Sallie Mae Names New CIO

Nation's largest student-loan provider taps Robert Autor as tech chief

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

October 9, 2002

3 Min Read

Last month, Robert Autor was helping the student-loan company Sallie Mae digest several acquisitions. This month, Autor has taken the reins of IT at the company, managing initiatives such as a new extranet to help schools process loans faster. "My duties and focus will change radically," he says.

Autor is adept at such changes. His appointment this month as CIO of SLM Corp., the formal name of Sallie Mae, which manages almost $76 billion in student loans, reflects companies' growing desire to have technology leaders who combine a diverse background with IT credibility. While most CIOs' resumés still read like a walk up the IT ladder, the resumés of future CIOs could look a lot more like Autor's.

Autor has spent most of the past two years analyzing and executing acquisitions for Sallie Mae, most recently as a senior VP responsible for strategy, acquisitions, and business development. He led the research leading up to the July 2001 acquisition of USA Group and the integration needed after the deal was completed. Before that, he spent seven years as CIO at Nellie Mae, a loan company that was acquired by Sallie Mae, and a stint as chief operating officer of a subsidiary of Nellie Mae. He also served as a consultant at Towers Perrin and Price Waterhouse.

The mix of skills works particularly well in Autor's industry. "Financial services and loan servicing and technology are almost one and the same thing," he says. "They both work to the same objective of moving data and processing data."

Autor's deal-making helped the company expand its revenue stream toward fees instead of just interest income with the acquisition of two collection agencies, Pioneer Credit Recovery Inc. and General Revenue Corp.

He now faces the challenge of keeping Sallie Mae on top of its technology game. The Society of Information Management this month gave Sallie Mae the first-place prize in its annual competition assessing effective IT management. The award was based on a paper written by Greg Clancy, the former Sallie Mae CIO who resigned after 23 years with the company, and two Indiana University researchers that described a data-center relocation related to the USA Group deal and the associated system-integration efforts, which Autor was involved with as part of his business VP role.

Relocating the data center to USA Group's Indianapolis headquarters, where Autor and his family will move with his new job, helped Sallie Mae cut costs, because IT talent was difficult to find near Sallie Mae's Reston, Va., headquarters. "USA Group is one of the biggest employers in Indiana and has the ability to attract top talent," Autor says.

The technical challenges that Autor will face center on the role out of OpenNet, a Web-based system that uses XML to let schools exchange data with lenders, guarantors, and student-loan servicing companies. The system lets schools correct loan errors online and makes it easier for schools to consolidate files to enter into their central financial-aid systems. Plus, it lets Sallie Mae offer an added service: Because OpenNet is monitored by Sallie Mae's customer-support staff, they can monitor data flow and spot transmission problems.

The first phase of OpenNet went live this summer with eight schools and more than 40 lenders or loan guarantors. Two more phases are set for next year, with goals for much broader adoption. "The next phase will significantly enhance the Web-based functionality for schools who want to do online transactions," Autor says. OpenNet, he says, is a "state-of-the-art platform that we think will transform the industry."

Sounds like just the mix of business strategy and technology detail that will make Autor feel right at home.

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