Last week Chris Kentouris, a colleague over at our sister publication Securities Technology Monitor, wrote a nice article we picked up at Information Management. Her story concerned the search for what amounts to a U.S. government chief data officer to keep an eye on Wall Street and other investment/financial firms that lately required many billions of unfunded dollars to prop up.
Officially, the job is called director of the Office of Financial Research, the new department my colleague reported will be responsible for financial data collection and risk analysis to thwart the next ill-advised globe-threatening investment idea.
The process for choosing this person has only begun, but I especially liked the headline Chris chose. It was, Wanted: Chief Data Officer. Data Skills Not Necessary. As described, the job calls for a former experienced CEO or CFO from a large multinational bank or a seasoned chief risk officer from the same background.
But the subtext was very political in the delicate exposure the job entails, and this one is a doozy, smack between recovered but unrepentant financial heavyweights and the re-elective self-interests throughout Congress who tread cautiously around the marketability of "regulation."
I'm not here to advocate a thing, just to observe how people are learning all over just what it means to be a CDO or CIO or CTO these days (hint: it doesn't no longer always leads with technology). The article is one example of just how these jobs have changed and constantly morph. I know CTOs who experiment with technology only on their downtime, and CIOs who take courses in persuasive selling and soft skills.
Coincidentally I also interviewed Cliff Rossi this week for an upcoming issue of our magazine. Cliff is pretty well known as a former chief risk officer at Citigroup and Countrywide Bank, chief credit officer at Washington Mutual and someone who held highly placed roles at Fannie and Freddie.
These days he teaches finance at the University of Maryland and pitches in at the school's Center on Financial Policy and Governance. He's weighed in critically on the financial crisis and also the OFR role my colleague wrote about. In a couple of weeks you will see an online-only interview in which he talks about how a chief risk officer spends his or her day and some of the skills involved.
One thing I got from Cliff I wanted to share here is the needed reminder that most C-level gigs are not as omnipotent as we might assume. We know this but it's easy to forget. A chief data (or security or risk or information or technology) officer may pull many strings involving many people, hundreds in the case of someone like Cliff Rossi.
But it's often a courtside seat where the head coach turns to you -- and competing voices -- from time to time. "You need an enormous capacity to negotiate and communicate to senior managers who may be otherwise very aggressive and want to pursue views counter to yours and will act accordingly," Rossi told me. "Risk managers are only there to advise to levels of risk. A CRO cannot stand up and say, "I will not allow this to happen." He or she could certainly say, "I do not support this and I will not sign off on this decision," but of course the CEO and the board have every right to override that view."
It's not so say Rossi discounts the role risk officers, including himself, played in the financial crisis and you'll see that when you see our interview. It's more about the intrigue and the theatre that sometimes drives brilliant success and other times looks so incomprehensible in retrospect.
A large volume of data, analysts, econometricians and analytics can lead you in many directions. What gets chosen, adjusted and sorted out in the boardroom is something else.
The best way to become a CIO is to already be a CIO, talented, networked and able to navigate the boardroom. But I keep reminding myself how delicate that fit needs to be and what happens when we get it right or very right -- or wrong or very wrong.
This is why the clarity and constraints of the business mission come first, followed by well-chosen roles and authorities for the senior team. After that, I'm developing new understanding of how dead on Greek drama can be -- and asking for your input for who might be the best senior executive headhunters in the business.