When the CIO is also the CFO

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

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"So now when [damaged equipment] comes back, we can prove it, and I know the courts will uphold that time stamp," Box explains. The company collected about $100,000 from customers to pay for damaged equipment in the first three months the new system was in place; previously, it would have had to pay the cost of repairing the equipment out of its own pocket.

"It's a very good example of how being a CFO and knowing the issues that are so common to the function spill over to the issues that affect IT," Box says.

80-hour work weeks?

That's not to suggest, however, that the joint CFO-CIO role doesn't pose some significant challenges.

Each of the positions on its own usually takes up more than 40 hours a week, so executives who hold dual jobs face some logistical pressure. Hopkins, for instance, estimates that he's putting in 80 to 100 hours a week at World Telecom. "The people who have both roles have to really have a lot of stamina. I had to do a lot of soul-searching to stick to it," he says, adding that it's easier to tough it out if you have an exit strategy in place.

And each job comes with its own set of specific responsibilities, skill requirements, idioms and tools, creating a tall order for anyone who aspires to a dual position.

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.

"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.

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