Opinion: Trust me, I’m a C-level executive

By Stuart Sumner
04 Apr 2012 View Comments
Computing reporter Stuart Sumner

The boardroom is changing at large enterprises. The CEO and CTO are no longer the autocrats they once were, and are less likely to be responsible for a firm’s overall direction, or its technology strategy. Increasingly, decisions are made by committee.

This is a theory of mine, but it’s borne out by recent experiences. I know of several well-known CTOs of large global technology brands who aren’t involved in setting the technology strategy for their companies, but rather are spokespeople for their brands.

Further reading

They are wheeled out in front of customers (current and prospective), and journalists and analysts, and are highly skilled orators and presenters. They can tell you all about your business problems, and what products their companies can offer to solve them, but ask them how their firm intends to utilise the cloud over the next 24 months and they’ll draw a blank. That’s not in their ambit.

While their business cards might say “Chief Technology Officer”, a more accurate description might be “Marketing Director”. This is because we know when we talk to someone from sales or marketing, we’re being sold to, and (often) we don’t like it. However, we know when we’re talking to a member of the C-suite, we’re very lucky and are receiving pearls of wisdom.

This is good for firms who want to see their names in print more often (all firms), as journalists are more likely to quote someone whose title is a three letter acronym that starts with “C”, than anything containing the word “Marketing”, which is usually viewed as code for “liar”.

Sorry Marketing, I don’t make the rules.

It’s also good for firms who want to sell product (again, all firms), as customers feel excited and flattered that someone so important is devoting their time to them, and are more likely to sign on the dotted line as a result.

What’s more interesting is the fact that CEOs are going the same way. Can you imagine a major technology firm, or any other for that matter, appointing a camera-shy CEO today?

Look at Marc Benioff in action at a Salesforce.com conference. Or Steve Ballmer at a Microsoft event, especially when he leaps about the stage like a man in the throes of some sort of episode, shouting “Give it up for me!”.

They are salesmen and showmen. I’m sure they’re present at strategy meetings, and of course have a say in their firms’ overall direction, but are they the lone guiding hand on the ship’s rudder? Or are they too busy writing their next speeches?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, but simply that it’s happening and it’s sure to increase as more firms cotton on to the latent sales potential of C-suite titles.

And you should trust my word. After all, I’m the CWO (Chief Writerology Officer) at Computing.

Now that I’ve risked offending our audience, feel free to vent your ire right back at me at @Stuart Sumner

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