Corporate IT's no longer the end of the road

Bolt Media Inc.'s site, Bolt.com, runs polls. Recently, the New York-based portal wanted to know what its members do when they have a blemish on their faces.

Bolt Media Inc.'s site, Bolt.com, runs polls. Recently, the New York-based portal wanted to know what its members do when they have a blemish on their faces. Its predominantly teenage surfers could choose between: "I wash my face a lot," "I leave it alone and let nature run its course," "I put some medication on it," or "I pop that sucker."

To paraphrase Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," I have a feeling we're not at IBM anymore.

But IBM is exactly where Bolt's chief technology officer, Mark Stutzman, earned his Internet stripes. Indeed, Stutzman, who was in charge of putting together shopIBM during his five-year tenure as project manager for enterprise Web management at the Armonk, N.Y., company, is proof that there is life—as in, young, sassy, Internet startup, Bolt.com-type life—after corporate America.

"I never felt like [corporate IT] was a dead end," said Stutzman, in New York. "It was a great place to start, and I think it is for young folks coming out of college."

Stutzman is one of a growing number of senior-level corporate ITers taking their skills to new companies. And while Stutzman picked up an aggregate 20 percent salary hike in his move—he was at Internet startup Cyberian Outpost Inc. for a year between IBM and Bolt—experts say money isn't the primary motivation that's getting these movers and shakers to jump ship. Actually, CIOs usually take a 10 percent to 20 percent cut in salaries, experts say, when they move to startups.

And while the accepted line is that the possibility of equity-induced fortunes more than makes up for the salary drop, the prime motivation cited is usually a desire to have a greater impact with a smaller staff that moves without the lumbering gait of a large corporation. "Every day, you're making an impact that can be felt in the business," said John Andrews, CEO of Sanga International Corp., regarding his own move from corporate IT a year ago. Andrews came to the Jacksonville, Fla., Internet startup after five and a half years as CIO at CSX Corp. and 14 years in various roles at GTE Corp.

Recruiters for Internet startups say that Andrews' roll-up-your-sleeves attitude—coupled with his solid management and technol-ogy skills—is exactly what they're looking for. "We look for someone who's still entrenched in the technology," said Shawn Oglesbe, of Christian & Timbers Inc., a Cleveland recruiter. "Someone who's just directing things from 30,000 feet and not getting their hands dirty—that's not who we're looking for."

And the fact that Andrews is getting his hands dirty as a CEO rather than as a CIO speaks volumes about the avenues that Internet startups are opening up to CIOs who are willing to leave corporate America. After all, only a small percentage of CIOs manage to move on to be chief operating officers or CEOs in large corporations, which still tend to promote chief financial officers or senior marketing executives into those positions rather than promoting their IT pros, Andrews said.

"Many CIOs have bumped into that ceiling," Andrews said. "Given the gold rush that's occurring outside [of corporate IT]—not from a money standpoint, but from an experience standpoint—well, my perspective is, once you become a CIO at a major corporation ... what more do you have to do?"

It looks like the answer is: a lot more than you used to.

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