At a recent shortlist meeting for a Finance Director for an organisation with social purpose, the CEO asked if I felt the recommended candidates were able to provide strategic guidance from a commercial perspective. Her view was that the technical capabilities were almost a given at this level. Her focus was on commerciality and strategic input to the leadership team. Similarly, during the recent recruitment of a Finance Director for a manufacturing business, the CEO was more interested in the candidate’s leadership and broader commercial capabilities. Yes, he required a qualified accountant; however, his focus was more on the value the finance leader would bring to business objectives and performance.
Finance sits at the core of all businesses. An efficient and effective finance team is required to monitor business performance and alert leaders to any potential issues around profitability and performance. Senior finance leaders are integral to leadership teams, with the finance leader invariably being the right-hand person to the CEO.
Providing commercial insight and business partnering capabilities are as much a requirement of the role of a finance leader as the traditional number-crunching aspects. Having recruited in the finance world for over 20 years, I have seen an increasing shift in the requirements of finance leaders, of whom organisations consistently demand strong commercial and strategic acumen.
There are common themes that I see from the work we have completed over the past few years:
- The expectation on Finance Directors to drive strategy: it is no longer enough to just keep score. Finance Directors are expected to play an active role in determining what business strategy should be: if the business is profitable, how does it continue to improve its performance? If its performance is poor, how does it change its approach and remedy this?
- Commercial acumen is expected across the whole function: business partnering and commerciality is expected to drive through the entire function. There is an expectation to be business focussed, with the Finance Director required to lead, develop and mentor their own team, encouraging succession planning whilst also demonstrating that finance is an enabler of the business.
- Business leaders first: Finance Directors are expected to be fully integrated in the business and seen to work closely, if not hand-in –hand, with the CEO. They are the confidantes, the sounding board and the sense-check for the CEO and other senior business leaders. They need to display the strength of character and robustness to make difficult decisions and articulate these in a collegiate, cohesive manner.
Traditional technical capabilities will always form the foundation of all finance leaders. However, the emphasis clearly is on other aspects. Those who are able to differentiate themselves as being strategic and commercial, and true business leaders, are sought after.
Berwick Partners Finance practice focuses on placing existing and emerging finance leaders across a broad range of businesses in the corporate, not-for-profit and public sectors.