What makes a CFO great, not just good?

05 Nov 2019

What makes a CFO great, not just good?

Financial acumen and accounting competence are just the start for today’s Chief Financial Officer. This demanding role requires a lot more, as our guide explains.

Today, a successful chief financial officer must be able not only to see the risks and opportunities behind the numbers but to act as a strategic business partner to the CEO.

Doing that well requires strong leadership, excellent communication and team-building skills.

To go from good to great, those qualities are just the start.

As this Odgers Berndtson executive search guide explains, today’s finance director is also expected to be an ethical standard-bearer for the organisation.

Plus, as digital transformation accelerates, the modern chief financial officer needs to wear yet another hat. That means understanding how to get the maximum from that digital investment, harness Big Data, and respond and adapt quickly to disruption.

No mean feat. And judging by the lack of confidence in CFOs to lead through disruption, as revealed by our Leadership Confidence index, too steep a challenge for many.

As Ross Woledge, Odgers Berndtson Executive Search Canada, puts it: "CFOs are held to a higher standard than anyone in the company – even more than the CEO. It is a privileged position given the ability to have a powerful impact on the direction of the business, but it is increasingly challenging given the increasing remit of the role and CFOs being pulled in so many different directions."

In order to do all of this, the CFO must have an eye for detail and a deep understanding of the business, whilst also maintaining a macro view of the company’s financial position, growth opportunities and the competitive landscape. If it sounds like an enormous responsibility, that’s because it is.

The CFO’s fast-evolving role

In a 2015 global survey by KPMG, 53% of CEOs said that, out of all the C-suite roles, the CFO function will gain the most importance over the short term. The expanding role of the CFO may be linked to the increasing relevance of managing financial risk and internal controls to a company’s bottom line.

Many companies are keen to implement initiatives that cut across business functions and the CFO is strategically well-placed to lead such efforts. Given the importance of the role to a company’s financial health and long-term success, appointing the right CFO is crucial.

"I can’t remember when I last recruited a FD who was only looking after finance." Mark Freebairn, Odgers Berndtson Executive Search, London.

Unfortunately, finding the ideal candidate in a tight talent market is as daunting as the role itself. Having an in-depth understanding of the role of the CFO today and how this role is likely to evolve in the future is a good place to start your search.

The guide for would-be CFOs, and the people looking for them

Our guide maps out the skills and traits of a great CFO, highlights where the CFO of today should focus his or her efforts, and serves as a guide for CEOs, HR Directors and Boards looking to hire their next senior business partner.

In compiling this guide, we have drawn on our extensive experience of leading successful CFO searches across the globe.

In addition, we’ve reflected on our clients’ evolving expectations and needs when hiring CFOs, and analysed market trends across the Odgers Berndtson executive search global network.

Our  guide covers the following:

  • What does today’s CFO role look like?
  • The three hats a CFO must wear.
  • The personal qualities that make for success
  • How will the CFO role evolve?
  • How the CFO’s management portfolio is expanding.
  • The road from CFO to CEO.
  • Where are today’s CFOs coming from?
  • How to stand out as a CFO candidate.
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The evolving CFO

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