by Meridith Levinson

CIO Moves, July 2003

Jul 01, 20034 mins

Role Reversals

Several companies have recently put their finance executives in charge of IT. Waste Connections is just one of them. Last April, the Folsom, Calif.-based disposal company named its Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer Michael Foos as its first-ever CIO. Other companies in which the bean counters have recently taken over IT responsibilities include Central Bancorp, Harmon Auto Glass and Somnus Medical Technologies (see “Here Come the Chief Everything Officers” at

Of course, this executive role-sharing is a two-way street?CIOs have become CFOs as well. Ulf Nilsson served as CIO of Volvo Truck in 1996 before becoming the company’s CFO a year later. James Yost was first a CIO at Ford before he was named executive director of finance. More recently, Thomas Fanning was the CIO of the Southern Co. before he took over the CFO and treasurer positions with the energy company last March.

Even when they’re not directly in charge of IT, CFOs are increasingly in charge of CIOs. In the April 1, 2003, State of the CIO issue (see “What You Have to Say” at, CIO found that twice as many CIOs report to the finance chief this year as compared with last year. No one knows that better than Mostafa Mehrabani (left), the former CIO of defense company TRW, who joined McGraw-Hill last March as executive vice president of information management and CIO. He now reports to the $4.8 billion publisher’s executive vice president and CFO, Robert J. Bahash.

Other CIOs such as Robert Slotnick and Rick Schach are happy to take on additional responsibilities beyond IT and finance to bring additional value to their positions. Slotnick, who was promoted to senior vice president and CIO of Performance Food Group last May, was also put in charge of constructing new facilities for the private-label food distributor. That same month, Schach, vice president and CIO of utility company Vectren, added the title vice president of energy delivery to his business card.

More CIOs Get on Board

Despite the seemingly incessant chatter about CFOs taking over IT, the business world obviously still holds the CIO in high regard. Two renowned brand-name companies appointed CIOs to their boards of directors last April. Hershey Foods named Harriet Edelman, CIO of Avon Products, to its board of directors on April 22, 2003. Two days later, Toys “R” Us elected Cinda A. Hallman (left), the former CIO of DuPont and current CEO of IT services company Spherion, to its board. (To read more about CIOs serving on corporate boards, see “Get on Board” at That just proves the world is chock-full of opportunities for good CIOs.

ProFILE: Back in the Game

Tracy Austin doesn’t care to reminisce about her 17 years with Harrah’s Entertainment, the Las Vegas-based casino company for which she created the famous Total Rewards loyalty program. “It’s old news,” she says.

In June 2001, she left her position as vice president of IT development for Harrah’s because “I really wanted to do something different,” says the 44-year-old Austin. That “something different” turned out to be working as an independent consultant, which is what many IT execs do when they tire of their current jobs but aren’t certain of their next move. For a year and a half, Austin worked with gaming, hospitality and IT companies on their CRM and IT leadership initiatives.

While Austin was consulting with the Mandalay Resort Group, helping the $2.3 billion company extract greater returns from its investments in IT infrastructure and an Epiphany CRM system, the company offered her a permanent position. On March 3, 2003, she became the first-ever CIO for Mandalay, which operates 15 U.S.-based properties including Mandalay Bay, the Excalibur and the Luxor.

Even though she’s returned to familiar territory, Austin faces new challenges. First and foremost, she’s trying to familiarize herself with her new company’s day-to-day operations. At the same time, she’s being careful to not get bogged down in the daily minutiae for fear that constantly putting out fires would prevent her from achieving the goal she’s set for her 70-person IT group: to be known for sound management and HR practices, determined focus on ROI, and being responsive to Mandalay’s fluctuating business and IT needs. She is lucky, she says, because she is the company’s first CIO. No one has any preconceived notions about what she should be doing or how she should be doing it.