CIO Salaries: The Bad News Keeps Coming


By Tony Kontzer

While CIOs in general probably weren't doing cartwheels about an average pay hike of less than 2% for 2011, even if it did come after two years of flat salaries, the loudest groans may have been coming from the most celebrated top IT executives.

I say this because Rachel King, reporter for the Wall Street Journal's CIO Journal, recently analyzed compensation filings submitted to the SEC and found that three of the four highest-paid CIOs actually saw their compensation shrink last year -- during a year of reputed economic recovery, no less.

Not that anyone would have claimed that CIO compensation has been on a long-term healthy growth trajectory anyway. In fact, the average pay for a CIO in 2011 was just $1,500 more than it was in 2002. Think about that. That's an average pay increase of less than $170 a year, not even enough to cover an annual iPhone upgrade. This suggests that CIOs haven't received a boost in their perceived value in a long, long time.

That said, the CIOs' plight seems to have worsened of late. King's revelation about pay for top CIOs comes on the heels of a study indicating that some CFOs expect the CIO role to disappear, not to mention a report from CA Technologies suggesting that CIOs aren't taken seriously as potential CEOs. Given this wide-ranging de-valuing of the CIO, it certainly seems fair to characterize the dip in compensation for the biggest names in corporate IT as just the latest in a series of blows to the prestige of the CIO role.

Only it isn't the latest blow. As if flat pay, a hazy future, and no hope of joining the CEO ranks isn't enough, days after King's report, Gartner revealed new research findings suggesting that despite rebounding IT budgets, CIOs are seen as little more than technical taskmasters by the CEOs who employ them.

It's enough to cause aspiring IT executives to question whether they should bother shooting for the top job. Or perhaps even consider a career as a dental hygienist.

What should CIOs take from this? While it might be tempting to react by dismissing all the talk of a better business-technology balance raising the CIO's executive profile as so much bunk, this would probably be going too far.

Rather, current and prospective CIOs should put the ominous signs in perspective, forget about the think-tank analyses, and focus on the one thing that almost always will result in respect and, eventually, money: Make the business more profitable than ever.


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