Q&A: Tatum’s Jamison on CFO Tug-of-war

Faced with mounting internal and external demands, finance executives are at the end of their ropes, Cynthia Jamison, an executive-services provider, thinks.

Finance executives have always been pulled in different directions by boards, CEOs, shareholders, and regulators — all of whom want constant reassurance about the corporation’s financial health. But over the past few years, those groups have tightened their grips, putting the CFO role at a near breaking point. After certifying their company’s financials and answering board members’ and the CEO’s demands, finance chiefs have little time left for working on long-term strategy or improving the strength of their own departments. Frustrated with falling short of perfection, more CFOs are cutting their tenures short or getting pushed out, says Cynthia Jamison, a partner of Tatum, an executive services firm.

Jamison“You can’t just snap your fingers and do this. It’s probably a 12- to 24-month evolution to become a sophisticated CFO of tomorrow.”- Cynthia Jamison, Tatum

A former finance chief at several companies and an audit committee chair of two boards, she hopes finance executives will change their roles by realizing they can’t “do it all.” They need to improve their management skills and relationships with board members and convince the CEO that they need more resources. In a recent interview with CFO.com, Jamison acknowledges that taking these steps won’t be easy.

CFO.com: Have CFOs experienced such levels of frustration about their roles before?
Cynthia Jamison: I think it’s never been worse. It’s driven by a couple of things that are different than five or 10 years ago. One is the heightened regulatory pressure and the compressed deadlines for filings. The other is the fact that in the late ’90s, there were a lot of business decisions made outside the finance department by marketing, or operations, or even the CEO that were more based on intuition. It was a less data-driven period. Since the dotcoms blew up, there’s been a return to corporate decision-making that’s based on a lot of analysis and data. That’s good, but it adds another the layer onto the CFO that’s heavier than it was.

CFO.com: How can CFOs redefine the dimensions of their role?
Jamison: I don’t think there’s a way for them to narrow their scope. But they can get more sophisticated about creating more bandwidth under them. CFOs try to do so much of it themselves when they should be building and flexing resources under themselves like muscles.

CFO.com: From the external and internal demands put on CFOs, who has the loudest voice? And who are CFOs neglecting?
Jamison: Across and down the company is what gets sacrificed. The CFO is the recipient of so many voices that they have to prioritize. Then typically they do a lousy job of communicating to all the others why they prioritized as they did.

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