US DNA CIO Interview Gerard
Interview with Gerard Pento, CIO at Wilson Elser
DNA of a CIO
As CIO at law firm Wilson Elser, ranked in the Am Law 200 and in the top 50 of the National Law Journal 500, Gerard Pento is the executive information technology leader supporting the partnership, 31 offices, nearly 800 attorneys and 700 staff. Prior to joining the firm in 2014, Pento spent four years as chief technology officer for a subsidiary of Euromoney Institutional Investor. Pento started his career in IT leadership in sports entertainment as a manager at the National Basketball Association, after which he transitioned his industry focus to financial services in senior management roles at Pershing and TD Ameritrade and director roles with UBS Financial Services and Ernst & Young.
My favorite part of working in Information Technology is deploying new technology solutions to support the business. As CIO, I take great pride in transforming, improving and increasing the return on investment in technology and within IT organizations.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How did you overcome this?
The biggest obstacles are often related to IT resource constraints since the demand for IT resources seems typically to exceed the supply of available resources.
A helpful strategy to overcome this is to implement more formal IT Governance models to ensure greater alignment and transparency between IT and the business along with improved management of the demand and prioritization for IT services based on return on investment. Increasing the transparency between the work IT resources are doing and the associated benefit to the firm also has been instrumental in building trust with my business partners and communicating the business case to expand IT staffing in key areas where there is the greatest potential return on investment.
What technical skills are integral to the role?
By definition, CIOs need to have exposure to most aspects of Information Technology. I find that technology leaders who have hands-on experience designing and building custom technology solutions from the ground up tend to have the most success. In addition, strong skills in technology project management are critical for delivering enterprise-level programs and projects for the businesses they support.
How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
For a CIO and his staff resources to position themselves as strategic technology advisers to the business and not mere “order takers,” they need to be exposed to and understand the business and where technology can best be applied to support management and clients.
What is the one thing you have to have to be a CIO in your opinion?
CIOs today have a lot on their plates; they need to blend business understanding with technological expertise to become trusted strategic technology advisers to the business. The most sought-after CIOs are those who can provide meaningful technical direction when designing an IT solution, and provide meaningful input in the C-suite boardroom. A CIO is expected to be an “evangelist” for technology transformation and innovation, provide high-level technology road maps from a strategic perspective and ensure successful delivery of solutions from a tactical perspective. CIOs need to be able to deliver technology services that are “better, faster and cheaper” while maximizing return on investment at the same time.
In your opinion, how important is social media for networking/helping one achieve their career goals?
LinkedIn has been an invaluable tool for professional networking and job searching throughout my career. LinkedIn has fully replaced the professional contacts and business cards that our predecessors stored in a physical desktop rolodex – it’s my go-to source for connecting with my external contacts. In addition, the ability to research a potential employer or executive search agency and connect with them directly or through mutual connections has been invaluable in job searches to advance my career.
What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a IT leader?
Hold on to an unwavering passion for excellence and a focus on servicing the business. It is important to run IT as a “business” and to build a partnership with clients through appropriate IT Governance and transparency of the IT services being delivered. Since communication and managing expectations of the business are critical, as a general rule: say what you’re going to do, and do what you say.
The ever-evolving and dynamic IT industry demands that IT leaders make a personal investment to stay updated and educated about the latest trends and technologies available to IT organizations. While the demand for CIOs points to a very promising future, one of the challenges CIOs face is being prepared for whatever the future may bring.
As an IT leader, what keeps you up at night?
My most prevalent concerns tend to be keeping up with the demand for IT services and preparing my organization to provide a world-class IT service offering.
What are you doing to keep growing your career?
I often meet with my CIO peers from other firms, vendors, management consulting firms and systems integration partners to share knowledge, experiences and solutions related to common trends and concerns with technology. I also attend IT seminars/conferences once or twice per year for the same purpose. Lastly, I spend time every week reading about trends applicable to my industry and my role through subscriptions to various technology and industry publications, blogs and reports.