CIO + CFO: Can One Exec Wear Both Hats?

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-08-01 Print this article Print

It's a rare pairing of duties, and some say it's usually a bad idea.

While some CIOs manage other functions, it's rare to find a single executive who manages both finance and information technology—and some say having a combo CFO/CIO is a bad idea.

The arrangement is only feasible at small or midsize companies, says David Lifschitz, CFO and CIO at Gehr Enterprises, a Los Angeles-based firm with 250 employees that manufactures wire and cable and distributes industrial supplies. "Once you get to a certain size, or a certain complexity of the organization, it wouldn't work," he says.

Lifschitz, who was originally hired as CFO and then took over the I.T. management role, also points out that it's uncommon for one person to be versed in both technical and financial skills. "To the great joy of my I.T. department, they realized they have a geek for a CFO," he says.

Some CFO/CIOs love the position. Five years ago, Bill Overbey was hired as chief financial officer for Hays Medical Center, a 192-bed hospital in northwest Kansas. He took over the CIO role after the hospital's chief information officer departed. Overbey says the dual role lets him "create efficiencies on the finance side through the use of technology. Overseeing both areas gives me flexibility to make that happen."

But other companies that combined CFO and CIO roles later had changes of heart.

In August 2005, Design Within Reach, a high-end furniture retailer based in San Francisco, assigned CIO duties to its chief financial officer, Ken La Honta, after chief information officer Vince Barriero left. (La Honta was also acting as chief operating officer.) But when Ray Brunner was named CEO of Design Within Reach in May, he announced that the company would hire a permanent CIO so that La Honta could focus solely on the company's finances. "A well-run company needs a full-time CFO," he told analysts on a conference call.

Another short-lived experiment: In January, GHN-Online, a Dallas-based provider of claims processing services for health-care companies, appointed Robert Rough as chief financial officer and CIO, "responsible for GHN's strategic e-commerce systems and information technology, financial planning and management," according to the company's press release. Six months later, GHN split those responsibilities among two executives, says a spokeswoman, who declined to elaborate.

In most cases, says AMR Research analyst Jim Shepherd, it's a mismatch for a CFO to also handle CIO duties: "Effectively managing a bunch of people who are talking about databases and service-oriented architectures would be way beyond the skills of most CFOs."


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.