The 6 Must-Haves for Hiring the Best CTO

Freeman Clarke has decades of experience in hiring the best CIOs and CTOs. In several years of refining our screening process, we’ve discovered that good CTOs always have six essential qualities.

  1. technical Expertise. CTOs must have an extensive understanding of technology, security and engineering, and preferably years of experience in the industry. They need to understand infrastructure, business systems and online technology. And since no field changes more rapidly than IT, they need up-to-date and detailed experience of practices, products and vendors. The best CTOs don’t just follow the field, they’re leaders — active at events and in online discussions.
  2. People Skills. Of course, all of business is about people. And all software is built by people, for people. Teamwork is at the heart of any successful venture. So the CTO needs to be a coach and mentor to his team, and to ensure that communication needs flows easily upwards, downwards and sideways. Plus a CTO needs to engage with all the stakeholders, be a source of energy and good-humor, and needs to fit in.
  3. Entrepreneurship. The CTO needs to be passionate about driving growth and fully committed to the ambitions of the business. This means understanding funding and valuation mechanisms, business plans, and disciplines like marketing and legal. Of course, any complex project has issues, and the CTO needs to be creative, agile and proactive to rapidly recognize when changes are necessary to stay on track.
  4. Business Management Skills. Running an IT team requires good planning, communication skills, and a careful attention to detail. As CTOs are often responsible for compliance issues, they need to be aware of the implications of contractual and regulatory frameworks too. They must know how to monitor their budgets, manage contracts, and negotiate prices. Since so much of IT involves external suppliers, CTOs need to maintain good relationships and long-term commitments while keeping costs under control.
  5. Strategic Thinking Skills. technical discussions are often painfully detailed. Custom digital technology is complex and intricate. A good CTO both understands the details and the bigger picture — meaning, how the technology will be part of the business strategy. A CTO should also understand that board-level discussions can be vague; key questions are often about the art of the possible. CTOs need to be comfortable with this and strive for strategies that are creative, sensible, useful and flexible.
  6. Compelling Leadership. The CTO forms part of the senior team. Thus he or she needs to lead from the front — contribute to decision-making, be bold and visionary, and hold others to account. As the business grows, the stakes become higher; the CTO must be able to handle the pressure. Where there are external investors, partners or other stakeholders the CTO needs to represent the business to them. External investors, in particular, need to draw confidence from the CTO, as his or her role is so critical to success.

We devote a huge part of our management effort to the recruitment, screening and selection of CTOs and CIOs. And, because we work in the mid-market, we only select CTOs who can fit in with dynamic businesses, rather than needing the comfort of the corporate environment.

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