Tech-First to Tech-Enabled: AI Leaders’ Move to Established Industries

on 01 | 03 | 2024

In recent months, there has been a noticeable trend among AI executives, leaving their roles in core technology companies to join industries that have long-established themselves without technology at their core. This shift in career choices has raised eyebrows and stirred curiosity in the business world. Why have we seen top AI leaders move to organizations like Guardian Life, Warner Music Group, United Airlines, and Sunrun? What makes these opportunities so enticing? In this article, we’ll explore the compelling factors behind this movement.


It’s Not About Ads:

For the past two decades, the advertising industry has been a magnet for top AI talent, consuming a disproportionate share of the world’s PhDs and intellectual horsepower. However, many seasoned AI executives are now excited about applying their skills in leading large, complex AI-powered systems to entirely new domains. These opportunities extend beyond the realms of advertising, offering fresh challenges and untapped potential.



AI leaders are drawn to the prospect of bringing AI-powered products, services, and applications to traditional businesses for the first time. They see opportunities to make 2x and 3x value creation impact at already established companies, to make a real impact on industries that have been established for decades, reimagining how these industries are experienced and enhancing their profitability and margins. This is in stark contrast to the fine-tuning and optimizing of AI systems taking place at many of the Big Tech players. While these efforts are crucial, it’s not just about technology and scale; it’s about catalyzing exponential growth in well-established organizations through net-new and first time AI implementations.


A Seat at the Table:

In a unique moment in time, the demand and uncertainty surrounding AI are prompting boards and CEOs of legacy companies to seek AI leadership at the highest levels. AI Heads and VPs are no longer buried within tech or IT departments but are reporting directly to CEOs. This shift signifies a recognition of the pivotal role AI is playing, can play, and likely will play, in reshaping business strategies and operations.



While legacy organizations may never have access to as much data as the top tech giants, they possess invaluable proprietary data that will never be publicly available. This data includes critical information for operating manufacturing plants, complex credit approval workflows, and medical bed vacancy rates over time. The anticipation of what insights and applications can be derived from these unique offline datasets has made them increasingly valuable in the AI landscape.


While the allure of tech-enabled industries is undeniable, it’s essential to acknowledge that this transition is not without its challenges. Some organizations are exploring AI for the first time and grappling with how to integrate AI leadership into their existing structures. Siloed data, complex stakeholder management, data debt, and legacy systems pose hurdles that AI leaders must navigate skillfully.


The shift of AI executives from tech-first to tech-enabled businesses is a compelling testament to the transformative power of AI. These leaders are motivated by the opportunity to make a tangible impact, drive growth, and leverage unique datasets that traditional industries possess. While challenges exist, the prospect of shaping the future of well-established organizations through AI innovation is too enticing to resist. As AI continues to evolve, we can expect more executives to seize the opportunities presented by this momentous shift in the AI landscape.