The man who founded CDO Club is ready to scale his community of digital leaders

CDO Club
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David Mathison has heard all about those predicting the supposed death of the chief digital officer role, and he believes his work with the CDO Club may offer the most comprehensive and convincing rebuttal to their arguments.

CDO Club, which started primarily on LinkedIn back in 2011, has not only grown into an information-rich web site, e-mail newsletter and other content resources, but a series of CDO Summits that have run everywhere from New York, Tokyo, Sydney and (most recently), Madrid. The community receives regular updates on recent CDO appointments, job vacancies and participates in CDO of the Year awards. Up next, Mathison plans to introduce consulting and advisory services to his members, which he says number more than 5,000 people.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work keeping this all community together, but the natural evolution of that are services to help those CDOs get their jobs done,” Mathison told B2B News Network. “This has become a real business, and now it’s time for me to scale.”

Mathison admitted the growth of CDO Club has been greater than he initially expected. After starting and then selling his own business, he was prepared to retire when he said he noticed the “hockey stick” growth in companies hiring CDOs to assist with their digital transformation efforts.

“Not many groups were paying attention. The ones who should have been paying attention were the recruiters and consultants,” he said. “At the time, they didn’t really have a dedicated practice for digital or for data. They sort of just bundled it under the CIO practice or the media/entertainment/tech practice.”

Given they share the same three-letter abbreviation, CDO Club has since expanded to support chief data officers, which Mathison said is growing even more exponentially within enterprises. Though organizations may decentralize the responsibilities of managing digital technologies down the road, however, he believes the original CDOs will continue to thrive.

“If I had listened to Forrester back in 2010, I would never had started the company,” he said. “They said it should be CMOs doing this role. Why would you ever hire a CDO? It’s every easy to have an opinion. What’s hard is doing hard research.”

CDO Club partnered with consulting firm Bain, for instance, to develop a report on 101 CDOs who have since become CEOs in the time since his organization was founded.

“The reason I provide a CDO jobs update every month is to throw it right in the face of Forrester,” he said. “If you ignore this group, you ignore it at your peril.”

Mathison acknowledged that some sectors may be slowing their hiring or appointments of CDOs, but those tended to be the markets where disruption first reared its head. He pointed to MTV, which hired one of the first CDOs in reaction to peer-to-peer music sharing platforms like Napster, and NBC/Universal, which was trying to get ahead of YouTube and other online video competitors.

Since then, however, digital leadership roles continue to be popular across insurance, banking, energy and others, he said. “Media was the canary in the coal mine (in terms of CDO hires),” he said.

Of course, there has also been an ongoing conversation across the tech industry about whether CDOs will create friction with CMOs, CIOs and other executive functions. Mathison recommends organizations avoid this by spending more time at the job description phase, where HR collaborates with a board of directors as well as other members of the C-Suite to lay out the role, its responsibilities and how the CDO will interact with their peers.

“They’re really people who have had P&L responsibility and were general managers or CEOs or presidents,” he said. “For them, it all rolls back to having impact, being able to do things quickly, not getting involved in the bureaucracy of a traditional company but working with a startup mentality in an incumbent organization.”

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.