Why Treasurers Are “Stuck”

Often overlooked as candidates for higher finance positions, they need to get out of a mindset where they see their careers as strictly vertical. The way to go is lateral.

Among the fortunate is Steve Bruffett, CFO of YRC Worldwide, who spent three years in treasury among several company groups he rotated through. After joining in 1998 as director of financial planning and analysis, he became treasurer of Yellow Corp., parent of YRC. In that role, he was involved in the company’s merger with Roadway, and later was promoted to senior vice president in charge of corporate development and investor relations. In 2005 he went into a completely different area, running operations on the Eastern seaboard. Bruffett, who became CFO in 2007, says, “Treasury is one of the great places to rotate up-and-coming talent.”

Looking at treasury as a vertical career can be limiting, says Roberts. Quite a few people are career treasurers, denying advancement opportunities for others in the group. Another problem is that, similar to the patterns in hiring CFOs, when companies fill the treasurer spot they tend to hire from the outside.

Those not committed to a treasury career would benefit by doing all they can to move laterally. In the Zehren-Friedman survey, respondents identified exposure to senior management as the most important need for advancement, followed by communication skills and advanced technical skills. Those who combine all three “add value and are more visible,” says Roberts.

But for treasury employees, gaining exposure to top management or access to training is not always easy. “When I speak to training departments, treasury is usually not on the list,” says Roberts. “They are usually under the radar.”

One key to moving up can be a willingness to gain operational experience. A quick look at résumés of top CFOs bears that out. At Cardinal Health, Jeffery Henderson is a former president of Eli Lilly Canada as well as that company’s former controller and treasurer. Bausch & Lomb CFO Efrain Rivera, a onetime treasurer, acquired operational experience as president of the company’s Canada and Latin America businesses.

Holding a variety of roles is important even in middle-market and smaller companies, such as those that are the typical clients of Tatum LLC, which provides senior finance executives on an outsource basis. “It is very unlikely that treasurers will be CFOs unless they get out of treasury and do the controllership function and the planning and analysis function,” says Cynthia Jamison, Tatum’s national director of CFO services.

A changed mindset may be in order for some. Controllers usually have accounting backgrounds and exposure to more aspects of the business, while treasurers are often former bankers with a narrower view. “Assistant treasurers often think about one next job — becoming treasurer — while an assistant controller will think of five different things, including audit, finance director in one of the company’s businesses, or even treasury on the way to becoming CFO,” says Kevin Ford, an executive recruiter with Korn/Ferry International.

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