José Ignacio Sordo Galarza, MS, is the Founder and MD of CIO Eureka! and holds the position of Sr. Advisor Strategic Partner, ArchPoint Group. He’s also a celebrated author known for best-selling books revered by IT leaders, including ‘The Uncomfortable CEO’ – Making Information Technology Overcome Business Uncertainty and ‘Leading with Strategic Thinking’ – Driving Strategy through Structure and Process. In ‘The Uncomfortable CEO,’ he emphasizes that the most successful CEOs are consistently ‘uncomfortable.’ They prioritize what’s right over who’s right and maintain a general dissatisfaction with the status quo, always seeking new frontiers.
These books encapsulate his professional insights garnered over a three-decade IT industry experience.
With a 21-year tenure at FMCG giant P&G, José Ignacio served in various roles, culminating in the position of Commercial Digital Transformation Officer. Upon departing, he established CIO Eureka!, an Executive Consulting firm guiding CEOs and Executives on finding business relevance in IT.
Adding to his portfolio, José Ignacio held the role of Webcast Host for ‘Uncomfortable Dialogues,’ engaging in crisp and pointed exchanges with over 100 Uncomfortable Leaders worldwide, covering a wide array of topics related to Leadership in times of crisis.
José Ignacio has established a reputation as a ‘Thought Leader & Credible Authority,’ providing advisory and mentoring services to C-suite executives on digital transformation strategies. I take this opportunity to present to you his incredible career journey.
Describe your career progression from the start to where you are and what pivotal decisions, moves you made, circumstances, and other facts that facilitated your growth.
My career journey has been a narrative of triumphing over obstacles and seizing opportunities. From a young age, I was instilled with core values like perseverance, self-determination, and disciplined leadership, which have remained my guiding principles throughout my life. These values propelled me to become the first in my family to pursue higher education, culminating in an undergraduate degree in Computer Science Engineering and a master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence. These educational achievements laid the cornerstone for my professional journey.
My career commenced in the sales department at Procter & Gamble Mexico, where I acquired a profound understanding of the importance of selling skills. It became crystal clear that, regardless of the excellence of a product or service, if you can’t effectively communicate its business value, success remains elusive. This lesson holds immense relevance in today’s business landscape, where IT investments command a substantial share of capital expenses, and the challenge of articulating the business value of IT remains prevalent.
As my career progressed, I had the privilege to work internationally in Latin America, ultimately ascending to the role of regional CIO at Procter & Gamble. In this capacity, I undertook the formidable task of transforming a highly technical and proficient IT organization into one that assumed a pivotal leadership role in advancing the company’s strategic business objectives.
Subsequently, I embraced the role of Procter & Gamble’s first Commercial Digital Transformation Officer at the turn of the century, tasked with the monumental responsibility of reshaping the company’s global commercial digital landscape.
However, despite my global achievements, personal reasons led me to make the difficult decision to step down from my global executive role. My family and I relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where I established my own consulting firm, CIO Eureka LLC. This firm empowered me to serve as a business strategy advisor and executive coach, collaborating with Fortune 100 companies and their C-suite executives to unlock the genuine business value inherent in their digital investments and disruptive innovations.
My career journey has been characterized by adversity, unwavering resilience, and a resolute commitment to bridging the gap between digital solutions and strategic business objectives. Each step of this remarkable journey has contributed to my evolution as a Global CIO.
What are the key skills and qualifications that aspiring tech executives in the tech industry should focus on developing to enhance their career prospects?
Building a successful career in the ever-evolving digital industry requires a solid skill set and continuous learning, such as:
(a) Selling Skills: As previously emphasized, the ability to convey the business value of technology solutions is paramount. Whether you’re presenting ideas to stakeholders, negotiating with vendors, or leading a team, being an effective communicator and influencer is vital. This skill ensures that your innovative ideas gain traction and support within your organization.
(b) Soft Skills: In today’s collaborative work environments, soft skills are invaluable. These include communication, teamwork, leadership, and active listening. Effective communication ensures that your ideas are understood and embraced by your team and other stakeholders. Teamwork is crucial as tech projects are often cross-functional and require cohesive collaboration. Leadership skills are essential to guide your team and drive innovation, while active listening helps in understanding the needs and concerns of team members and stakeholders.
(c) Continuous Learning: The digital industry is one of the fastest-changing sectors globally. Staying up to date with the latest trends and technologies is non-negotiable. Consider participating in online courses, attending industry conferences, and networking with peers to stay informed. Continuous learning not only keeps your skills relevant but also showcases your commitment to growth and adaptability.
(d) Business Acumen: To excel as a digital executive, it’s crucial to understand the broader business landscape. This includes financial literacy, knowledge of market dynamics, and the ability to align technology strategies with overall business objectives. This broader perspective allows you to make decisions that positively impact your organization’s bottom line.
(e) Cultural Sensitivity: In a globalized world, understanding and respecting diverse cultures is vital, especially if you’re working with teams or clients from different parts of the world. Cultural sensitivity fosters effective collaboration and avoids misunderstandings.
In summary, a successful tech executive is not solely defined by technical prowess but by a combination of technical acumen, soft skills, business savvy, and a commitment to lifelong learning. By cultivating these attributes, aspiring tech leaders can enhance their career prospects and make a lasting impact in the digital industry.
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?
Demonstrated capability to Adaptability and Resilience. Our industry is subject to rapid changes and occasional setbacks. Being adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity is key. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth and be prepared to pivot when necessary.
In my experience what differentiates a below-average performance from an average or exceptional one is that the best executives do approach work in a very consistent fashion: they get comfortable with being uncomfortable. In other words, They are interested in what is right, rather than who is right; they have a general dissatisfaction with the status quo, and always looking for ways to explore new boundaries.
They all share FOUR virtues:
(a) Strong curiosity: They travel and meet clients, consumers, thought- -leaders, and people in general across the marketplace in which their company competes. Leaders with a high level of innate curiosity discover invigorating opportunities; those without it find those same opportunities exhausting. These people have a critical and objective view of the imperfection and improbability of things. They have well-pondered and often strong points of view. At the same time, they are exceptionally attentive listeners and value diversity of thought.
(b) The ability to face reality: This quality helps them overcome the sense of isolation, tap into past networks, and create new ones inside (and more importantly, outside) of their organizations to connect with ideas, advice, critical questioning, and sometimes precisely the support they need to move forward. They have the courage to act. In a nutshell, these leaders are able to make difficult decisions that are neither pleasant nor popular.
(c) Drive for results: Learning and understanding new challenges and tensions that arise in any business is a necessary, albeit insufficient, step. These leaders develop far-reaching objectives and standards for their organization that go beyond those that might be adopted by the average person. They attach great importance to making a personal difference in all they do. They have pride of ownership in leading the company. They tend to expand the scope of their position. They are constantly on the outlook for new areas and new ways in which to contribute new ideas that can build volume and profit, as well as the organization’s capacity (people). They combine tremendous personal initiative with respect for others. And
(d) Never settle: They consistently do more than is expected of them and accept risk. They speak their mind on an issue, whether their view is popular or unpopular. They always strive to learn more, do more, and be more, even if this means being single for a while. Their work ethics demand the best and accept nothing less.
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?
Seeking mentorship or coaching is crucial. These relationships offer valuable guidance, wisdom, and networking opportunities, helping to navigate challenges and make informed decisions. Mentors and coaches can accelerate your learning, enhance your skills, and boost your confidence while holding you accountable for your goals.
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?
Professional networking is immensely important for digital executives’ career advancement. It creates opportunities, offers guidance, and fuels personal growth. To build and leverage networks effectively, attend industry events, join associations, use online platforms like LinkedIn, seek mentors, give back, maintain relationships, participate in local meetups, be genuine, attend alumni events, and tap into existing contacts. Authentic connections and ongoing engagement are key to harnessing the power of professional networks in the digital industry.
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?
Certainly, there exists a spectrum of perspectives regarding the significance of certifications and advanced degrees for digital executives. While practical experience and the ability to take action undoubtedly hold paramount importance, it’s essential to recognize that certifications and degrees can wield a substantial influence on career prospects. They furnish a structured foundation of knowledge and can act as catalysts for accessing leadership roles, particularly within large organizations where formal qualifications are highly esteemed. For tech executives, certifications such as PMP, CISSP, and participation in business executive programs bear the potential to provide invaluable insights and broaden horizons to continuous learning.
The critical point to underline is the necessity of striking a harmonious equilibrium between academic accomplishments and real-world experience, as each facet offers its distinct merits within the dynamic landscape of the digital industry. In conclusion, it’s wise to remember the wisdom of David H. Sandler, who aptly noted, “You can’t teach a kid to ride a bike at a seminar,” highlighting the irreplaceable role of hands-on experience even in an academic context.
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?
Absolutely, there are notable examples of tech executives who have made successful transitions from one role to another within the same organization or industry:
(a) Andy Jassy: Andy Jassy is a prime example. He initially served as the CIO of Amazon and played a pivotal role in the creation and growth of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has become Amazon’s most profitable division, generating over 60% of its operating profits. Jassy’s strategic vision and ability to recognize the immense business potential of cloud computing led to his ascension to the role of President and CEO of Amazon, succeeding Jeff Bezos.
(b) Many Startup CEOs: In the startup world, it’s common to see individuals who began as CIOs or tech-focused leaders transition into the CEO role. Often, these digital executives possess a deep understanding of how technology can create business value. They are adept at identifying innovative solutions and transforming digital assets into revenue-generating opportunities. Their ability to bridge the gap between technology and business objectives is a key factor in their success.
The factors contributing to the success of these transitions typically include a deep understanding of technology’s role in driving business growth, visionary leadership, a track record of successful projects, and the ability to inspire and lead teams effectively. Additionally, adaptability, a willingness to learn, and the capacity to embrace change are crucial attributes that enable tech executives to make successful transitions to leadership roles within the same organization or industry.
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?
Establishing a personal brand and thought leadership within the digital industry is vital. It builds credibility, trust, and visibility. A strong personal brand can enhance career prospects, attract opportunities, and expand your network. To showcase expertise and gain visibility, contribute articles and blogs, speak at industry events, engage on social media, actively network, consider mentorship, collaborate with peers, stay informed, and continuously learn. Cultivating a personal brand and thought leadership opens doors to career advancement and recognition in the tech sector, facilitating access to innovative projects and opportunities.
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?
Certainly, for aspiring digital executives seeking to accelerate their career progression and leave a lasting impact in the digital industry, here’s my advice: Read my book, “The Uncomfortable CEO,” (978-1-935766-84-1, Windy City Publishers – available on Amazon.com)
My book deals not so with the nature of the CEO, but how the CEO works with the CIO and other management that deals with information technologies. It is clear now that information technologies are strategic, so making this interaction work is key. We do live under many dimensions of uncertainty, and the role of the CIO is to reduce that uncertainty in the realm of technology. And today it is not just the internal uncertainty, but also the uncertainty of how the consumer is using digital solutions.
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