C-suite career advice: Chris Conry, Fuze

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? “Surround yourself with the best talent you can find…”


Name: Chris Conry

Company: Fuze

Job Title: CIO

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

As CIO, Chris Conry heads up Fuze’s global IT and information security functions. Leveraging more than two decades of experience in IT and operational leadership, Conroy has a primary focus in growth-oriented high-tech businesses. Prior to joining Fuze, he drove large-scale IT transformation efforts, led IT integration activities for several mergers and acquisitions, and was accountable for corporate security and compliance as the vice president of IT and office services at Arbor Networks, The Security Division of NETSCOUT.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Hire, retain, and reward attitude and character over expertise, every time. Technical skills can be developed and improved, but there is no substitute for building a team of people that work hard and genuinely care about delivering excellent service and exceeding expectations.  

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Not sure that I can recall. I try not to dwell on that as we all have personal control over what we do with advice. Bad advice can be discarded immediately or course corrected over time. I admit, however, that I don’t forget as easily the behaviours and styles of bad leaders ...the ones that lack empathy and compassion, and generally create an air of distrust. This is exactly the opposite of the environment I prefer to be a part of and influence.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Pay as much attention to understanding what makes your business tick and fostering great work relationships as you do technology.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I always had interest in business, but didn’t realise IT as a chosen path until college. It was there that I discovered that I had a knack and appreciation for picking up and applying technology to solve problems. The customer service aspect of IT was also a big pull for me. I learned pretty early that success in IT had a lot to do with bridging the communication gap between techies and non-techies, and I got a kick out of seeing a non-techie light up after demonstrating how automation could greatly improve results and his/her work experience.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I took my first IT job immediately after graduating from college as an assistant network administrator for a financial services firm, but soon moved to a software firm where I wore many hats. I gradually increased my scope of responsibility to include business systems and application services, and finally security and compliance.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? Probably the biggest one is that IT people aren’t thoughtful business people. While it’s true IT professionals are generally not the loudest voices in the room, that doesn’t mean that they don’t care or have valuable input to share. The truth is that they are natural and passionate problem solvers, regardless of the business challenge ...you just might need to ask them what they’re thinking!

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Surround yourself with the best talent you can find, provide them with the tools and means to be their best, and focus on their long-term success, not your own. At the same time, strive to be an expert in the dynamics of your company and your market, and foster great relationships with all functions of the business.

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? I love comeback stories or big upsets when the chips are stacked against one side. I enjoy being part of a turnaround and/or taking a business to new levels of success. So long as that feeling remains and those opportunities exist for me, I plan to keep driving.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Yes, I’ve been fortunate to work for leaders and companies that value work life balance. That said, it’s hard for me to unplug, and I can’t remember the last time I did completely. I encourage and appreciate those that I work with who can, but it’s just not something that I’ve been able to do. I think the younger generations are rightfully influencing a shift toward greater work life balance.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? No regrets. I’m a big believer in ‘everything happens for reason’. 

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I don’t think there is any one perfect path to success in IT. People learn and mature at their own pace and in their own ways. I’ve had great (really great) IT team members that did neither. I’m more interested in understanding what challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve solved them than how you learned your skills. Pick a path, run with it, if you are certain that it doesn’t suit you, move on to something that does.

How important are specific certifications? For some positions, like information security professionals, certifications are valuable as they are a good measure of subject matter expertise, but they can also help demonstrate an organisations’ depth of knowledge when marketing its services. Standing by themselves and not accompanied by business acumen, however, certifications are meaningless.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Customer service, passion for problem solving, and grit.

What would put you off a candidate? Someone that demonstrates little resourcefulness, independent thought, or sense of humour.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Providing answers that they think you want to hear, as opposed to speaking candidly and honestly about themselves and their prior experiences (good, bad or indifferent). Much more important to be authentic.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Whether seeking an IT operations resource, an application services professional, or a compliance/security expert, candidates who possess a balance of technical domain expertise, business acumen, and service excellence are the hot commodities. I want to hire and develop people that are service-oriented and regarded as thoughtful business people, not just as technologists or administrators. Those people, and that balance, is not easy to find. When businesses and IT leaders do find them, they usually do a good job (as they should) of keeping them motivated and content.