The numbers are firm, and they’re not encouraging. You may very well be a skillful, seasoned finance manager, but many other people — both inside and outside your company — can say the same. And in every company, there’s room for only one CFO.
The first, most important step you can take toward landing a CFO job is to get your name on the short list — or, more to the point, not to get your name crossed off the list. We spoke with CEOs, executive recruiters, consultants, and others who consider the merits of prospective CFOs at both public and private companies. Many candidates, they told us, are weighed in the balance and found wanting; heed their advice, and you need not be among them.
Of course, one black mark from this list — or even more — won’t necessarily ban you from the executive suite for life; all of our “ten sure signs” can be addressed, in time, if you’re willing to invest the effort. You might also argue that a number of our signs conflict with each other. Should you stand up to the boss, or should you tone down the ego? Should you get more involved with operations, or should you lighten up on the bean counting? Finding the right mix of skills for your career is a lifelong pursuit; here’s a good milepost to see where you stand.
Have any “sure signs” of your own? Send them to MarieLeone@cfo.com.
1. Deep Down, You’re Still a Bean Counter
“There’s more to being a CFO than getting the numbers right,” asserts Marc Pfefferle, a principal in the Carl Marks Consulting Group, a turnaround firm based in New York. Financial technicians, however skillful, can’t rise to the top without practical operating experience, says Pfefferle. Good CFOs have always been strategists, whatever the size of their company, he adds; only a bean counter would fixate on the profit-and-loss statement while ignoring day-to-day indicators like cash flow.
The CFO is more than just “the funnel that all information passes through,” adds Raymond Vennare, president and CEO of ImmunoSite, a private biotech-research firm in Pittsburgh. The finance chief must distill all that information, insists Vennare — becoming, in effect, an analyst who understands what the market is telling the company and who determines what the company should be telling the market.
So, if it behooves candidates to break the bean-counter mold, does it matter if would-be finance chiefs have a CPA? Yes, maintains Jim Cederna, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based manufacturer Calgon Carbon. Even without the latest round of regulations from the Securities and Exchange Commission, says Cederna, public companies would be hard-pressed not to have a CPA at the finance helm — unless the team already boasted a very strong controller. (And lately, as we’ve noted, good controllers have become a scarce commodity.)