There are many different definitions of a Chief Technology Officer. Here are 4 CTO profiles to help you determine which is right for your organization.

Life used to be so simple. When you needed a technology executive, you hired a chief information officer. But today, you have a plethora of options: you can hire a chief information officer, a chief digital officer, a chief data officer, or a chief technology officer.

This last one, the CTO, is a can of worms unto itself. Lately, it seems that there are as many definitions of a CTO as there are qualified candidates!

But we are here to help. Over the past decade and a half, the Heller Search team has recruited so many CTOs, of so many shapes and sizes, that we have categorized them into four buckets. Read our brief CTO definitions and determine which CTO is right for you.

Four Profiles of the CTO

#1 The infrastructure leader
The traditional CTO is a broad-shouldered, thick-skinned executive who runs data centers, network operations, technical services, and information security. This CTO reports to the chief information officer and manages a large team to make sure operations run reliably, securely (and cheaply). With so much of infrastructure and operations moving to the cloud, we are seeing an upgrade in even these traditional CTOs. Companies are refreshing their infrastructure talent from the “if we don’t own it, we can’t manage it” mentality to an understanding that cloud vendors can provide many more infrastructure services than in the past. Today, the ability to manage vendor contracts and service levels, regardless of who is running your data centers, is a critical skill in a CTO job description.

#2 The advanced technology futurist
Internet of Things!  Machine Learning! Block Chain! Game-changing technologies appear on the horizon every few months or so and many are critical to your company’s future. The futurist version of the CTO does not hang around the data center. These CTOs look to the future, assesses which technologies makes sense for their businesses and work with business leaders on proofs of concept for innovative applications. Like the infrastructure leader CTO, these CTOs typically report to the CIO. But unlike that traditional version, they do not manage large teams. More often, they manage a small, advanced technology group with domain expertise in the technology areas most important to the company. If your CIO is so steeped in internal operations that she is not looking out and in front of your company the technology pipeline, she may need this CTO. 

#3 The company founder
This executive developed the idea that made the venture capitalists come running. This visionary CTO meets directly with investors, has a hand in hiring his startup’s senior management team, and reports to the CEO. Founding CTOs are rampant on the west coast and are the driving force behind the new, new thing. They typically found a company, attract VC funding, help the newly hired executive team to get products to market, and then cash in when a bigger company buys them out.

#4 The product leader
With software moving to the center of most businesses’ products or service lines, CEOs are placing technology leaders at the head of their product development groups. These CTOs run product innovation, product development, and in many cases, they even run IT with the CIO as a critical direct report. With the CIO running business systems, data centers, and employee collaboration technologies, these CTOs work with customers, sales leaders, and a team of product managers to define new markets and create a differentiating product line.  This CTO has a gorgeous background of engineering, R&D, product development, and even P&L leadership. With such a well-rounded skillset, don’t expect these CTOs to come cheap. Nor should they. After all, they will reinvent the very fundamentals of your business for the digital era.

Confused? Well, why you shouldn’t you be? Technology enables workflows and security and sales and profit. As technology continues to evolve from a necessary evil to the most important strategic factor in nearly every company, so too must the definition of these technology leaders evolve.

What is Chief Technology Officer 

Roles We Recruit


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