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April heralds a spring in the step of digital leadership hires

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth April 30, 2024
The digital leadership recruitment market both sides of the Atlantic is feeling some warmth


In over 16 years of watching digital leadership, I cannot think of an April quite like that of 2024. Across the US and Europe, there have been significant levels of digital leadership recruitment. We spoke to recruiters to see if we were right, CIOs about what it means for the role, and provide a round-up of the major changes. 


Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T), the STEM-focused university for 7,000 students, appointed Barry Robbins as CIO, in a role he will take up on May 1st, 2024. Chancellor of the University Mo Dehghani said: 

Robbins' extensive expertise in strategic leadership and his research in IT innovation will steer S&T's technology advancement.

Robbins replaces acting CIO Perry Koob and joins from the consulting sector, where he was a managing partner at Silver Bea. He also brings digital leadership experience from retailer Home Depot, tech giant IBM and the public sector. Robbins said in a statement:

 I look forward to learning from S&T's students, faculty, and staff as we pair education and research to make a difference in the lives of those in our communities and world.

Melissa Scott has taken on a set of increased responsibilities as the newly promoted CIO of the City of Philadelphia, an organization she joined in 2015. The mayor of the city, Cherelle L Parker, said Scott will lead the Office of Innovation with the aim of creating a more connected and equitable community. The Mayor said: 

My vision for the Parker Administration is a smart, interconnected government, where technology and innovation help produce better, more efficient delivery of services to every resident of Philadelphia. Given Scott's breadth of experience in IT, I'm confident we've found the right person for the job. I'm proud to welcome Melissa Scott to our team.

Scott is a graduate of Howard University and has experience in software development, infrastructure, security planning, and daily operations management. 

In financial services, Mark Vanni has become CIO for Mastercard Data & Services, having been COO for Truata, a Dublin headquartered data firm that is a joint venture between Mastercard and IBM. Vanni spent nearly five years with Truata. This is a return to Mastercard for Vanni, he spent 13 years with the credit card services business before moving to Truata. 

Wireless technology provider Silicon Labs, based in Austin, Texas announced Radhika Chennakeshavula is to join the company as CIO from hardware maker Western Digital. Chennakeshavula will lead the digital transformation of IT operations, enterprise applications and data analytics. At Western Digital, the Bengaluru, India-based CIO led the infrastructure team as head of engineering, and has set up an India Centre of Excellence for companies such as Micron Technology. Matt Johnson, President and CEO of Silicon Labs said: 

As we accelerate our digital transformation journey globally across the company, I believe she will play a key role in driving our growth, innovation, and customer-centricity in the digital era.

Japanese airfreight firm Kintetsu World Express has hired US CIO Hakan Yaren as Group CIO from Scottsdale, Arizona based APL Logistics, a subsidiary of Kintetsu World Express. Yaren's is a newly formed role of Group CIO at KWE Group, leading the global technology and digital functions at Kintetsu World Express and APL Logistics and includes the management of global technology hubs in Japan, Singapore, USA, India and China.


Spain based CIO Reem Zahran added satellite communications developer to her diverse digital leadership career, which has included financial services, marketing data and healthcare. Joining Marlink as Group CIO, Zahran will lead the digitization of the company. Previous tech oriented firms Zahran has led technology at include Nokia and Symbian, before a career with Kantar and more recently VISTRA. 

Following two roles in financial services, UK-based CIO Conor Whelan is joining the technology sector as the new Group CIO for Access Group. In a statement, Access Group, which produces business applications for the mid-sized enterprise sector, said: 

Conor will be responsible for strategically managing the Group's technological resources and will help drive both organic and inorganic growth. He will also focus on delivering operational excellence across the Group.

Whelan, who has spoken to diginomica about building internal recruitment resources within IT, said of the new role: 

The Group's fabulous track record, entrepreneurial style and global growth ambitions were the deciding factors in my move.

CIO Pooja Bagga is beginning her career as CIO for London-based media organization, The Guardian, in a move announced in February ahead of Bagga completing her role at the UK's Royal Mail Group, where she has been leading technology since 2017. At The Guardian Bagga will be leading the corporate technology and data strategy, and report to the CEO. Anna Bateson. Bagga has led technology at state owned Transport for London and airline British Airways in her career.

Just missing out on last month’s jobs and trends article, benefits provider Unum UK announced that insurance CIO Lio Lopez-Welsch as its new Chief Information and Digital Officer, a new title and board level role for the UK arm of the US financial services provider. 

Lopez-Welsch joins from Aegon UK, where he was CIO for five years, previous roles in the sector include Investec Wealth & Investment, the London Stock Exchange and consultancy Accenture. 

In the gaming sector, 888 Holdings has appointed Rik Barker, a stalwart of the sector as Chief Information Technology Officer. Barker joins from a year in a COO role with xDesign. He has been CIO for gaming organizations Flutter in the UK and Ireland and CTO for Sky Betting & Gaming in his career.

Media planning service and programmatic advertising provider Skyrise has appointed Peter Hanlon as Chief Technology Officer. He joins the Manchester firm from Xiatech, where he was head of data and analytics. At Skyrise, Hanlon will be responsible for the technology infrastructure that supports the audience-targeting platform Skyrise offers to its customers. In a statement, Skyride said: 

He will ensure the platform has the right overall structure and architecture, as well as the best talent and partners. Hanlon will work closely with the senior leadership team at Skyrise to ensure the delivery of a high-quality experience for advertisers and agency partners.

Hanlon said of the new role: 

As CTO I look forward to building and aligning a technology strategy that allows Skyrise to continue the momentum that it has built through its data-first solution. As someone who has worked with big data throughout my career, it is very exciting to join a company with such a unique proposition, that is using geo-temporal data in such an innovative and compelling way.

Skyrise co-founder Alex Petrie and Hanlon worked together a decade ago on leading the design and development of the Smart Steps big data platform at Spanish telecoms firm Telefonica.

In another recruitment within the logistics sector, Marc Slack has stepped up to become EU IT Transformation Director at Yusen Logistics Europe and former Shell technology leader Claire Patterson has become CISO for the Royal Mail Group, whilst former Great British Railways and Virgin Trains technology leader John Sullivan has become CTIO for the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). 

In the healthcare sector, David Walliker has become the Group Chief Digital and Information Officer at the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. The stalwart healthcare CIO has previously been a technology leader for Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital NHS Trust, Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust, Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust and CWP NHS Foundation Trust. 

Interim appointments continue to grow, too, with Matt Copelin becoming interim Group CIO for RiverStone International, which both acquires and reinsures legacy and discontinued insurance businesses. Copelin has insurance experience with Hiscox, WR Berkley as well as the Royal Mail and TNT. 

Spring action

After a slow start, April seems to suggest market confidence, and therefore, hiring activity is returning. Matt Cockbill, Executive Search Partner at Odgers Berndtson said: 

We're seeing a growing amount of activity as organizations look to boost productivity and efficiency in anticipation of market shifts, including the upcoming general election.

The impact of generative AI is also notable and is undoubtedly driving boardroom support for tech investment, necessitating increased digital leadership capabilities to enable this move.

Andy Heyes, MD for UK, Ireland and Central Europe at Harvey Nash adds: 

There is activity in the market, with a recent increase in demand for positions like CDO and CTO, as well as a rise in confidential searches (where there may be an incumbent already in place, or an M&A situation). The contingent market has also been busier in April than it was in February. Things are moving in the right direction and some green shoots are starting to show – but it is still too early to call a sustained recovery.

Chief executive of Venquis, Barnaby Parker adds: 

There is certainly some more movement in digital leadership recruitment than might be expected given the ongoing economic uncertainty. In my view, this is partly companies catching up on their technology stack where the perception is that it's moving faster than ever, and partly organizations getting used to the uncertainty and going ahead anyway.

What it means

Does a rising number of role changes among digital leaders mean new demands and opportunities? Ankur Anand, CIO with recruiter Nash Squared, thinks so. He believes the role is getting broader and harder, so CIOs need to ensure they are good at collaboration, guidance, influence and persuasion, he says. This is likely to be tested as organizations experiment with Co-pilot and AI technology. Anand said: 

Over the coming years, I expect the evolution of the role to accelerate even further. CIOs will need to adjust and adapt even more to deliver against expectations.

In particular, this will be driven by the advent of AI and GenAI. With so much hype and expectation around these technologies, Boards are looking to their CIO to cut through the noise and provide clear counsel on how they can be deployed and scaled in the organization.

This is an opportunity for CIOs, he says, and will see the role grow over the next five years: 

They will have a bigger opportunity to shape the strategy - they may be the one with the vision, who understands the art of the possible, and who sets that out to the Board and wins buy-in and engagement. They will be at the forefront of defining new business models, working in close partnerships with teams and functions across the organization or coming up with innovative ideas to drive automation with data. In short, they will have a more prominent and active seat at the strategic Boardroom table.

My take

Listening to digital leaders and charting the role changes taking place it is clear to me that there is buoyancy in the market that was missing in 2023. As the above changes reveal, in most cases organizations are realizing that they need to be digital, and digital needs leadership. 

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