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When the CIO is also the CFO

Mary K. Pratt | March 14, 2011
IT exec Jeremy Hopkins has a bit more on his plate these days than some of his colleagues in high tech. Hopkins is the CIO at World Telecom Group in Malibu, Calif., a job that keeps him hopping.

Gartner analyst Barbara Gomolski says there aren't many professionals who are qualified -- or willing -- to take on such a challenge. "I don't think there are too many CFOs gunning for the CIO job," she says. "[Companies] would have a hard time finding a person that is so well-rounded that they could do it well."

Gomolski sees the CIO role combining more naturally with a COO or chief strategist role than with the CFO job -- partly because the regulatory and financial complexities that a CFO must handle are typically outside IT's purview.

I don't think there are too many CFOs gunning for the CIO job.

"With the CFO, there's regulation, cash flow management and risk management. Those are the things you want the CFO thinking about. Not, 'Do we go with Salesforce or Oracle?'" she says.

For all that, Gomolski says she has come across companies with dual-executive positions on a regular, if not frequent, basis. They tend to be small or midsize organizations. (For example, Joe Money Machinery has about 70 employees and World Telecom has about 25.) Gomolski says a combined position generally wouldn't be feasible at a larger company, simply because there would be too much work to be done in each job.

The person drives the position

Leaders of companies with a dual CIO-CFO say the decision to go with a combined post is driven not so much by organizational structure as it is by the talents of the specific individual being considered for the job.

Jack Wilhelm is senior vice president, CFO and CIO at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. He added the CIO title just a year ago, following the previous CIO's departure.

At that point, executives -- Wilhelm among them -- saw a need for the hospital to focus more strongly on IT, which had been plagued with problems such as a 28-hour outage.

Wilhelm, who built his career in hospital finance departments, where he often had IT reporting to him, says that he believed taking on the CIO job would be the most efficient way to get IT on track.

Emerson Hospital President and CEO Christine Schuster says she and other executives knew that Wilhelm understood enough about IT -- and how to build a strong team -- to get the job done.

"We were in the middle of a lot of critical projects, and I felt like I really couldn't put those projects on hold, that we couldn't miss a beat," she says, adding that it typically takes months to find a new CIO and bring him on board. "In our case," she says, "I do think it was the right person, and the timing was perfect."


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