Profile: CIO from techie roots Gordon Lovell-Read, CIO at Siemens UK
By Kate Bulkley
October 18, 2006
As business-savvy becomes essential to the CIO role, candidates are coming from a wide variety of backgrounds - some more technical, some more business-focused. As a companion to a feature piece on this topic, Kate Bulkley speaks to a man who moved into the CIO spot after starting out as a self-confessed techie - Siemens' Gordon Lovell-Read.
Gordon Lovell-Read, CIO of Siemens UK, started out as an operating systems designer for mainframe computers after being educated as a mathematician and theoretical physicist. "I was a pointy head," he says with a chuckle. "I had several propellers revolving on top as well."
One of the relationships that has to work on the board is the CEO-CFO-CIO triangle. And I believe that to be a surviving CIO you have to be able to flick between different modes depending on what the CEO and CFO want. But like a lot of CIOs, Lovell-Read (who is known by colleagues as GLR) got a break while at ICL/Fujitsu that changed his career trajectory. "One day someone noticed I was quite good at talking to people as well as all the pointy-head stuff, so they said 'why don't you start explaining to customers all this pointy-head stuff?' and that led me to more customer-facing roles," says Lovell-Read.
His next big break came in 1984 when a then-unknown company in Europe called HP recruited him to help it start up operations in the UK. "I was a pointy head but I also had some managerial experience, which was important for a start-up," he says.
In his 17 years at HP, 10 of them were in sales and marketing, mostly selling things to chief technology officers and CIOs but also including a stint during the dot-com boom of lending to technology start-ups.
In 2002, after an offer from Goldman Sachs fell away in the wake of the World Trade Centre bombing, he got a call from Siemens asking him to become CIO. His first reaction was to laugh. "I told them they must be joking," he says. "All I had heard for the past 10 years was CIOs and IT directors telling me how bad their lot was and how they got no respect."
But he decided to take on the challenge after being assured the job included a board position. Four and half years later, he has the distinction of being the longest surviving CIO at Siemens UK. "It's a big conglomerate and that can be frustrating for some CIOs because you can never get the infrastructure perfect because we keep buying companies that I have to integrate."
Lovell-Read calls himself a CxO because he can "flick between" different kinds of CIO skills - from a pure IT mode to a more business-oriented or political mode, depending on the circumstances of the business and the appetite of his CEO and CFO.
He says: "In my pointy-head mode I look at improving the asset use of IT to deliver economic value add. But in my general manager role I look at how I can increase profitability through IT."
Lovell-Read is working on a book about his theory that there are different types of CIOs for different phases in a business, which is why he calls himself a CxO.
He adds: "One of the relationships that has to work on the board is the CEO-CFO-CIO triangle. And I believe that to be a surviving CIO you have to be able to flick between different modes depending on what the CEO and CFO want."