"I consider myself a frustrated end user trapped in an engineer's body," says Ronald S. Chandler, CIO of the Los Angeles Unified School District. "I'm always wondering: Why was this designed this way?"
After working as an avionics engineer for more than four years, Chandler, 52, says he realized he didn't want to be "a pocket-protector geek; I wanted to manage large systems." That insight led him to business school and stints at consulting firms, where he advised CIOs.
From there, it was an easy decision to work for the Los Angeles schools. "The work we're doing here is akin to that in any Fortune 500 company," Chandler says. The second-largest school district in the country, LA Unified is upgrading its SAP software, developing a new student information system and installing 40,000 iPads, among other tech projects.
Chandler says CIO jobs have a natural rhythm. "You can overstay your welcome," he explains. "The nature of this job is to be a change agent. The organization needs to soak the change in, and then there comes a point where it can't take any more transformation and what you've come to do is done."
Chandler hasn't yet reached that point in his current job. Indeed, he's dedicated to the task at hand, according to LA Unified board member Monica Garcia, who says, "He has a commitment to children and schools that resonates in his leadership style."