Should CIOs get an MBA?

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CIO in Education, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
I think they should, because the CIO doesn't have to be the smartest technical person in the room anymore but you have to be able to explain technical things to business people in non-technical terms. Additionally, the qualities that CFOs are looking for in a CIO come down to trust and credibility. That's not just the technical credibility, it's also the financial credibility. It comes down to dollars and cents. If you haven't taken basic financial accounting and you don't know how to be financially or fiscally responsible or credible, you're doing yourself a disservice. So having that MBA, it just gives you a leg up in those regards. It's harder to play catch up without it. It's not impossible. Plenty of people have figured it out, but it gives you a solid foundation on which to build.

I was taking some classes at Columbia before I made it out to UCLA, and there was a book that I read called Political Savvy by a Columbia professor named Joel DeLuca, and it really sort of highlighted the value of office relationships and identifying the different people along the way so that you can influence decision making. You may not be able to directly influence somebody, but you may have some pull with somebody who knows someone who knows someone, and then you'll be able to influence it in a transitive, as opposed to direct, way.

So when I first got to UCLA I brought an IT vision and roadmap with me. At the top of that roadmap is "business strategy".  Right below business strategy is the business relationships. The key to success is the way in which you manage those business relationships. I spent the first 3–6 months on this job not talking about the technology, but just building those business partnerships, and I can't tell you how well that served me now during the pandemic. You have to build those bridges and you have to start those relationships. Our dean of career services said to me about 2 months in, "You know, I've never once had a CIO come over and talk to me in my office,” and that sounds so obvious, but nobody did. I'd been handed a big caseload on Salesforce when I walked in. I brought all of the senior leaders around the school who had skin in the Salesforce game around the table and said, "All right, what are we going to do here?” They replied, “Oh, this is great. We've never had one of these meetings before." 

You just sit back and think how is this possible? This just doesn't sound logical. But you kind of have to be able to understand all the individual pieces, then put it together. Then once you do that you can actually start to move the needle and deliver on things. You've built the credibility, you've delivered something, and the business sees the value in it. It’s one-on-one building those relationships and then also building them upon each other so that you can get value for the whole organization. People are always going to think myopically, because they're always worried about their function first, but you've got to convince them at a macro level, for whatever it is your business is trying to do, that there's value there and you're helping to put all of the different pieces together. I tell my staff our goal is to facilitate business conversations, because it almost seems that the business doesn't talk to the business, and we can at least facilitate those conversations, and there's power in all of that.
Board Member in Healthcare and Biotech, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
This was a dilemma I faced as a CIO in the early part of 2000 after having spent almost a decade as an IT Head across a few companies. So I started exploring Executive MBA and part-time MBA programs to figure out the curriculum and the investment (time and cost) required and balance this with the potential and perceived benefits. Leaving aside the costs which would vary by country and the kind of MBA, let me list down the benefits as I saw them:

1. Branding of a Management Degree which matters to some organizations and thus opens up opportunities
2. Understanding of the theories around finance, marketing, sales and probably HR; some experience of doing the academic projects in which we learn how to capture and use data and represent them in a way that can be used in a presentation with CXOs
3. Talk the business lingo as everyone talks about it being a missing trait with technical folks.

Then I went about asking my peers (other CXOs) and the CEO on how they saw me so that I can see if the MBA will indeed help me achieve the objectives. I also benchmarked my personality with peers in the industry by taking feedback from vendors and some of the Editors/Reporters of IT publications. 

The exercise spread over a month or so helped me take a decision. Here's what I learned.

1. I was perceived as a business friendly CIO who according to them understood the business context and was able to align initiatives to the organization success.
2. Numbers did not scare me and I used them as required for all kinds of analytics and KPIs (ROI, TCO, NPV, IRR, NPS etc.) that mattered to the discussion on the table for business and IT projects.
3. According to most of them I could straddle the business and technology world as required by the quorum of the meeting
4. Key skills like effective communication, collaboration and approachability were adequately observed across the layers.

So I decided to drop the MBA from my quest for knowledge and forge ahead by keeping myself open to feedback and an attitude of learning. And that worked for me for the next decade too until I decided to hang my boots and become an entrepreneur and mentor for other CIOs.

Do a dispassionate analysis of your skills and then figure out where you are before you plunge into it. So the long and short of it is:

1. It may not be helpful to everyone as you may already have the benefit of being connected to the business
2. Even after you acquire an MBA, your ability to use what you learned could hamper or aid progress

All the best !

PS: In the last 5+ years I have conducted many sessions for MBA students on how to succeed in the corporate world, providing a practitioners view of what matters.
CIO in Energy and Utilities, 11 - 50 employees
Definetely Yes, specially for CIOs with technology degree. Gives you a broader understanding of business.
Director - IT Infrastructure - Databases and eBusiness Specializing in Information Technology in Retail, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
No harm in having one but that’s not the only thing he needs
Senior Information Security Manager in Software, 501 - 1,000 employees
Generally a good idea.

Some of the best CIO’s I have worked with have engineering degrees and an MBA.

That is a great combination of deep technical understanding combined with understanding how the business works.
ISSO and Director of the IRU in Healthcare and Biotech, 10,001+ employees
CTO in Healthcare and Biotech, 11 - 50 employees
Obviously! It’s an investment in yourself that will grant you business’ knowledge far from the one you might know.
CEO in Services (non-Government), 2 - 10 employees

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