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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.

Doing double duty requires some adjustments -- both for Wilhelm, who oversees a 37-member IT department, and for those who report to him. Wilhelm says he doesn't have the time to attend as many conferences, webinars and other events as he'd like to in order to learn about new technologies. He relies on his staff and outside consultants to handle tasks requiring deep technology expertise as well as some financial duties. "It means the people underneath me really have to be able to run with the ball" -- more so than staffers in an IT shop with a dedicated CIO, he says.

Does Finance have the upper hand?

Those in joint positions acknowledge that the dual role can create some confusion in the executive ranks.

"The weakness is truly that the CFO part of the job overshadows the CIO part to a large degree," says Hopkins. The CFO role prevents the CIO from being overly biased toward IT -- which might not always be the best thing for IT, Hopkins says.

Once the CIO takes on financial responsibilities, he or she must embrace "turn the crank" operational responsibility, make decisions about capital expenditures, and remember that his job is to invest dollars throughout the organization, not just in IT. "It's difficult for me to champion dollars for IT infrastructure when as CFO I'm involved with the politics of dollars spent in marketing, advertising, operations and so on," says Hopkins.

For his part, Joe Money Machinery's Box acknowledges that having dual responsibilities means that he can be unavailable to IT staffers who want to discuss technology issues. And because he came up through Finance rather than IT, some IT employees don't see him as one of their own.

Box addresses those concerns by making sure staff members know that he's available and can be interrupted at any time to discuss critical issues. He also says that he makes "no pretense of being anything other than what I am." Since his IT role is primarily strategic, rather than being focused on day-to-day operations, he reasons that it's not a real liability that he hasn't spent years dealing with some of the operational issues his department faces.

"If the staff feels that they are appreciated -- and they certainly are -- then I believe most of the drawbacks perceived from a staff level can be managed."

Short-term stopgap

Given that the job descriptions of these dual positions are tied very specifically to the individuals filling them, it's not surprising that the companies don't see combined titles as permanent.

Executive summary

The dual CIO-CFO: Benefits and drawbacks in a nutshell

In fact, Hopkins says he took the World Telecom job knowing that it was a temporary assignment. "I believe wholeheartedly that you can't have this position unless it fits the individual and where the company is in its life cycle," Hopkins says.

 

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