Profile of the CFO

Finance chiefs at large companies tend to be Ivy League-educated men with CPAs who don't stay in their jobs for long.

Who runs finance at the biggest U.S. companies? According to new numbers from Spencer Stuart, an executive recruiting firm, three-quarters of Fortune 1,000 CFOs are first-time finance chiefs. Not surprisingly, the vast majority have risen through the finance function, with the exception of a few former chief operating officers doing stints as CFOs.

More remarkable, however, is that CFOs are increasingly coming from the ranks of accountants. Between 2003 and 2004, the proportion of finance chiefs who hold a CPA rose by half — a change that reflects how anxious boards are to have someone in the company with a firm grasp of accounting rules. For those who hold an MBA, Harvard University is the most likely alma mater, followed by the University of Chicago and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The job pays well: average compensation leapt from $669,829 in 2003 to $906,440 today. But CFOs don’t hold their jobs for very long. Average tenure for a Fortune 1,000 CFO is just 4.3 years, a number that has been falling, according to Spencer Stuart vice chairman E. Peter McLean. “Some have simply decided the pressure from Sarbanes-Oxley is too much, while others have been forced out,” he says. “But on a more positive note, many are moving into general management jobs.”

This remains a largely male club, however. Only 7.7 percent are women, up from 5 percent a few years ago. McLean predicts the number will continue to increase as more women use jobs in banking and auditing as a springboard into corporate-finance departments.

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