IT careers: How to switch industries and survive

Some tech leaders swear that the perspective they bring to a new industry is invaluable, but others say it’s an idea whose time has come and gone.

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After David Berry had spent a quarter of a century specializing in consumer products, he'd had enough. He'd worked for Pepsi, Dannon, Haagen-Dazs, Burger King and others, holding down various IT positions and eventually making it to CIO. It was time to switch to a new industry -- but were other industries interested in him?

"I had always wondered why companies only hire people with experience in their industry," says Berry. "Whenever I asked, I never got a good response."

He decided the best way to get out of consumer products was to offer his services as an interim CIO, helping companies through executive transitions. In 2010, another CIO alerted him to an opening for interim CIO of Polycom, the high-tech manufacturer of audio- and videoconferencing equipment. Berry scheduled an interview, only to be told, "We're actually looking for a high-tech CIO." Frustrated, Berry replied, "I don't know what that is. You're either a CIO or you're not."

Polycom didn't argue with Berry's logic -- he got the interim position. After that, he served in a variety of industries, including software, retail and financial services, until he switched to a permanent gig early in 2014 as CIO of Daymon Worldwide, a Stamford, Conn.-based company focusing on private brand development, retail services and strategic sourcing.

Berry believes there's a lot of commonality among industries: Financials, logistics, demand planning and other aspects of IT leadership remain the same regardless of what vertical market you're in. "Industries all have nuances, but some things apply whether you're talking about toothpaste or high-tech," he says.

If you're a CIO looking to change industries, Berry's story provides great inspiration. The problem: Some CIOs and executive recruiters out there think he couldn't be more wrong.

Read on for the pros and cons of switching industries mid-career.

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