Why your CTO should be on your board

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The pandemic necessitated companies to accelerate their digital transformation in order to thrive and create a competitive advantage in the “new normal”.  Business leaders needed to pivot their business strategies and adopt new technologies to continue operations and to ensure zero disruption of service to customers. In a time of unparalleled disruption, there is no senior leader that can navigate the scale of change better than a CTO.

The multifaceted role of the CTO in utilising technology to generate optimal business value, technology governance, and constant innovation in the ever-changing tech landscape has elevated the CTO’s stature in the C-suite and into the board. 

There are now more reasons than ever to consider adding a CTO to your board. As a CTO myself, I know how important and impactful it can be to have technical-minded leaders on a company’s board of directors. At a time when companies are accelerating their digital transformation, it’s critical to have diverse technical perspectives and people from varying backgrounds, as transformations are a mix of people, process and technology.

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Drawing on my experience on Lightbend’s board of directors, here are five benefits of making space at the table for a CTO.

Diverse expertise and perspectives  

Currently, most boards of directors are composed of former CEOs, CFOs and investors. While such executives bring vast experience, they have very specific expertise, and that frequently does not include technical proficiency. In order for a company to be successful, your board needs to have people with different backgrounds and expertise.

Inviting different perspectives forces companies out of the groupthink mentality and find new, creative solutions to their problems. Diverse perspectives aren’t just about the title –– racial ethnicity and gender diversity are clearly a play here as well.

Deep understanding of tech

For a product-led company, having a CTO who has been close to product development and innovation can bring deep insights and understanding to the boardroom. Boards are facing pressure to be strategic and thoughtful on how to evolve in the rapidly iterating world of technology, and a CTO is uniquely positioned to address specific challenges.

A great example of this is the skyrocketing need for better cybersecurity and compliance within companies of all sizes. Boards can better understand the need for security and compliance standards if they have someone in the room who can plainly articulate to them the technical tools and processes needed to guarantee the business’ security. This benefits everyone, from the board, CEO, the CSO and CCO to customers and other stakeholders.

Pragmatic empathy

Boards can be demanding, and these demands trickle down through the business and are often fielded by the product department, which is expected to create something innovative on a tight deadline. A CTO understands the nuts and bolts that power technological innovation and can provide a realistic timeline to their fellow board members based on their own experience with products while holding empathy for the people whose work days will be most impacted.

Agility 

CTOs weather the storm and apply agility to business development. Most CTOs like myself have had to be adaptable throughout our entire careers. We are uniquely qualified to manage and navigate technological change — everything from agile development to leveling-up the core tenets and running an agile business. After all, this is what business is about nowadays, and it was clearer than ever as the reality of the pandemic took hold. Who was successful? Businesses that were able to navigate this transformation with agility and turn toward the challenge, rather than away from it.

Investing in your network

An increasing number of technical experts are becoming CEOs. My colleague, Yvonne Wassenaar, CEO of Puppet, has a background in software engineering and was a CIO before stepping into her current role. A seat on a board is often the first step on the road from CTO or CIO to CEO, both because it’s more accessible than the CEO title and because boards are hungry for technical expertise as business and technology become inextricably linked.

When you invite a CTO to your board, everyone benefits: Your company gains technical advantage and the CTO gets a deeper, inside look at the business. You never know –– that CTO may be running a company as CEO one day soon.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but my hope is that it spurs founders to seek out CTOs for their company’s board. Whether you’re a first-time founder or leading a late-stage company, CTOs provide invaluable insights that are necessary for success in this rapidly transforming landscape.

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