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A CIO Reporting to the CFO Can Gain Business Influence

CIOs who report to the CFO can still gain influence on the business, say career advisors.

"I am a director of IT at a $1 billion organization and report to the CFO, who has little interest in technology. He lets me lead without interfering, which is great. But there are two drawbacks:

  1. He doesn't seem interested in making me a strategic partner, and
  2. I don't have a corporate mentor who can help me get closer to the business.

Any advice?"

Our expert panel weighs in:

Renee Arrington, Pearson Partners International Inc., Dallas
You have some obstacles in your path that can be tough to overcome. For many CIOs, reporting to the CFO can be a nonstarter, because the chain of command signals that IT is not equally valued. You need to participate in forming the business strategy to be seen as a strategic partner. Money talks, though, so find a way to increase revenue or cut costs by improving the performance of critical business systems like sales. Develop a thorough project plan showing the business value, and pitch it to your boss and the executive responsible for sales.

Jean Fuller, Fuller Coaching, Woodside, Calif.
Present your technology plans in a new way. For each initiative, role-play how you as a CFO would perform due diligence on the proposal: Live in his shoes to get a dual view -- one financial, one technical -- of each topic. Then it's time to find your own mentors, along with excellent leadership development classes, such as those at the Center for Creative Leadership. Whom do you respect in each of the areas inside the company? Reach out to them for advice. Just avoid airing your frustrations with the CFO.

Windy Warner, ProCoach Inc., Dallas
Here's a way to develop personal relationships with executives on the business side: Make 30-minute lunch appointments with your business leaders. Get to know their goals, issues and so on. Don't worry about titles; focus on influence. Don't talk about IT at all. Then sift through what you've learned and outline IT solutions aligned with their issues. If you can set yourself apart with one project, you'll be top of mind for future strategic tasks.

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