The Unlikely CIO
How does a federal officer end up as the top tech leader in a construction firm? It’s all about problem-solving and leadership.
By Dan Vaccaro
Jim Qualteri is an expert at neutralizing threats.
That was true when he operated tanks in the Army, when he protected assets as a federal officer with the CIA, and when he ran the largest privately owned IT consulting company in the Rocky Mountain region.
These days, he’s still in the business of recognizing problems and solving them as chief information officer at RK, a leading provider of mechanical and electrical contracting, manufacturing and facilities services.
“The funny part about my career is there was a time when booting up my computer was akin to an act of God,” Qualteri says. This was back in his CIA days, shortly after he graduated from MSU Denver in 1996 with a degree in criminal justice.
He expected to spend his career with the agency, but his life took an unexpected turn.
At the CIA, Qualteri deployed seven months out of each year, which was challenging for him and his wife. Ultimately, the native Coloradans returned home, with Qualteri expecting to transfer into a federal role locally.
Meanwhile with bills to pay, he took a temp job with MarkWest Hydrocarbon. His work ethic impressed the right people, and he was soon offered a full-time role in information technology. The only problem – he knew nothing about computers. But the company recognized his potential and offered to teach him.
All this happened while he was still waiting for his federal transfer. By the time it went through, he’d found a new career path.
With seven years of IT experience, Qualteri scored a job at IT consulting company NexusTek, where he served as vice president and then president until he and colleagues sold the company in 2016.
Qualteri’s unique combination of IT and business leadership skills landed him the CIO job at RK in 2017.
“My job is really about sitting down with our leaders and asking about their greatest challenges,” he says. “Then I can come back with technical solutions to help the business grow.”
RK has certainly grown. Over the past two years, the company has doubled in size, both in terms of employees and revenue. With Colorado growing at an unprecedented clip, the boom seems likely to continue.
Qualteri says the best part of his job is exercising his leadership skills. He enjoys serving as a mentor, paying forward the support he received when he was transitioning from law enforcement into IT.
That spirit of service goes beyond the workday, too. He has served on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado for the past six years, including two as board chair. He recently reconnected with his alma mater to get involved in mentoring students, and he joins the MSU Denver Alumni Board in April.
Qualteri notes that RK is already partnering with MSU Denver on a first-of-its-kind program designed to help RK apprentices advance their careers. Trade workers who complete a Department of Labor-certified apprenticeship and receive a journeyman’s license are eligible for a 30-credit-hour block they can apply toward a bachelor’s degree in construction project management at the University.
That connection makes Qualteri proud, as does the way his University has evolved over the years.
“MSU Denver has always been a great school, but it’s become even better,” he says. “They are working to solve problems no other school will tackle. RK is the same type of company. That’s why we’re great partners.”
Check out our other stories ...
Here's how female STEM students deal with gender-based challenges and how alums in the workforce are making it work.
Colorado Music Hall of Famer Ron Miles takes part in the Coffee Break podcast series.
Lifestyle-medicine students share wellness tips with young and old as community health educators.