By Peter High, published on Forbes
Historically, the chief information officer’s primary reporting relationship has been to the chief financial officer of the enterprise. The initial rationale for this included the fact that much of the initial value from IT was in helping save costs by automating financial processes, and likewise the historical perspective that IT departments are primarily cost centers to be driven down. Ironically, though this has historically been the predominant hierarchy, few CIOs have replaced their bosses and become CFOs.
Cynthia Earhart has been one of the few to successfully walk that path. Among the many roles that she has played at Norfolk Southern since joining the company in 1985 has been that of executive vice president and chief information officer of the company. Earhart has a CPA, and had joined the company in the Accounting department. On her path through the CIO role, she continued to ensure that her teams had appropriate financial acumen while continuing to sharpen her own. As such, due to the value she contributed both to the top and bottom lines of the company, this unusual career path became relevant. What is the likelihood of others following in her footsteps? Earhart offers thoughts on her remarkable journey.
Peter High: You recently were promoted at Norfolk Southern from Chief Information Officer to Chief Financial Officer. This is an unusual pathway, and it might be helpful to understand your background prior to IT.
Cynthia Earhart: I graduated from college with a degree in Accounting before going on to get my CPA and working a few years in public accounting. When I came to work for Norfolk Southern, I came into the Accounting department, and I spent the first third of my career there before moving to IT. When I moved from Accounting to IT, I did not anticipate a pathway back to Finance. The CFO job was not on my radar.