Movin On Up: E-Execs Hit The Fast Track

Vince Caminiti hates to lose. The Delta Air Lines Senior Vice President still hasnt gotten over the fact that Ford Motor beat Delta to the punch by announcing in February that it was wiring its entire work force. "By four hours we missed being the first company in the world to announce we were going to wire our employees," he says, the annoyance showing in his voice. "Ford beat us."

Caminitis determined not to come in second again. Thats why in early September Delta was the first airline to announce it was putting all its e-business activities - business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-employee (B2E) - under one senior executive, Caminiti, and creating a new business unit, e-Delta.

And thats why Caminiti was upset six weeks later when The Wall Street Journal made a big deal of the fact that United Airlines was taking the same approach, folding all its e-commerce initiatives into a new business unit under the carriers chief financial officer, Doug Hacker. "Its old news," Caminiti says of the story. "The fundamental difference between us is that our competitors CFO is responsible for everything Im responsible for, but hes also the CFO; all I do is this. I dont have any other job. Thats important."

Now maybe Joe Public doesnt give two figs how the airlines structure their e-biz operations, but for the airlines - and the rest of corporate America - such considerations are not only important, theyre arguably a matter of survival. Thats a major reason e-commerce executives are at a premium today and why theyre moving rapidly into senior positions and attracting big salaries.

"Today salaries for a vice president of e-business in Fortune 500 companies range from $200,000 to $450,000, and from $100,000 to $150,000 in small companies," says Beverly Lieberman at Halbrecht Lieberman Associates in Stamford, Conn.

Those numbers may be slightly on the high side, at least in the Midwest. Bill Trau, a vice president at Christian & Timbers, a Cleveland-based recruiter, puts the salary ceiling at $300,000. The point is that good e-business managers are emerging as the new business superstars as corporate America fully integrates the Net into the mainstream of its activities.

"Weve reached the point now where a company such as Procter & Gamble, which never had a B2C presence, is selling makeup to teen-age girls over the Internet," Lieberman says. "E-business is everywhere."

Lieberman estimates that at least 25 percent of the Fortune 500 have senior e-business executives on their payroll, a number she projects will double within the next 18 months. A recent KPMG International global survey reflects similar numbers. "Of the 331 companies that responded, 40 percent said they already had a senior executive or an executive committee driving e-business initiatives, and more than half said they intended to dedicate more senior management to e-business," says John Machin, head of KPMGs U.K.-based Information Risk Management unit.

Broken down by industry, electronics and finance had the highest percentage of e-business managers in place - 80 percent and 70 percent respectively, according to the survey - while automotive was lowest, with 25 percent.

But who are the people filling these positions? Whats their background and where do they fit into the organizational structure? Whats their charter and how are they evaluated?

The answers to these questions vary markedly depending on a variety of factors: Are e-managers being hired by a dot-com or traditional corporation? Are they being brought in to work in a spin-off or at the parent company? How far has their employer progressed along the e-business developmental curve? Is the employer trying to increase market share, online sales or perhaps both?

Despite such variables, this much is clear: Typically the first wave of e-commerce execs was either marketing-savvy or had a solid technical grounding. To some extent thats still the case today. Trau, for instance, currently has two openings for e-commerce heads with information technology backgrounds and, ideally, electrical engineering degrees.

"On the technical side, clients are looking for someone with strong backgrounds in telecom, network design, architecture and the latest operating systems including Linux," Lieberman says. Often the technically inclined e-manager turns out to be an enlightened chief information officer, chief technology officer or chief X officer. Or, often this job is tucked in under the CIO, she notes.

And if its a marketing type that being sought, corporations are targeting "people who have done it," notes Nicholas Gardiner at Gardiner International, a New York recruitment company. In these instances, the candidate needs to be very marketing-driven, have experience working with Web site developers and know enough about customer relationship management (CRM) systems to relate requirements to the systems people.

But, increasingly, Fortune 500 companies want their top e-business people to have a business background, perhaps with some operational experience. "Youre seeing a number of companies bring in operations executives who know how to manage people," says Ron Shevlin, research director at Forrester Research.

Shevlin notes that e-GM is being run by GM operational executive Mark Hogan, and says he knows of two major pharmaceutical companies that are filling the top e-executive slots with operational people.

At the same time, the top e-executive often resides higher up the corporate ladder than first-generation e-managers. There are several reasons for this. One is that todays Fortune 500 Web budget can range in the hundreds of millions of dollars. "Their budgets are larger and on the increase," Trau notes. And bigger budgets usually mean a more elevated title.

More important, e-business now transcends the entire corporation in many instances. "E-business has become the business," Shevlin says. "Its not a functional part of the organization, but a separate business unit spanning the company. You need someone who is able to manage people."

"E-business can no longer be done as a discrete function," Gardiner says. "It cuts across every aspect of the company and consequently has to report to something like the office of the chairman so that you can cut out the territoriality and make sure you get buy-in across the organization."

In other words, the senior e-executive needs boardroom backing and the management skills to get the entire corporation behind e-initiatives. He also needs the diplomatic skills to deal with the political and cultural issues that are a big part of this change.

"You basically transform the company from a product mentality to a processes mentality," Gardiner says. "Thats what e-business is at the end of the day. Its about anthropology as much as it is technology."

In the future, Gardiner sees the e-commerce slot leading to a top corporate job. "My estimate is that this position will produce CEOs [chief executive officers] or at least COOs [chief operating officers] since they [e-execs] have to understand the processes and the organization probably better than anyone else in the company," he says.

But thats in the future. For now, heres a look at six different top e-managers, how they got where they are and where theyre going.