You’re Not CFO Material

Wondering whether you have what it takes? Here are ten signs that you're never going to make it to the big chair.

Even well-intentioned finance chiefs can be hurt by their egos. When he was the incoming CEO of another biotechnology firm, Vennare arrived just in time to squelch a disaster. The CFO had been hired by Vennare’s predecessor because of her biotechnology expertise — a good move for a small private company, says Vennare. Yet her myopic view of the industry, and her refusal to survey new advancements in the market, caused the CFO to trust only her own company’s technology. Instead of farming out a complex imaging project to the industry leader, the CFO cobbled together a business plan and started raising funds for a two-year, $8 million IT infrastructure project that almost destroyed the company, according to Vennare.

The worst kind of arrogance, say most of our sources, is the type that covers up insecurities. Why? Finance managers with this particular failing squirrel away information as a power play, releasing only half-truths or partial facts so they remain in control of their team — but again, leading to missed opportunities for the company. Worse, they have a hard time accepting blame or admitting errors. (A thorough regimen of “360″ reviews can often provide a cure.)

4. You’ve Got No “Heart”

Cowardly lions need not apply. Most executives have their fair share of basic integrity, says Pfefferle, but a CFO needs enough “heart” to stay the course under pressure.

To some extent, says institutional investor Halpert, a CFO’s job is to rein in the CEO. Cederna calls the fortitude to expose potential scandals “managerial courage”; in other words, having the mettle to “do the right thing.” It’s more than just speaking up, he adds; “it’s having the confidence to fix things, too.”

If a public scandal emerges at a company, will the finance managers who work there carry a stigma when they leave? Not according to executive search expert Clothier, who says that only a small minority of managers share the taint of their companies. Unless an executive is indicted, it shouldn’t be stumbling block for a good candidate, maintains Clothier, although the job seeker should expect extra scrutiny from search firms and prospective employers.

“There’s always more to the story” than you’ll see in the news,” adds Lee Shull, a managing director for interim-CFO firm Resources Connection. When you’re looking into a scandal, says Shull, “you really have to determine the candidate’s level of involvement.” In fact, adds Shull, Resources Connection just hired a financial manager from a company made infamous by accounting improprieties — but only after Resources Connection and the client were comfortable that the candidate wasn’t part of the malfeasance.

5. You’re Too Content with the Status Quo

Letting things brew and dealing with them later is an approach best confined to the office coffeemaker; it’s certainly not the mark of a successful CFO candidate. Sometimes, taking the initiative with a business problem means stepping out of the finance role to become, for example, an operational catalyst.

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