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Tatum CIO integrates flexibility in its executive benefits

Published on April 15, 2003
on CNET's

As a global CIO for financial services leader AIG, Steve DeLaCastro used to travel nonstop. On top of that, he lived abroad for 18 years and his job continually took him away from his wife and family. The travel demands eventually propelled DeLaCastro to look for another job position.

"I had a daughter who hadn't seen me," said the executive, who is now based in Holmdel, NJ.

DeLaCastro found a doable work-life balance, without compromising earnings potential or his career prospects, at a unique consulting company called Tatum CIO Partners, an Atlanta-based firm that provides CIO services to $200 million companies and larger.

For top CIOs, the company offers an unusual job role — one that includes most of the fringe benefits of a full-time job, a built-in peer network, and advanced information-sharing technologies.

Company mission

Tatum CIO Partners was born in 2000 when its sister company, the larger Tatum CFO Partners, elected to broaden its expertise beyond finance, according to Tatum CIO's managing partner and CEO Tom Evans. The business decision was sound; Tatum CIO predicts it will double its billings this year over last.

Some of the success has to do with its service offerings and the seasoned CIOs it hires, according to leaders.

The company offers full-time CIOs the chance to work onsite at client companies for long-term engagements. For the last year, for instance, Tatum CIO Partner Pat Dwyer has been engaged four days a week at a York, Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of specialty paper. She is now helping the company find her permanent replacement.

On the professional level, the firm offers top tech executives a chance to expand skill sets and experiences. Within its placements, Tatum provides interim CIOs, such as DeLaCastro, the opportunity to spearhead and troubleshoot a variety of IT issues. The interim CIO could be called in to right projects that have gone off course, advise executive leadership, or provide specialized expertise to help out an existing CIO. Engagements typically last anywhere from a few months to a year, said Evans.

The company's clients include those in discrete and process manufacturing, financial services, electric utilities, and large not-for-profits needing to capture and leverage data on their members. Most are based in the United States, and client geographic coverage is as diverse. The company has offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco/San Jose, Orange County, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.

A unique professional perk

While it would be easy to compare Tatum CIO to other consultancies, such as Accenture or Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, there are marked differences between Tatum and traditional consultancy firms.

Tatum CIO Partners engages only sage CIOs—operators with experience in running large IT organizations, said Evans. The CIOs are businesspeople first and tech people second. They are not consultants; they are full-fledged experienced CIOs, he added. Nor does Tatum CIO use consultants to leverage more client dollars by bringing in additional worker bees or technology solutions from its own cadre of workers—something other firms sometimes do.

Similar to Microsoft Services' consulting arm, Tatum CIO Partners leverages best practices and the knowledge of its CIOs via a technology portal—an online intranet. The capability to access a broad network of experienced CIOs has real appeal to clients and to the CIOs at Tatum, said Evans. For example, a Tatum CIO needing to tap the experience of other CIOs to deal with an issue or project decision can turn to the portal for information or contact colleagues by e-mail or phone.

Recently, DeLaCastro used the Tatum technology portal to develop a strategy that ultimately relaunched an HR project for eight hospitals in Singapore. The information he got from other consultants helped DeLaCastro judge the price of the HR application and services, as well as iron out some of the contractual kinks for his client, a large software services firm.

A unique employer relationship

Tatum's relationship with its CIOs is also quite different than the traditional consultant-consultant firm relationship. Even while working on full-time engagements, Tatum’s CIOs continue to be full equity partners, as well as retain access to the company's other CIOs. That’s one reason why whenever they are offered a full-time role within a client enterprise, they remain Tatum CIO partners instead.

"From the partner's perspective, it gives them a formalized peer group," noted Evans.

The longevity of Tatum’s assignment provides a certain amount of job stability that other traditional full-time CIOs may not be enjoying in this economic climate. A CIO's job tenure can average somewhere in the range of 18 to 36 months, explained Evans, while at Tatum CIO professionals can easily return to home base for new CIO job opportunities whenever they want.

Company's growth an attractive element

Tatum CIO Partners' business model obviously holds real appeal for clients and CIOs, as the company's growth rate demonstrates.

Since first offering its services in January 2001 (the company spent its first year recruiting, creating bylaws, and getting organized), the company has grown to 80 partners and tripled its business over 2001 earnings. To meet increased client demand in the San Francisco Bay Area, the company recently added two partners in its Northern California market and would like to add a couple more, said Evans. Tatum CIO looks to expand in the Northeast next year, too.

And it’s not only clients knocking on its doors—the number of IT executives looking for a post at Tatum is increasing as well. The company receives 10 to 15 inquiries a week from tech leaders who'd like to join the company.

More money, flexibility

For partners joining Tatum CIO such as DeLaCastro, the company offers a work-life balance coupled with a financial stability that is a real rarity for executives. While the company extends many of the perks of a regular company—group benefits such as 401k, health care, life insurance, as well as a share in the profits for partners—it also provides flexibility to work as much or as little as they choose.

On the other hand, partners wanting to cram in a full month of work can do so, said DeLaCastro. The more a CIO works, the more that person can earn—with the exception of those placed into full-time, long-term contracts. In those cases the client company pays a wage on the high end of the CIO pay scale, said Evans.

Evans said working for the firm allows him to bill at a rate significantly higher than he could as a solo consultant. Even after Tatum CIO's 25 percent slice, he still makes twice what he earned at AIG.

"So that means I don't have to work everyday," he said. "If I decide I want to do some gardening, I do some gardening."

It's freedom, and the control over needed downtime, that really resonates for DeLaCastro. "I'm sitting right now watching the snow come down in my home office, watching the blue jays hitting the bird feeder. It's sort of my backdrop as I'm working [here] all day.”

While there are the occasional rush jobs—such as when a large European client called at 5 A.M. seeking research to help it break into software services and wanted the data by noon—it’s not the norm as it usually is within the traditional consulting environment.

For DeLaCastro, the new role has effectively changed his professional and personal life for the better. His travel time is reduced, missed family meals are largely a thing of the past, and the daughter he seldom saw just a few years ago is now just a room away from his home office.

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david southgate
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