5 Lessons – How to be the best CIO in the UK by Richard Harrison

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So you want to be the best CIO in the UK? I have to say in my 21 years of meeting and interviewing CIOs no one has ever said that to me explicitly. But what I can tell you is if you were to achieve this accolade then your career, bank balance and wealthy creation would soar. You will also become very popular with a whole range of suppliers not to mention IT/Tech search recruiters like myself.

But what does CIO even mean. Well traditionally the CIO has been viewed as a transformational CIO, skilled at leading enterprise teams, modernising/transforming IT/Technology estates, being part of the Board exec and adding value in more ways then just the IT/Technology landscape, business partnering, skilled at delegating the detail to their direct reports and selling the IT/Technology contribution to the business whilst gaining continuous investment. The very best in my view have also found ways to add bottom line P&L contribution through innovation off their own backs rather than the Board creating this strategy.

But equally to me CIO is nowadays interchangeable with the modern day CTO (Chief Technology Officer) who is fully accountable for technology, P&L and functional leadership and so everything a CIO does but usually in a tech firm setting.

This is different from the tech start up CTO and the traditional CTO who usually works for the CIO and is responsible for strategy & architecture but usually without the people leadership accountabilities.

So how do you become the best CIO in the UK?

Well the first thing to say is that it’s incredibly subjective to decide who is the best. Many people would also argue that leadership is about being selfless and about collective team success not one individual.

But if you happen to work for a great CIO and your career moves upwards because of their mentoring and support then you will certainly affirm that they should be. Equally, if you were the victim of a CIO where perhaps they brought in a previous direct report then you certainly won’t recognise them as being the best! In my role I hear a lot of these stories.

But back to the question. Yes you can technically be the best CIO in the UK. And it will usually last for 12 months until the next CIO wins.

  1. The first thing you need to do is enter some awards! The two big industry awards in my humble opinion are the CIO.co.uk and the Computing awards. I have been fortunate enough to attend the awards of the latter and sit on the table which won best Computing project of the year. The CIO I sat with dramatically increased their wealth in the next phase of their career and this was not even the main individual CIO award.

I know many of those people who have had award success and over the years, the recognition and credibility these awards offer have helped their careers and wealth creation significantly.

Think about it, if you were on the Board of a business and had the choice between hiring two CIOs, one who had been recognised as the best CIO in the UK, the other never recognised in this way, you would automatically think it safer to hire the winner and many do just that.

Both the CIO.co.uk and Computing awards hosted their events in November. The CIO.co.uk annual awards were last week. Congratulations to this years winner by the way, Danny Attias and indeed the other 99 included in this years listing.

The Computing winner will be announced very soon but congratulations to those who have been shortlisted, Charlotte Bailey of Panintelligence, Gareth Brace of Catalyst Housing, Andrew Brockway of Confused.com, Philip Clayson of SSE ES, Andy Garrett of Lookers, Karan Jain of Westpac Banking Corporation, Andrew Quail of SGN and Charlie Forte of the Ministry of Defence.

One of you will also be able to say you are the best CIO in the UK. Good luck to all the other nominees in other categories too. There are far too many to mention everyone here.

The main difference between these two awards is there are only a limited number of winners at the Computing awards, whereas the CIO.co.uk provides recognition for at least 100 CIOs so your odds of recognition are far greater at the CIO.co.uk awards.

I have followed both these awards for more than 10 years. Previous CIO winners have included the likes of Anna BarsbyAndrew QuailDavid Henderson and Rich Corbridge. All have had tremendous career success.

Whilst there are many names I see appear year after year there are, however, some stark differences.

One thing which has been pleasing to see is greater diversity of people, industry sectors and of course an increasing numbers of women and ethnic minorities being recognised.

For example, there were 17 Women in this years top 100 compared to 12 in 2015 and only 5 in 2012. At Xpertise we are part of the TechTalent Charter which promotes diversity and inclusion across the technology sector so I am very pleased to see this positive trend.

For me, the biggest surprise is not seeing enough CTOs in the list. And when I say CTOs, I mean number 1 CTOs who are running tech functions for tech businesses as I described earlier. Whilst you are likely to see the likes of Mark Holt recognised, the top 100 lists are still largely ruled by the transformation CIOs / IT Directors I find.

So to be the best CIO in the UK you first need to enter both these awards and win one of them!

2. Why don’t more CIOs enter these awards?

Well you would be surprised how few people really appreciate their value.

Many people I have met think “no that’s not for me” or “it wouldn’t make any difference” or “I am too busy” or “it’s the same old faces” or “I don’t work for a large enough business” and so on. Thats a bit like saying “this is how we have always done it so I am not going to bother”!

This is an alien attitude to me because part of the Xpertise vision is to be recognised as the best IT / Tech recruitment consultancy. (an award we were shortlisted for last year incidentally), so having peers in industry view you as the best means what you are doing is world class.

It’s the opportunity to continuously improve and learn from the best of the best. And if you don’t win, there is the opportunity to see what the best are doing and use that to get better at your job. I think of it as margin gains, I treat each award as an opportunity to see what others are doing and improve.

3. How to enter?

Well the only criteria is that you work as a CIO, Digital Leader, IT Director or in another IT exec board level leadership role and have demonstrated excellence in leadership, innovation and quality in the use and promotion of IT in your organisation to deliver business growth or public services. The size of the organisation is immaterial.

Most CIOs have a team. Most have a PA ! And a Marketing department for that matter. Use your leadership skills to enter.

You should take a moment to reflect on key achievements, key successes in the role, and you must be able to evidence this.

Perhaps due to your leadership you increased the department employee engagement score from -20 to +46 or perhaps your tech platform strategy resulted in moving from 5% to 25% in online digital sales contribution or your technology strategy resulted in a fully integrated API systems estate which cut out many now redundant systems saving £Xm per year and so on and so forth.

Perhaps you know a few of those CIOs who have previously entered and had success, can you leverage their experience to help tweak your own submission.

You will also need a small amount of budget, be that the entry fee or the table you need to pay for if you want to attend the awards. Who knows maybe a friendly supplier will help if you can’t access the budget. I have done this previously, for example!

4. What if I win?

Celebrate with your team! Attending awards is also a team engagement opportunity.

Then add it to your CV for that next headhunt call and update your LinkedIn so its visible. If you can, add why you won the award based on the judges feedback as this provides evidence of what you have achieved which other organisations may need at some point.

5. Networking

Network with some of your fellow award winners, imagine having a range of contacts you can touch base with to run scenarios past them which perhaps you do not have the answer for right now. It can be lonely being the number one, so having peers you can turn to can add real value.

Or perhaps you need some supplier recommendations or you are about to hire someone and you see they used to work with one of your contacts or you have a programme to deliver which you have not yet led and need to speak to someone who has some battle-scars and so on and so forth.


Why not give it a go. Don’t expect to win the first time, if no one knows you in the industry or you haven’t put yourself out there and done any networking then this provides a slight disadvantage but it’s still doable.

There are no meaningful downsides but in terms of building career credibility, recognition and helping to increase career earnings it’s a no brainer.

I am more than happy to talk this through with those who are interested. I can also speak from my own experience of winning various recruitment and business leadership industry awards around what the judges are looking for.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.