From CDO to CEO: What’s Driving the Chief Digital Officer to CEO Career Path?

The facts are clear: An increasing number of Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) are being tapped to become CEOs.

Chief Digital Officer Talent Map 2013

David Mathison presenting the CDO Talent Map at the CDO Summit 2013

Earlier this year, JB Perette, CDO of Discovery Communications, was appointed CEO of Discovery Networks International.

According to the new CDO Talent Map 2014, by CDO Club founder David Mathison, seven Chief Digital Officers became CEOs, and four CDOs became Board Directors in 2013 alone.

That’s a staggering figure, considering there are just a few hundred CDOs to date.

Stunning enough that our original research was quoted by McKinsey & Company, the MIT Sloan Management Review, ZDNet, I-CIO, and CMS Wire, among others.

Examples of prominent CDOs who made the leap to CEO, in the last couple of years include:

  • Michael Bloom: Former CDO at Wenner Media, CEO at the Guardian News and Media, North America
  • Paul Gunning: Former CDO at Tribal DDB and global CDO for DDB, currently CEO at DDB Chicago
  • Jean-Philippe Maheu: Former CDO at Oglivy & Mather, became CEO at Bluefin Labs, currently Managing Director for Global Brand and Agency Strategy at Twitter
  • Charlie Redmayne: Former EVP and CDO at HarperCollins Publishers, currently CEO at HarperCollins UK

Chief Digital Officer Talent Map

These ascensions are happening quickly. Why?

First, it might be helpful to look backward at their career paths, to see how they got to be Chief Digital Officers in the first place.

Which is exactly what we’ve done for the 2014 CDO Talent Map, which will be presented during Mathison’s opening keynote at the 2nd annual CDO Summit on Tuesday April 22 at 8am.

We explored the backgrounds of hundreds of Chief Digital Officers, which resulted in some stunning statistics:

  • More than 60% of Chief Digital Officers in the Advertising sector had previous experience as CEO, President, GM, or Executive Director.
  • More than 30% of Chief Digital Officers in the Media sector had previous experience as CEO, President, GM, or Executive Director.

So, it is not surprising that seven CDOs became CEO in 2013.

What’s surprising is that there weren’t more than seven.

So, what else are companies looking for in digitally savvy CEO’s and Board directors?

Consider what a CEO selection committee looks for in a candidate. There are the obvious requirements: deep operational experience, leadership, communication capabilities, and character.

And there’s also a second layer of desirable experiences and traits—and these map closely to the CDO:

  • Silo Buster: A candidate must have experience overseeing, coordinating, and bringing together diverse organizational functions. That’s a core CDO responsibility.
  • Strategic: A candidate must be a business strategy expert. The CDO’s key charge is leveraging digital for business strategy, while maintaining a strong strategic focus on the customer.
  • Future Oriented: CEOs must be immersed in trends changing their industry and business as a whole. Social, mobile, the “Internet of things,” and cloud computing represent the most disruptive forces in business today.
  • Powerful Actor: A candidate should be influential and respected. The Chief Digital Officer holds a dynamic new title that attracts attention and is a position that exerts wide authority.
  • Public Trust: Social media, consumer empowerment, corporate transparency, and public antipathy toward unaccountable business practices are trends that make it critical that today’s CEOs elicit trust. CDOs have the knowledge—and sometimes even the direct experience—of how to employ social and digital platforms to speak directly to the public.

Finally, a good candidate demonstrates the fruitful completion of major projects.

When Discovery Communications announced CDO Perette’s appointment to CEO, its press release noted that he “built best in class digital and technology organizations, and helped Discovery be a leading provider of high quality nonfiction media across all screens.”

CDOs typically work to launch major digital initiatives and to compile a track record of their successes.

What about weak spots?

One possible vulnerability could be if a CDO pushed too fast on a digital initiative without having the full metrics in hand and the long-term financial implications clearly spelled out.

This is a tricky balance, though. Launching new digital initiatives involves risk taking, particularly in areas like social media where ROI and other traditional measurements are not fully established.

- by David Mathison and Robert Berkman

In addition to the opening keynote on Tuesday morning April 22, Mathison will also be addressing the CDO-to-CEO career path as moderator on a panel called “From CDO to CEO: Digital Executives Share Career Advice” on Wednesday, April 23 at 8 a.m. at the Chief Digital Officer Summit at Time Warner.

A good primer on the subject would be Chan Suh’s Wired piece, Is 2014 the Year of the Chief Digital Officer?

More below. Don’t miss it!

From CDO to CEO: Digital Executives Share Career Advice

(Wednesday, April 23 from 8:00-8:45am)

Moderator: David Mathison: Curator, CDO Summit; Founder, CDO Club

David Mathison is the curator of the Chief Digital Officer summit and founder of the CDO Club.

He is the world’s leading authority on Chief Digital and Data officers, and has been quoted by the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Computerworld, McKinsey & Company, MIT Sloan Management Review, CMS Wire, ZDNet, Fierce CIO, and I-CIO, among others.

He was previously the founder and Managing Director of the Digital Media practice at Chadick Ellig, a premiere executive search consultancy named by Business Week as “one of the world’s most influential headhunters.


Jay Rosenzweig
Founding Partner
Rosenzweig & Company
Executive Search

Mike Geiger
President &
Chief Integration Officer

Chan Suh
CDO and Senior Partner

Jonathan Sackett
President and CEO

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The second annual Chief Digital Officer Summit will be held on April 22–23, 2014, at Time Warner’s Conference Center, located at One Time Warner Center in New York, N.Y.

Tickets to the next CDO Summit are available now. The 2013 Chief Digital Officer Summit SOLD OUT of tickets, weeks before the summit date, so be sure to reserve your place now.

Keynotes and Featured Speakers

Rachel S. Haot

Chief Digital Officer
State of New York

Sree Sreenivasan

Chief Digital Officer
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Perry Hewitt

Chief Digital Officer
Harvard University

Ken Kragen

We Are The World
Hands Across America

More Speakers

“I want to thank David Mathison and congratulate his team on what was an exceptional inaugural Chief Digital Officer Summit. The speakers, content, attendees and overall experience was phenomenal. I have attended countless conferences/summits all over the planet – and this was truly world-class. Well done!”
Janet Scardino
Digital Media Executive

“Congratulations on an absolutely fantastic inaugural Chief Digital Officer conference. Between the incredibly smart agenda (from start to finish), the very insightful and highly relevant research/content, the all-star lineup of speakers, and David Mathison’s terrific moderation of the panels and schedule overall, this was one really amazing day! It must be gratifying to know that all of your hard work over the last 18 months resulted in such a successful outcome and greatly appreciated by everyone in attendance. Thanks for a great day!!!”
Riley McDonough
SVP/GM Reuters Consumer Media
Thomson Reuters

“Congratulations and thanks to David Mathison for spotting the need for community and collaboration in the growing Chief Digital Officer space, and for having the wherewithal, network, and organizational talent to put together such a top-notch event in its inaugural year. Next year’s summit should be even more of a must-do for anyone working digital at senior levels in all kinds of businesses.”
Teddy Goff
Digital Director
President Barack Obama 2008 and 2012

“The Chief Digital Officer Summit was one of those rare conferences that was so engaging the audience fixated on the speakers, rather than on multitasking.”
Jason Seiken
Senior Vice President/General Manager
PBS Digital

More Endorsements

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  • Robert Stack

    CDO’s by virtue of their jobs have acquired valuable knowledge about how to communicate with the stakeholders in the companies/organizations they serve which gives them significant wisdom over other senior executives should they be asked to step into the role of CEO.