Jon Symonds, the former CFO of AstraZeneca, a $26.5 billion (€18 billion) Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals group, starts as a London-based MD for Goldman Sachs later this month. The move from CFO to investment banker, while highly unusual, is not unheard of. Last year, Felix Weber, CFO of Adecco, a Dutch temporary staffing company, became a senior adviser in Lehman Brother’s European investment banking division and joined the bank’s European advisory board.
Why do such career changes remain rare? Wolfgang Schmidt-Soelch, a Zurich-based partner with headhunter Heidrick & Struggles, says most senior investment banking posts have little power and authority behind them compared with a CFO. That may not suit CFOs who are used to being at the top of the tree. Adjusting to the different working style can also be tough. “Although you have an infrastructure behind you, all of a sudden you’re on your own,” says Schmidt-Soelch.
Traffic in the other direction, from investment banks to the CFO office, also tends to be light, largely because most European companies have a hard time matching sky-high senior investment banking salaries. Companies do have an advantage over banks when it comes to the non-monetary aspects of their offering: less gruelling hours and a wider range of career opportunities, for example. Why would a CFO swap this — and the more satisfying position of buyer rather than seller of services — for the high-stress world of investment banking?
Money, of course, is the big factor. Last year, Symonds earned £1.2m (€1.8m) in salary, bonus, and other benefits at AstraZeneca. By comparison, the lowest paid executive officer at Goldman Sachs took home a $16m bonus and $9m in restricted stock awards. Schmidt-Soelch reckons Symonds, 48, will be able to afford to retire comfortably after about five years on the Goldman Sachs gravy train.
Might Symonds’ well-publicised move get other CFOs thinking about a switch to investment banking? Various surveys by CFO Europe and our sister magazines suggest that CFOs are less than enamoured with the compliance burdens resulting from Sarbox and other recent regulations. They also note that the growing short-termism of the investor community is making their jobs less satisfying. Still, that doesn’t mean we’ll see hundreds of CFOs beating down the doors of investment banks. “I would think it’s still very unusual,” says Schmidt-Soelch.