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When the CIO is also the CFO

Is it smart management or a recipe for disaster when one executive is both CIO and CFO?

By Mary K. Pratt
March 14, 2011 06:00 AM ET
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Computerworld - 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.

And he's also the CFO.

It's an unusual situation, but one Hopkins feels was necessary to quickly get the company up to speed as it grew toward $10 million in annual revenue without a clear technology budget or the type of IT strategy common at more mature companies.

"It was clear that there really had to be a lot of coordination and communication between the financial model and the data model," says Hopkins, who was hired as part of a push by leadership to get the company to the next level of revenue and growth. "For a company that needs to undergo rapid change quickly, this is a good fit."

Like other executives who find themselves carrying a dual CIO-CFO title, Hopkins fell into the position through an unusual set of circumstances. Before taking on the CFO-CIO job in July of 2010, he had worked as a consultant with World Telecom for a year, advising officials on tech issues because the company didn't have an IT leader at the time.

Then the CFO resigned. Hopkins, who has an MBA and some finance experience, stepped up and proposed the joint position as a way to move the company forward quickly.

The dual appointment gives him flexibility to maneuver fast and make decisions without getting bogged down by the "necessary investments vs. fiscal constraint" debate that often arises between CIOs and CFOs, Hopkins says.

His dual position is rare but not unique, industry watchers say.

Other organizations that have merged the two jobs into one find that the combined position can offer important benefits, provided it fits the business's circumstances.

"This is a growing trend, and I think it's a positive step," declares Ron Box, CFO and CIO at Joe Money Machinery Co., a Birmingham, Ala.-based company that sells and rents construction equipment. Box has put in the time to make that assessment: He has held both positions simultaneously for five years.

This is a growing trend, and I think it's a positive step.
Ron Box, CFO and CIO, Joe Money Machinery Co.

Bullish as he is on the arrangement, Box acknowledges that he didn't set out to be a dual-title holder. He started with the company in the finance department 16 years ago and moved up to the CFO spot after about six years.

Jim Money, vice president, general manager and director at the family-owned enterprise, says that he and other leaders came to believe several years ago that the company was lagging when it came to technology.

The IT department was able to keep the computers humming, but it didn't have the wherewithal to focus on strategy. "There was no one who could look at a three- or five-year business plan and say, 'These are the IT resources I think we should include in our projects,'" says Box.



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