The Market for Executives
Despite increased demand
for high-caliber leadership in all segments of the technology community, it
wasn’t until fairly recently that we saw the migration of top information
technology executives between the federal and corporate sectors.
Hank Philcox went from the Internal Revenue Service to become chief information
officer at DynCorp, and Renny DiPentima moved from the Social Security
Administration to SRA International Inc., where he became president of SRA
Federal. It has quickly become clear that federal IT leadership experience laid
the foundation for their success.
As far back as the late 1970s, there were some non-political appointments into
federal IT leadership roles. And in the late 1980s, Janet Barnes moved from MCI
to become the first designated federal CIO at the Pension Benefit Guaranty
Corp. In recent years, more high-profile federal positions have been filled
from outside government, with candidates coming from such companies as Oracle
Corp. and FedEx Corp. Although critics complain that the average tenure of
these federal appointees is only two years, the reality is that the tenure of
private-sector CIOs is no different.
Federal agencies now commonly utilize executive search firms to recruit key IT
talent. My firm, Paul-Tittle Search Group, has effectively recruited CIO-level
executives, program managers and senior technologists from outside government.
Our clients, particularly at the major defense/intelligence agencies, are
interested in hiring candidates with strong business acumen and competitive,
market-driven experience. Although some candidates decline these opportunities
because of compensation, we have been able to fill positions with strong
candidates with exceptional private-sector experience.
In the current soft market for IT executives, agencies have an opportunity to
attract outstanding candidates. Opportunity, challenge and relative stability
are as important as compensation. If an influx of talent from the commercial
world is brought in, we can expect to see continuing changes to the federal IT
The most notable change that will eventually accrue is bridging the perception
gap between the two communities. As more experienced private-sector executives
flow through the federal community, there will be an increasing number of
examples to follow. Eventually, at least in the Washington, D.C., area, there
may well be a much-improved respect for federal executives and significantly
increased flow of executives in both directions.
The downturn in the dot-com and telecommunications sectors in the local
marketplace means the greatest hiring needs for IT executives are with federal
systems integrators. Those firms should more aggressively seek out federal IT
leaders who already understand that business from the "client" side.
The strategic technology leadership role of the senior IT executive today is
very similar in the private and federal sectors.
Tittle is a Partner at Paul-Tittle Search Group, Vienna, Va.