John Marcante has established himself as a go-to technology geek and a business management guru. His journey at Vanguard, spanning over 29 years, was dynamic and impactful. At Vanguard, a company rethinking investment, John played a pivotal role in the firm’s technological transformation and Wealth Management and Advisory services. He thrived at the intersection of technology and business, being an information engineer and an MBA grad.
During his tenure as Vanguard’s Global CIO, a position he held for nearly a decade, John significantly contributed to steering the company’s growth into a global giant with assets totaling $8.5 trillion.
Post his retirement from Vanguard, he assumed the position of US CIO-in-Residence at Deloitte. In this capacity, his responsibilities are vast and varied, ranging from being an associate dean and speaker at Deloitte’s Next Generation CIO Academies, mentoring and coaching select client executives across diverse industries, advising senior leadership, facilitating transition labs for the CIO Program, to speaking at internal strategic CIO Program sessions.
John is also the founder of Technology Leadership Solutions, a consulting and leadership advisory services company, and serves as an ambassador for the Professional Development Academy (PDA).
His illustrious career, spanning three decades, has seen John in esteemed roles such as MD, Founder, and CIO, leading some of the largest companies globally. His journey commenced in high school, where he began writing code. This initial step propelled him to pursue a BS degree from Pennsylvania State University, embodying the age-old adage, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
I am thrilled and honored to present John’s incredible and inspiring journey to you, in the hope that it guides your own executive journey.
Describe your career progression from the start to where you are and what were pivotal decisions, moves you made, circumstances, and other facts that facilitated your growth.
I began writing code in high school and after graduating from Penn State took a job at GE in a technology management program in 1986. As an information engineer, I loved the cross-section of technology and business. I loved the fact that code could automate mundane jobs and I got the thrill of seeing my code help drive efficiency but more importantly, I valued the feedback from the business leaders who saw their redundant tasks eliminated. I learned early that there is nothing like direct client interactions to drive engagement. After finishing an MBA in 1993, I stumbled across a small local company with a charismatic leader and a noble mission. Jack Bogle, Vanguard’s founder and industry icon, was on a mission to give investors the best chance of investment success by creating a unique company with a pure focus on helping people. A company whose structure was unique, essentially an investment company whose owners were its investors. This allowed the company to return profits to the investors in the form of lower investment costs and higher returns. No public or private owners pulling away profits from Main Street investors. I loved the mission of this small company, a disruptor and insurgent to the high-cost investment firms of the day. This noble mission of doing something good for people truly attracted me to take a chance on Vanguard. Of course, the early days were crazy, filled with struggling projects, finite budgets, and long days and weekends but I fell in love with the work, the people, and of course the mission. I spent 29 years at Vanguard, rotating into different jobs from software delivery, infrastructure (after 9/11/2001), and cyber. I also ran Vanguard’s Wealth Management and Advisory services businesses which helped me become a blended executive before returning to technology in 2012 as the Global CIO and direct report to Vanguard’s Chairman, a role I enjoyed for nearly a decade before retiring in 2022. I’m currently the CIO in residence for Deloitte, and serve as an independent advisor to clients, practitioners, and senior leadership providing strategic guidance and perspective in the areas of technology and technology leadership. I also own my own leadership consulting company – Technology Leadership Solutions LLC.
What are the key skills and qualifications that aspiring tech executives in the tech industry should focus on developing to enhance their career prospects?
The role of the technology leader traditionally focused on infrastructure, operational efficiencies, the help desk, and the like. But today, as technology is increasingly intertwined with strategy, growth, and revenue, the C-suite and board view technology as a value creator. Consider digital, data, AI, and machine learning capabilities, just for starters—they are all vital elements to the success of businesses today.
For CIOs and other technology leaders, that means no more hiding out in the back office. While CIOs have long been expected to be the technical gurus of our enterprises, they are also increasingly expected to have a deep understanding of their business and how their companies serve clients and grow profits. Their success in the role is assessed not only on their ability to use technology to drive operational efficiencies but also on the larger outcomes their enterprise can achieve through technology-enabled growth and revenue generation.
Today, the technology leader has evolved into a much broader and strategic C-suite role, and its ability to influence the organization has measurably changed. In many cases, it has even become a training ground for the CEO role, and corporate board seats are increasingly being filled with experienced technology leaders.
Competencies for Today’s CIO
CIOs are one of the few C-suite executives positioned to see the entire field of a global company rather than a specific silo. As such, CIOs today might as well stand for chief integration officer. More and more, the big capital investments are technology-related, so who better to weigh in on which initiatives make it and which don’t? Many CIOs today are running internal startups and external partnerships, among other responsibilities.
In considering internal integrations and external opportunities, CIOs need to be blended executives who understand technology but also demonstrate a passion for the business and how technology can enable its future. In other words, we need to find creative ways to build our business acumen. We can do this by working cross-functionally (including leading strategy initiatives), rotating or growing our current role to include business operations or P&L responsibilities, and getting educated and certified in business disciplines.
As software is increasingly becoming a company product for all enterprises, the possibilities for external integrations and partnerships expand considerably, as do expectations for CIOs to understand the full product management life cycle in order to create new growth and revenue opportunities. Technology leaders have long had to build relationships to fulfill the client- and prospect-facing responsibilities of their roles, but they should further hone their skills related to business development, and strive to better understand regulatory, market, and competitive forces that may affect their business.
Several other capabilities increasingly fall under the evolving CIO mandate as well. Being an evangelist means not only demonstrating superior communication skills but also being skilled in the arts of persuasion, influence, and negotiation in order to execute the vision they promote to transform the enterprise. CIOs should create a mission-based workplace where sought-after technical talent will want to work. Finally, they must be prepared to apply their analytical skills to the most significant challenges facing their organizations, such as cyberattacks and risks and values associated with generative AI.
What are some key milestones or achievements that tech executives should aim for at various stages of their career to demonstrate their growth and readiness for higher-level roles?
Technology leaders have to be blended executives. Technology and corporate strategy have never been more intwined than they are today. Of course, cross-disciplined tech experience in software development, infrastructure, and risk will help you succeed. , I grew up as a developer and a software executive, but after 9/11/2001 I rotated to the role responsible for global infrastructure and cyber at Vanguard.
But beyond technology experience, CIOs have to be passionate about their businesses. We have to build business acumen. Dare I say, run a strategy project from your tech seat, or expand your purview to be more business operational focused. Or better yet, rotate out of the tech seat into a business operation or P&L role. During my career, I ran Vanguard’s Wealth Management and Advice businesses. Both roles gave me true insight and experience in being a business executive. Only after all of these experiences did I return to technology as the Global CIO reporting to the Chairman.
How important is it for tech executives to actively seek out mentorship or coaching opportunities to advance their careers? What benefits can they derive from such relationships?
It’s extremely beneficial to have a set of trusted advisors as you navigate through your career. These individuals can be formal mentors or coaches but, often, these trusted relationships are established informally from inside and outside your organization. Regardless of how these advisors are founded, they all have one thing in common. They are vested in your career; they are experienced truth-tellers who will challenge your thinking and play the devil’s advocate. Let’s face it, no one loves feedback but successful leaders treat feedback as a gift. As such, we have to have the grit and humility to hear the feedback and commit to the changes needed to make ourselves better leaders.
In your experience, what role does professional networking play in the career progression of tech executives? How can tech executives effectively build and leverage their networks?
We all know that networking is essential but really hard to do if you are a bit of an introvert like me and many of my tech colleagues. That said, look for opportunities to join industry forums. Attend conferences but make it a point to mingle and connect with a few colleagues. Ask your peers about networking events that they get value out of. This is all part of building an external network but your strongest network will be comprised of people you already know. Consider staying in touch with peers who have left your company and have moved on to other organizations and industries. Reach out to retired bosses with who you have had a previous relationship. Actively and purposely build relationships within your company but outside of your discipline. We all know these things but don’t often spend the time to nurture our networks given the demands of our day.
In fact, I would go a step further and suggest that all leaders should consider nurturing a personal board of directors (PBoD). These are individuals who are personally vested in helping you accelerate your career growth and achieve your goals. Your personal board of directors can help with key career inflection points such as:
- Taking on a new role or a new challenge
- Considering a career change
- Preparing for a big presentation (i.e., Board)
- Facing a difficult situation (i.e., crucial conversation)
- Looking for candid feedback and skill development
- Expanding your network and opportunities
For me, I created a PBoD which consisted of peers and colleagues, past mentors and bosses, a few trusted colleagues from my external network, and past individuals who had reported to me at some point in my career. All of these individuals were truth-tellers, committed to my development, confidential, and well-networked. But expect to give back, I’m on a number of personal boards of people I care about too.
Are there any specific certifications, advanced degrees, or executive education programs that can significantly enhance the career prospects of tech executives in the tech industry? Which ones would you recommend?
For me, growing up with a strong technical background, I needed to focus on business acumen beyond the technical and leadership competencies. Pursuing an MBA, early in my career, helped me understand the management and finance disciplines needed in business. I also obtained industry certifications and licensing along the way (FINRA series 6, 7, 63, 24, 26). But given that 80% of learning happens on the job, I was lucky enough to rotate out of technology into running businesses and P&Ls at Vanguard. Today, all leaders need technical prowess, business acumen, and an entrepreneurial and growth mindset. We all should map our own growth plan to gain experience in each of these critical competencies.
Can you share any examples of notable tech executives who have successfully transitioned from one role (e.g., CIO) to another (e.g., CEO) within the same organization or industry? What factors contributed to their success?
Tim Buckley, the current Chairman and CEO of Vanguard has a long and distinguished career as a business and investment leader. But for 5 years of Tim’s career, he was the Chief Information Officer at Vanguard touting the importance of technology to the role of Chief Executive and Chairman. Today the role of CIO/CTO is becoming a training ground for the next CEO and increasingly a sought-after discipline for new board seats. I recently met the new CEO of Hargreaves Lansdown, Dan Oiley. Dan is a long-time tech exec, business leader, and board member who has curated a career that honed his technology skills, business acumen, and leadership experience into multiple CEO roles.
How important is it for tech executives to cultivate a personal brand and establish thought leadership within the industry? What are some effective ways for tech executives to showcase their expertise and gain visibility?
Leading technology is a 365-day-per-year job and one that is all-consuming. But, too often, tech executives do not spend enough time on self-development and personal branding. My suggestion is to not become too insular. It’s easy to become overly focused on the day-to-day. But there is value in finding time to expand our external network. Find a few cadres of peers inside and outside of your industry. There are a ton of CIO / CTO forums that cater to tech execs. But my advice would be to be choosey and find one or two forums that are filled with like-minded peers. I love being surrounded by smart, humble, people-oriented leaders who are facing similar challenges. It also helps to get out of our own shell and agree to present topics at industry forums or write columns for industry publications. These opportunities were ways for me to give back and force myself to come out of my own insular tendencies. Presenting at industry conferences, mentoring talented tech leaders, and writing for publications such as the WSJ CIO Journal provides me with forums to gather and contribute knowledge.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring tech executives who are looking to accelerate their career progression and make a lasting impact in the tech industry?
The biggest piece of advice I can relay to aspiring tech executives is to have grit, a growth mindset, and be humble. In technology, failure is a prerequisite to success. As leaders, we are going to make mistakes. We are going to stumble during our careers. It’s how we face these tribulations that matter. Having grit and a growth mindset allows us to get up, dust ourselves off, and learn from every experience. No one who has had success doesn’t have these characteristics. Humility comes from understanding that we don’t know everything and that we need to build teams and rely on the knowledge of others. So don’t just be kind to yourself, be kind to others. Value people, build high-performing teams, set high standards, and live by those standards yourself. Finally, give back to your community. Find a way to help others.
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