A Perfect Fit

The demand for finance talent may be soaring, but candidates refuse to settle for just any job.

For people who have been division CFOs,
the challenge is to land the corporate-CFO
spot. “If you haven’t been one before, you’re
technically unproven,” says Whitehurst, who
was turned down for the CFO position at
Beckman Coulter because “they wanted
someone with prior CFO experience,” he says. But Whitehurst is undeterred. “If you don’t
have any rejections, you don’t have a sense of
whether you’re aiming high enough,” he says.

For former corporate finance chiefs, the big
hurdle is breaking into operational roles. Dascoli
says he would like to be considered for
COO roles, which he feels he is qualified for
given his past experience at Thomasville, but
“the reality is people see me as a finance guy.” In fact, part of the problem may be that
finance skills are so sought-after, says Buyniski,
that CEOs can’t afford to let a good CFO go
to waste. It’s the old conundrum of “if you’re
irreplaceable, I can’t move you,” he says.

Then there’s the issue of past associations. Given the number
of firms that have gotten in some type of trouble with the
Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of
Justice in recent years, it’s not unusual for candidates to have to
explain a difficult episode or two. For Whitehurst, a longtime
Hewlett-Packard finance executive, it’s explaining his role in
helping board member Walter Hewlett build a case against the
Compaq merger five years ago. With HP’s unrelated board
antics currently in the headlines, he says it’s been hard to avoid,
and he feels compelled to give full disclosure about his decision
to provide data to Hewlett. However, it has cost him at least one
job offer, and can be a litmus test for him as he assesses a company.
“If they can’t tell the good guys from the bad without a
book, that’s not a place I want to work,” he says.

Getting to Yes

So, after a month, how are these candidates faring?

By September 1, Dascoli has an offer to be a divisional CFO
for a local, publicly traded consumer-products company, and is
setting up a second-round interview with a similar company in
the Midwest. He is clearly excited by the offer, but even as it
comes in, he is still networking. “I try never to let up, because
until a deal is signed, it could fall through,” says Dascoli. (Working
multiple fronts is fine, says Hack, so long as “you’re completely
transparent to all parties.”)

A week later, Dascoli has gone on the second-round interview,
letting them know he was close to a deal with another
company. Before he hears back, though, he opts for the local
opportunity. Not only will he be the CFO and vice president for
VF Corp.’s approximately $2 billion jeanswear unit, owner of the
iconic Lee and Wrangler jeans brands, he will be staying in
Greensboro, working for one of the few large companies in the
area. “It’s consumer products, with brands that are leaders in
their categories, which fits with my experience,” says the former
PepsiCo and Revlon executive. While he admits that the jeans
industry is a mature sector, Dascoli, who started October 2,
believes he will find creative ways to help it grow.

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