Recently I met with a talented finance leader who is actively managing his career toward a CFO role. Having worked at the glossy end of finance in M&A he is now about to establish a Financial Shared Service Centre. Hang on…. wait a minute….What???? Going from a role cutting a billion dollar deal with plenty of board exposure he will now be managing AP and AR teams, getting down and dirty in the balance sheet.
Crikey, we all know that a CFO needs to be “commercial”, “strategic”, to “business partner” the MD….not look at transactional finance. But this is one smart cookie and here’s why. When building a CV that will put you in line for a CFO role, sometimes you have to move sideways to move forward.
This future CFO says that he views his career as the counter in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Each move he makes adds a new segment. Sometimes you are looking at a topic that isn’t your strength or isn’t your first choice, but you need all the segments to have a chance of winning.
This is a great point.
A CFO doesn’t become a CFO by only having skills in one area of finance. They will have collected expertise and experience over their career which allows them to lead in a role which is usually the No 2 in a business. Yes, they will have a strong commercial finance view and set the financial plan. Yes, they can raise finance through banks or the city. Yes, they can acquire or dispose of businesses. Yes, they will be the confidant and counterweight to the MD.
But there’s more to it. They will have been through the pain of implementing finance systems, they will have developed the leadership skills of motivating large finance teams, they will have improved the financial controls, and they will have taken responsibility for the statutory accounts. Through this experience they inspire confidence in their employer and from his or her employees because they have been there, and they have done it.
Now this is not to say that that you can’t be a Finance Director unless you have every single area of finance nailed down. But when looking at the career path of a CFO you will consistently see a succession of sideways moves that build their executive toolkit and puts them in prime position when going for that NO 1 role.
Why is this so important? Every day I meet talented finance professionals looking to build their career and 95% of them want to do so in way which adds value to the business. Absolutely right, but inevitably this means that candidates are focussed on job titles such as “commercial finance” or “business partner”. They will progress in this area and become increasingly senior, supporting larger and bigger stakeholders. But after ten or fifteen years when they then want a no 1 role how well positioned are they for this? How will their CV stack up against their competitor who has FP&A, M&A, Systems implementations, FSSC management experience etc?
This is just food for thought, but maybe it’s worth considering as you assess your career. Are you aware of the pieces that make up the whole? Are you wilfully focused upon securing the next vital piece in the puzzle? And do you have the awareness of when it’s time to push to land that CFO job prize?
Amy Parkinson is a Consultant in the Finance Practice
Categories: Finance Recruitment