From CIO to CEO: Traversing the chasm

Chinar Deshpande, the ex-CIO of Pantaloon Retail is now the CEO of Creative IT India. Deshpande talks about how he traversed the distance. Could your share with us your experiences when it comes to making the shift from the role of a CIO to that of a CEO?

Chinar Deshpande, CEO, Creative IT India
Chinar Deshpande

In my earlier stint with Future group, I was fortunate to be part of the company's entire growth phase. When I started as a CIO, the company was hardly worth Rs 350 Crores, with around 20 odd stores and a small IT team. Apart from this, most people from the company had a family business background. When I was hired, I was among the few professionals who had worked for other companies. So I got a chance to work closely with the Chairman, Mr Kishore Biyani. In those few years, we witnessed the huge growth from Rs 350 Crore to Rs 8000 Crore. It was a journey which took us from just three retail formats to 25 retail formats.

I was exposed not just to IT leadership, but also contributed into the business development. As we grew, I witnessed and understood different aspects that are part of the growth process like dealing with media, bringing in investors, and diversifying into multiple businesses.  While I was in the process of understanding the business requirements, I got this break in Creative IT India. What is the kind of homework that you did before taking up the CEO's role at Creative IT India?
I did not get the chance to do any sort of homework, since it was starting operations in India. Instead, I joined hands with my earlier team members. I also interacted with several IT companies and fellow CIOs that I had known in my previous stint. Attending IT seminars and community gatherings to figure out their requirements was yet another strategy that I took.

As the CEO of Creative IT India, I had to first learn how to deal with the Reserve Bank of India, since I have to deal with foreign exchange every month. Reading balance sheets, as well as being responsible for your audits and taxes, proved to be a good learning experience. Since we are a US-based company, transparency in all our functions is critical. So we registered our company in India. Managing everything was an entirely different experience, and I would have never got to know this as a CIO. 

The only way you can grow as an IT company is by recruiting people. As people grow, you need to have more policies and regulations in place. Again, if you don't have a brand identity in the market, then it becomes all the more difficult to hire people. It took me almost five months to get accustomed to the business management. The real challenge was to get more customers and projects. Were you able to incorporate any of the lessons that you learned as a CIO in your current job role as a CEO?

In India, we take pride in squeezing the vendors. This practice affects services in the long run.

The technology and project execution expertise that I gained during my CIO tenure proved very useful for the current business. As a CIO, I was always at the other side of the IT business. So I know exactly what to expect from a vendor. As a result, I'm extremely careful when handling challenges faced by the end user as well as the technology implementer. Thus we ensure that the solutions that are being offered can be used in the most optimal manner for your business processes. Would you like to give some tips for CIOs who intend to become a CEO?
Even before a CIO plans this transition, he needs to start utilizing the opportunities within his organization. Wear the hat of a CEO and analyze your technology implementations. Check whether you really need this implementation. Start looking at profitability and determine the risks.

It's essential to have a vision to look beyond the role of a technology implementer. Start preparing yourself for a shift from being a consumer to becoming the service provider. In India, we take pride in squeezing the vendors. This practice affects services in the long run. Start making friends within your industry, whether it is a vendor or a fellow CIO. Keeping track of the market condition is equally important, especially if it is a technology company. Staying abreast with the latest technology is crucial.

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