Finance Factories

Why are some companies better than others at producing CFOs?

He reckons it’s “the breadth, depth and variety of experience” he gained at the academy companies that helps him do his job today. “When something comes from left field, there’s a greater chance that you can relate back to an experience you’ve had before,” he says.

Does Davies harbour any hopes of OMV becoming an academy company? In some ways, it already is. As the largest industrial company in Austria, the firm attracts “inherently good talent” from its home region. He’d like to think that “people look at us as a company where you could find talent in the finance organisation.” But he doesn’t want OMV resting on its laurels. “We have an ambitious strategy, we believe in rewarding people and, in particular, we encourage our people to be pioneering,” Davies says. Among the many “feeder processes” that OMV’s finance department runs is a two-year programme for new university graduates, hiring a new intake every 18 months and rotating them through the company on six-month assignments. Though there is no guarantee of a job at the end of the programme, every participant to date has been snapped up by various department heads.

Building Experience

Rapid-fire job rotations alone aren’t what make academy companies stand out. ABB, a $29 billion (€18 billion) Swiss-Swedish engineering group, hones talent for all functions, not just finance, through a rigorous leadership development programme and succession planning process, says Gary Steel, the company’s global head of HR. Its high-profile CFO alumni include Peter Voser of Shell, Renato Fassbind of Credit Suisse and Colin Day of Reckitt Benckiser.

Set up with the help of Egon Zehnder, ABB’s Leadership Development Assessment (LDA) programme assesses employees against eight competencies, including a focus on results, intercultural sensitivity and change management skills. Behavioural characteristics like honesty, transparency and integrity are also considered, and all are measured and monitored using a nine-box matrix. For employees who fall short in any of those areas, support is offered by way of coaching, a stint at a business school or some other form of training.

To identify which employees take the LDA, each executive committee member, including CFO Michel Demaré, pores over data from annual performance appraisals, highlighting with HR the employees who can be classified as “challengers.” Challengers are considered leading candidates to fill the top 1,500 posts in ABB. Steel reckons that the company has currently identified four challengers for every one of these roles. “Within the past five years, 70% of our vacancies have been filled off the succession plan,” he adds. The goal now is to push this percentage up to 80%.

Since Steel joined the company five years ago, only 10 challengers have left the company before reaching a key position. “For me, it’s not the biggest crime in the world to leave the company, as long as people have taken the time to find out what we can offer them compared to what’s being offered on the outside,” says Steel.

He keeps in touch with the challengers who leave, speaking on the phone or meeting for coffee or lunch every six months or so. “It’s a chance for me to find out where they are in their careers,” he says. And who knows? Some might change their minds and want to come back, so it helps to have stayed in touch, he adds.

At Diageo, Rose has a similar philosophy. “We don’t like to lose people, but when we do, we want them to go outside and sing the praises of the company,” he says. “We are prepared to put our money where our mouth is in terms of developing people. We hope this is so they build a long career at Diageo, but if not, at least they are building great CVs.”

Jason Karaian is deputy editor and Eila Rana is senior editor at CFO Europe.

View Career paths: Where CFOs got their start.


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