one,” says Rafael Loureiro, who made the leap.

Former information technology leader Rafael Loureiro understands what it takes to make the leap from CIO to CEO—it’s a journey he took himself. Loureiro, now at the helm of Phoenix-based estate planning firm Wealth, spoke with StrategicCIO360 about the learning curve involved, how to set yourself up for success and what you need to learn to do the top job well.

Why do CIOs make great CEOs?

Not all CIOs would make great CEOs, and not all of them are even looking for that type of transition. However, I do think there is a lot of alignment between the skills and experience necessary to successfully lead technology and what it takes for a CEO to succeed.

Most of the businesses I have been part of were technology-centric, therefore the migration from CIO to CEO was almost a natural one, expected. More and more organizations are putting technology at the core of their strategies, increasing the importance and exposure of CIOs. 

CIOs are mission driven, technology savvy, deeply invested in the product and know how to work with cross-department, which are all excellent traits of a great CEO. However, those are not all the requirements of the top job.

What are the biggest challenges to making the leap?

In my experience, the transition from a technical “behind the scenes” person to a relationship-driven person is not an easy one. You have to be able to get out of your comfort zone and be ready to be the face of the company, externally and internally. In addition to that, develop your financial and marketing skills, they will be a big part of your daily job. 

What can technology leaders do to set themselves up for consideration for CEO roles?

Three things worked really well for me during my growth from technology leader to CEO:

Ownership. Ownership is seeing a problem, a challenge, and leading from beginning to end, never using the words “not my problem,” working around constraints and reaching across the aisle when help is needed.  

Bias to action. There is a point where you just do it and show the team what can be accomplished, sometimes by having to work nights and weekends to prove a point. There are only so many meetings you can have before taking an action. It is not comfortable, it can be risky, but you are certainly going to get the attention and rise to the top faster. 

Self-education. The job requires you to be constantly learning and asking the right questions. There are several ways to learn, find the one that works best for you, including mentorship, books, training, just to name a few. 

What advice would you give someone who is considering or about to make the jump from CIO to CEO this year?

Three things are crucial:

Expand your horizons. You are now the leader of several disciplines—you do not need to be an expert in all of them, but it is important to know the basics in finance, marketing, compliance and operations and how to measure if your team is performing well. For example, my company Wealth is a digital estate planning platform which requires me to spend a lot of time understanding the legal aspects of our product so that I can support our legal team.

Read, educate yourself, find a good group of trusted advisors. The CEO position is very lonely, it is important to have a good support group to bounce your ideas off. And finally…  Trust your instincts, that’s why you made this far, but be open to challenges to your beliefs. If possible, let data make the decision. Opinions are good, but we all have one. 

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