You’ve Got a First-Rate Finance Department

The hallmarks of a great workplace for finance professionals aren't necessarily what you'd think.

At cable network channel Comedy Central, CFO Chris Pergola says finance employees regularly spend about two weeks working outside the finance department getting operations exposure. In addition, each group within the company has a finance liaison who’s familiar with every detail of the group’s business.

So, for instance, someone who has a question about on-air promotions can “talk to the head of that group or the finance person, and they’ll get the same information.”

At Vanguard, CFO Packard also encourages job rotation, ranging from six-to-nine-month internships to assignments of two or more years. He sees the job rotation as a way to “feed the company with future leaders.”

In addition, each finance employee has a development plan, which includes special teams and task forces to participate in. “It’s a given that they should know their job,” Packard says. But he also wants each employee to “become a broader businessperson.”

Having finance workers get out there enhances job satisfaction, too. Pergola says his employees appreciate the “ability to work with people as opposed to work with numbers.”

While a finance team clearly benefits when its staff has some exposure to operations, there’s also a professional-development benefit in working with business units. As the demand for more-rounded finance executives grows, finance managers with operations experience may have a leg up when a company looks to fill senior departmental slots — particularly the CFO post. “A lot of CEOs believe that operational experience is valuable in a CFO because they’ve participated directly in running parts of the business,” explains Wilson.

Harry Silverman, CFO at Domino’s Pizza, believes it’s a good idea for finance chiefs to seek out operational experience. In an interview with last year, Silverman noted that, when he joined the pizza retailer, he made a real effort to understand the fundamentals of the business. “I tried to get out into the stores as much as possible and spend all the time I could with the operations people, to really understand what made this business profitable,” he said. “There are a lot of people in high places who don’t spend the time to really figure out what is going on out there.”

Venturing forth can pay off — particularly for a finance chief. Headhunter Wilson adds that, these days, “boards and more CEOs like the potential of upward mobility that an operational CFO has to grow into a COO, or even CEO position.”

5. The Finance Department Is Boring

Remember when CFOs, like accountants and bankers, were boring? As a lot, finance chiefs were conservative, straight-arrow types who’d invariably err on the side of caution and prudence and humility.

But during the 1990′s, CFOs and other finance types got emboldened by the go-go atmosphere of the new economy. They masterminded complicated off-balance-sheet deals and non-GAAP financial reporting. And we all know where that led: Enron, WorldCom, Tyco.


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